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Chicago Bears April Scouting Report
Richard Fung

Going into the 2023 NFL Draft, it is such an exciting time to be a Bears fan! The possibilities are endless, but sometimes having too many options can be a bad thing. The Bears (at the moment) have the ninth overall pick, two second-rounders (53 and 61), a third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, two fifth-rounders, and two seventh-rounders. Without further ado, my 2023 Bears draft preview:


Quarterback (need: low)

GM Ryan Poles has decided that QB Justin Fields is the guy here in Chicago, so unless Poles decides to take a flyer on a developmental prospect on Day 3, the Bears won’t be taking any quarterbacks in this draft.


Runningback (need: medium-low)

As I mentioned last month, there is a small but vocal segment of the Bears’ fan base that wants Poles to select Texas’ Bijan Robinson, either at #9 or after a trade down. There is a much larger and equally vocal segment of the fan base whose heads would explode if Poles actually did this. As for me? Well, in terms of positional value, taking Bijan makes no sense. In terms of the current roster, it makes little sense (how are you going to split carries between Bijan, RB D’Onta Foreman, RB Khalil Herbert, and RB Travis Homer?). But hey, I wouldn’t be mad at it. Shoot, I’d be excited as hell about Chicago’s shiny new toy. At least until the first time whoever the Bears stick at right tackle gets beaten and Fields gets hammered.


In all seriousness, the Bears could use a speedy pass-catching rotational back to complement Foreman and Herbert. Yes, Homer could theoretically be that guy, but I’m not sure if Poles looks at him as that guy or if he looks at him as mainly a special teamer. Assuming the Bears don’t take Bijan, there is a guy I like just as much: Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs. When I saw him perform at the Combine, I was like, "Wow!" An electric slasher with 4.36 speed and great hands? Yes, please. He could go in the late first/early second round range, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be a Bear unless Poles does some maneuvering, but I’d love it if the Bears got him.


Realistically, with so many bigger needs, Poles probably doesn’t take a back until Day 3, if at all. In that range, my favorite guy would be Tulane’s Tyjae Spears. He had a great Senior Bowl week, looked good at the Combine, then ran a 4.47 40 at his pro day. At 5-10 201, he’s a bit undersized, but he’s got the kind of dynamic playmaking ability that the Bears have been missing from their backs since Tarik Cohen blew out his knee. Texas A&M’s Devon Achane is another undersized slasher who ran the fastest 40 of any back at the Combine (4.32). Illinois’ Chase Brown, a workhorse one-cut runner with receiving ability, could be another possibility. If the Bears are looking for more of a power back who can catch the ball and pass protect well, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet and Texas’ RoschonJohnson could fit the bill.


Wide receiver (need: medium)

With WR D.J. Moore now on board, the need here isn’tnearly as high as it was going into March. However, WR Darnell Mooney and WR Chase Claypool are both going into the final years of their respective contracts, and the Bears are unlikely to keep both long term. Chicago could use a true slot receiver who just knows how to get open. Someone like Fields’ buddy, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. A smooth route runner who knows where to find holes in zone coverage, Smith-Njigba just seems like he was born to be a slot receiver. He missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, and some have said that he’s not the fastest guy or the best after the catch, but he showed off his agility by putting up the best 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone times of any wideout at the Combine, and the 4.48 40 he ran at his pro day is plenty fast enough. USC’s Jordan Addison is a similar player, but I haven’t seen a single mock draft send him to Chicago.


The other receiver I really like is Boston College’s Zay Flowers. He’s a bit smaller than you’d like at 5-9 182, but he’s effective inside and outside, he can run any route you ask him to, and he’s great after the catch. If the Bears are looking for a bigger "X" receiver (and there aren’t many of them in this draft), TCU’s Quentin Johnston could be an option. Concerns about his hands have caused his stock to fall somewhat, and he did get shut down in the national championship game. It’s unlikely that the Bears will actually select any of the receivers I’ve just listed unless they either trade down from #9 or they trade up into the late first or early second round.


