Crazy how things change in football, right?
For the longest time, the narrative was that the Bears would select an offensive player with their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. While this is certainly still possible, the discussion has shifted heavily towards the defensive side of the ball in recent weeks.
It likely helps that the Bears have propelled themselves into the top 3 of the current draft order, and that arguably the two best prospects in this year’s class are both defensive linemen. That, along with Chicago’s struggles to generate pressure up front all year, makes it a possibility that Matt Eberflus gets a defense-first draft haul to work with for the second year in a row.
Whether it be in the top 3 or a little later as a trade-back option, here are 6 defensive prospects the Bears could consider in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
As the top overall prospect on my 2023 draft board, Will Anderson Jr. is clearly a player I hold in very high regard.
Anderson dominated to the tune of 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2021. Even with opposing teams keying in on him more in 2022, he still has 8 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss through 11 games. He has unbelievable first-step quickness, tremendous speed out in space and flexibility turning the corner that coaches drool over. Anderson’s athleticism alone makes him a nightmare to block, but he’s also very active in his hands and showcases a deep arsenal with great speed in his pass-rushing techniques. He does well at stacking and shedding blocks at the line of scrimmage, and his pad level allows him to maximize the strength in his frame and do better against the run than most his size.
The only potential issue with the Bears drafting Anderson is a scheme mismatch: he’s a bit smaller for a base 4-3 defensive end at 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds. That said, if your system can’t make it work with a player as talented as Anderson, that probably says a lot more about your system. He’s a monster who has All-Pro potential off the edge.
Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
If the Bears stay put at No. 3 and don’t take Anderson, the odds are very strong that Jalen Carter will have been the pick. Even with Anderson on the board, Carter could be too enticing for this staff to pass up.
Carter is everything you want out of a 3-technique defensive tackle. He does his job against the run, showcasing very good physicality along the interior with the anchor to eat gaps and the heavy hands needed to disengage and make tackles. He’s best as a 3-tech, but he’s strong enough to serve as a two-gapper if need be. What truly separates him from the pack, though, is his absurd athletic ability. He has tremendous acceleration in his first few steps, great flexibility in his lower half and impressive speed chasing down ball-carriers in space. His speed, along with his quick hands and deep arsenal as a pass-rusher, gives him a rare level of three-down value.
Like Anderson, Carter isn’t the biggest player for his position at about 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds. There could be an argument that a defensive tackle shouldn’t go in the top 3 in most cases, but Carter is so talented that he deserves that consideration. He has the potential to be a difference-maker at the next level.
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
With Travon Walker having gone No. 1 overall in the 2022 draft and enjoying success as a rookie, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Myles Murphy, a player from a similar athletic mold, end up highly selected the following year.
Over his last three seasons, Murphy has tallied 18.5 sacks and 36 total tackles for a loss. He is an extremely athletic defender with eye-opening quickness off the snap and closing speed that gives him plenty of range as a tackler. He has great mobility for someone who’s 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, and he showcases tremendous bend turning the corner on outside speed rushes. In addition to his athleticism, Murphy is also a versatile and strong defender who’s best off the edge but can two-gap along the interior and kick inside as a 4-tech or 3-tech if need be.
Though he’s loose and flexible, Murphy tends to pop upright coming off the ball a bit too often, and his instincts are still developing. However, you’d be hard pressed to see too many prospects in this class with the sheer athletic traits that he brings to the table.
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
One of the highest risers in the 2023 draft is Tyree Wilson, and it’s not hard to see why draftniks everywhere are salivating over him.
Wilson had a nice year in 2021 with 7 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in 13 games, and through 10 games in 2022, he’s been able to match his sack totals and surpass his tackles for a loss while jumping from 38 to 61 total tackles. He offers incredible size for an edge rusher at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds. Some “tweener” defensive line prospects are too small to play inside and too slow to rush off the edge, yet draftniks fall in love with them anyway. That isn’t Wilson, whose raw power can hold up well as far inside as a 3-tech and whose athleticism sees him win with short-area burst on a regular basis.
Though Wilson can stand to work on his pad level and deepen his array of hand techniques, he is a gifted athlete with the size, length, speed and power needed to develop into an impact player at the NFL level if coached up properly. Someone with his physical skill set screams “Eberflus defender”.
Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
A former No. 1 overall high school recruit with tools for days, the upside is palpable with Bryan Bresee.
Equipped with a 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame, Bresee is a lengthy interior defender whose wingspan allows him to control the point of attack. He packs a mean punch when he jabs his opponents, and he complements that with a freaky first step and the mobility needed to serve as an actual threat twisting outside on passing downs. His combination of length, raw power and athleticism can make him a hassle for opposing guards and tackles to block, and his upper-body strength makes it easy for him to stack and shed blocks at the line of scrimmage against the run.
Bresee hasn’t exactly dominated the stat sheet in college, and he has a torn ACL from 2021 to his name. On the field, his pad level needs improving. He might not be as Day 1 of an impact defender as Jalen Carter as a defensive tackle, but the physical upside is arguably just as high if he can put it all together.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
The inclusion of a cornerback may be surprising to some, but both Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor enter contract years in 2023, and Kyler Gordon is struggling as a rookie. Under the right circumstances, a defensive back early might not be entirely out of the question.
One could make the argument that Kelee Ringo has the highest ceiling of any defensive back in the 2023 draft. He’s a bigger cornerback at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with length for days and the raw size that allows him to excel at the catch point. His frame is pretty muscular, and he fights hard to compete in tight windows, so he should be able to translate well to whichever alignments teams project him best in — he plays well as a boundary but can kick to the field-side or slot if needed. For a taller corner, he’s also very athletic with great deep speed, fluid hips and the ankle flexion needed to change direction on a dime.
Ringo can sometimes be a split second too late to pick up on route concepts, and he didn’t really stand out as fantastic when I watched him in-person against Missouri. He’s more of a long-shot option for the Bears, but the idea of adding a cornerback with perennial Pro Bowl tools could make him more of an option than most expect.