In terms of Day 2-3 options, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt is a deep threat of the highest order. If he catches the ball deep, you’re not catching him. He is a bit slender though at 6-0 176, and there are questions about how he’ll handle a more complex NFL route tree. Fellow Volunteer Cedric Tillman (6-3 213) is big and strong with great deep ball skills. Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo (6-2 220) is a big, physical slot receiver who is a great route runner and run blocker. Michigan State’s Jayden Reed (5-11 187, 4.45 40) has lightning-quick releases, good play strength, and great ball skills on deep throws and in contested catch situations. Stanford’s Michael Wilson, like Reed, elevated his stock with an impressive Senior Bowl week. At 6-2 213, Wilson is a good route runner and a willing, eager, and effective run blocker (HC Matt Eberflus would love that). Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims can fly (4.38 40) and is dangerous after the catch. Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry has great size and speed (6-3 ½ 198, 4.47 40) but iffy hands. Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas is a great athlete (a heptathlete, to be exact). But can he be a great receiver? Perhaps the Bears can take a flier on him on Day 3 and find out.


Tight end (need: low)

With TE Cole Kmet and TE Robert Tonyan set to serve as the Bears’ tight end duo this season, there doesn’t appear to be much need here. But Tonyan is only on a one-year deal, so there is a chance the Bears might take a flyer on a Luke Schoonmaker from Michigan or a Will Mallory from Miami. Georgia’s Darnell Washington, at an imposing 6-7 264, would look awesome in a Bears uniform (though he’lllikely go in the first round). Iowa’s Sam LaPorta isn’t much of a blocker but could be a nice "move" tight end. Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz, who ran a 4.55 40 at 6-7 255, could be an intriguing project on Day 3.


Offensive line (need: high)

Here is where the Bears’ plans for their first-rounder likely lie. There is an obvious hole at right tackle, and at #9, Poles may have his choice of the top four O-linemen: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr, Georgia’s Broderick Jones, and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. Many mock drafts have Skoronski coming to Chicago, but many people say that his arms are too short to play tackle. Johnson Jr has ideal size but can get pushed around a bit and was only a one-year starter at left tackle. Jones is a super athlete and may have the most upside of any of the four. Wright is the only true right tackle of the bunch, has great size and athleticism at 6-5 333, and is a student of the game.


After those four, there is a significant dropoff. By not addressing right tackle in free agency, Poles has seemingly pigeonholed himself into taking a tackle in the first round. Wright seems to be the logical plug and play fit, one that would allow LT Braxton Jones to stay on the left side. Selecting Johnson Jr or Broderick Jones would likely mean flipping Braxton Jones to the right side. If I was making the selection, Wright would be my pick, either at #9 or after a small trade down to perhaps #11. There’s been a lot of speculation about the Steelers wanting to trade up to #9 with the Bears getting #17 and potentially #32 (the WR Chase Claypool pick), but here’s the big question: if Poles wants a tackle, is he ok with getting any of them, or does he want a specific one? If he wants a specific one, I think he should either take the player at #9 or make a small trade down to perhaps #11, because you have the Packers now at 13 (after the AR trade), the Patriots at 14, and the Jets at 15 who all might be in the market for a tackle.


If Poles opts not to go tackle in the first round, he may be looking at the likes of Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison, Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan, BYU’s Blake Freeland, Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris (a great singer), or Ohio State’s Dawand Jones. At a massive 6-8 374, Jones would be the most intriguing candidate, but he may not fit the Bears’ scheme, which favors more athletic linemen. After all, Poles opted to pass on Orlando Brown Jr in free agency, likely for that reason. Center is also a need, and depending on where they ultimately pick in the second round, they might have a chance at top centers John Michael Schmitz from Minnesota, Joe Tippmann from Wisconsin, or Luke Wypler from Ohio State.


Defense (need: high at defensive line and corner)

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Namely, the case of Jalen Carter from Georgia. Eberflus’ Cover-2 scheme needs a disruptive 3-technique tackle. Carter is clearly the most talented 3-technique tackle and may be the most talented player in this draft. However, we found out at the Combine that he was involved in the tragic crash that took the lives of one of his teammates and a member of the Georgia recruiting staff. Of course, some have dismissed his involvement, saying that all kids make mistakes at that age. Sure, I made some dumb decisions when I was that age. But nothing that would even remotely put my life or anyone else’s in danger.


Here’s what bothers me most about Carter’s role in the accident. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's report about the accident states that Carter, after initially lying about his whereabouts in the moments leading up to the crash, told the police that he knew the occupants of the vehicle that crashed were drunk. Yet, he still made the decision to race that vehicle (surveillance footage shows Carter’s vehicle racing the other one). If he had gotten them a designated driver instead (or at least not raced them), they’d still be alive, and the crash never would’ve happened. And Carter did this despite having already been stopped for speeding last year. Then, he showed up at his pro day overweight and unable to finish his drills.


If I was Poles, I wouldn’t touch Carter with a ten-foot... pole. Even if he unexpectedly falls to #9. As talented as he is, I think he has a high chance of becoming a bust, based on his pattern of bad decision making and the questions about his motor. He just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for Eberflus’ "HITS" principle. Yes, I know that Carter can throw people around like a grizzly bear when he wants to. And sure, there’s the chance that this accident will scare him into staying on the straight and narrow, and he could be a dominant player in the league. But Poles can’t miss on this pick, and I don’t think he should take such a big risk on Carter when there should still be plenty of impact talent at #9 or a few spots later.


Assuming the Bears don’t wind up with Carter, if Poles trades down but the top tackles are gone, Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey would be a lovely consolation prize. My #1 draft crush, Kancey is a bit undersized for a 3-technique tackle at 6-1 281, but he is so lightning-quick with his pass rush moves that he looks like the Tasmanian Devil out there. He’s understandably drawn some comparisons to fellow Pitt tackle Aaron Donald, and it would be great for the Bears to get the potential next Donald after the Rams traded up and stole him from Chicago in the 2014 Draft.


On Day 2 or 3, D-tackle options could be Clemson’s Bryan Bresee (if he falls), Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore, Wisconsin’s Keanu Benton, South Carolina’s Zachh Pickens, or Michigan’s Mazi Smith. Adebawore, who put up ridiculous numbers at the Combine, would be the most intriguing of the bunch, but is he a 3-tech or a D-end at 6-2 282? At D-end, if Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson falls to #9, Eberflus might snatch the phone out of Poles’ hand and call in the pick himself. At 6-6 271, Wilson has the kind of length and athleticism that Eberflus loves. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness, a local boy from Barrington, IL, is a powerful D-end with a relentless motor. Georgia’s Nolan Smith ran a crazy 4.39 40 at the Combine at 6-2 238 but would be undersized for the Bears’ scheme. Day 2-3 options would be Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Iowa State’s Will McDonald, LSU’s B.J. Ojulari, Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey, Tennessee’s Byron Young, Auburn’s Derick Hall, and Georgia Tech’s Keion White. White in particular would be a great get, as the athletic converted tight end is still learning the position and could just be scratching the surface of his potential.


Corner is also a need (gosh, this is endless...). If we’ve learned anything about Poles in the past year, we’ve learned that he isn’t necessarily going to be swayed by perceived need. Going into last year’s draft, many felt that wideout was the team’s biggest need and expected the Bears to take at least one with their two second-rounders. Instead, Poles took CB Kyler Gordon and S Jaquan Brisker. Corner and safety were needs, just not the biggest perceived needs. Going into free agency this year, everyone said the Bears needed to spend in the trenches. Instead, Poles splashed most of his cash on two linebackers. So on Thursday night, with most everyone saying that right tackle is the team’s biggest need, don’t be surprised if Poles goes off script again at #9 and takes one of the two top corners, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon or Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. If Poles opts to wait for a corner, Georgia’s Kelee Ringo, K-State's Julius Brents, Alabama’s Eli Ricks, and Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson could all be options.


More to come after the NFL draft!



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