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2023 NFL Draft: 8 early top targets for Bears to remember in Round 1

Which prospects should the Bears keep an early eye on in the 2023 NFL Draft?

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get one thing straight: a lot can and will change between now and the 2023 NFL Draft.

Considering the 2022 season hasn’t even started yet, there are a lot of needs teams have that might not be obvious right now. There are a handful of teams who will exceed expectations, as well as some who will end up picking higher than many expect. Some prospects will rise out of general obscurity to become first-round selections, and some of the currently-perceived Round 1 talents might either see their stocks fall or they not even declare for the draft to begin with.

That said, it’s always fun to take a look into the future, especially in the case of the Bears, whose play will presumably struggle a bit this year before taking a bigger step within the next few years.

Oddsmakers and analysts alike generally see the Bears finishing with a bottom-10 record in the NFL this year, and while that could result in some tough games for fans to watch, it would also see them have the chance to have a top-10 pick for the first time since they drafted All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith in 2018.

The 2023 draft process could be a fun one for the Bears, so to take an early look at what the class could have in store, let’s break down 8 prospects who could be worth first-round consideration for Chicago next year.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Teams like the Eagles, Dolphins and Bengals have all reunited quarterbacks with collegiate teammates at wide receiver, and while Smith-Njigba didn’t break out until after Justin Fields left, the Bears would be wise to do their homework on the Buckeyes star this season.

It’s very early in the 2023 draft process, but Smith-Njigba is my current WR1 in this class. He finished this past season with 95 receptions, 1,606 yards and 9 touchdowns while fighting for catches with the likes of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jeremy Ruckert. He’s an explosive threat with good deep speed and sharp movements coming out of his breaks. His football IQ shows up in spades on tape, as he does a great job of exploiting soft spots in zone coverage and excels his adjusting his footwork to attack leverage points through his stems. Smith-Njigba is a pro-ready weapon who should translate well to the NFL level.

Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

The saying goes to scout the player and not the helmet, and while the credo rings true, it’s hard not to look at how star LSU wide receivers like Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson have translated to the NFL level and be encouraged with Boutte’s professional outlook.

Boutte only played in 6 games last year due to a season-ending leg injury, but in that timeframe, he caught 38 passes for 509 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is a dominant force after the catch with impressive agility and superb contact balance with the ball in his hands. His fluidity allows him to separate across the middle of the field, and his ball-tracking skills certainly stand out on film. He’ll need to prove that he can stay healthy and productive for a full season, but if he does, there’s no reason to think Boutte can’t be at least a top-15 pick in 2023 should he declare.

Jordan Addison, WR, USC

Addison will be transferring to USC after winning the Biletnikoff Award with Pittsburgh in 2021, and with his skillset in an offense led by quarterback Caleb Williams and head coach Lincoln Riley, he could put together another incredible season this coming year.

With 100 catches, 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021, Addison put together an unreal campaign and helped elevate Kenny Pickett into a first-round pick. He has great deep speed and can separate vertically at a very high level, and his explosiveness coming out of his breaks is palpable. He is an agile runner after the catch and has elite creativity as a ball-carrier, as well. Though he’s skinny at roughly 175 pounds, Addison’s athleticism and precision as a route runner should make him a first-round pick when it’s all said and done.

Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

Though the 2023 draft doesn’t seem to be super rich in first-round talent along the offensive line, arguably the best lineman in next year’s class is Maine South alumnus and Park Ridge native Skoronski.

The grandson of Packers great Bob Skoronski, Peter has been a top-15 PFF graded offensive tackle in the Power 5 in each of his two seasons as a starter for Northwestern. He’s a coordinated athlete who blocks very well on the move and is able to roll his hips through contact to seal off defenders in the run game. He has a very high football IQ and can process stunts and delayed blitzes, along with executing his assignments as a zone blocker. He doesn’t have elite size or length at 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, but he’s a refined lineman with a high floor and the potential to develop into a long-term starter.

Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

The Bears have obvious needs of the offensive side of the ball, but if they pick high enough for him to be available, Anderson will be the best player on the board.

If you kept up with college football last year, odds are you know about how good Anderson was. He wrapped up the year with 17.5 sacks, 31 tackles for a loss and 101 tackles for the Crimson Tide, placing fifth in Heisman voting in the process. His acceleration off the snap is unreal, showcasing an elite first step and top-notch athleticism when he gets into open-field pursuit. He’s a slippery rusher with flexible hips and the ability to turn the corner with ease, and he also blends that with active hands at the point of attack and a high motor on every down. Anderson is a bonafide stud with All-Pro potential, and even if the Bears have some intriguing young talent off the edge, they should take Anderson if he’s available.

Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

I’ve been on the record saying that Murphy is the player that NFL teams think Travon Walker is, and that’s something I stand by at this stage of the draft process.

Murphy stood out on Clemson’s defensive lone with 8 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss in 2021, and it’s hard to not notice him when you turn on the Tigers’ defensive film. He’s a versatile defender who can rush as a stand-up edge rusher who can line up as a 3-technique just as well. His fluidity in space is fantastic, and his quickness off the line of scrimmage is surreal. He turns the corner well on outside speed rushes, and he showcases active hands at the point of attack. Though raw from a pad level and instincts perspective, Murphy’s physical upside is through the roof.

Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

The 2023 draft appears to be heavy on top-tier front-seven talent, and a strong argument can be made that Carter is the best interior defensive lineman in the class.

Carter managed to stand out as arguably the most dominant defensive lineman on a Georgia team with three first-round picks at the position. His acceleration off the snap is eye-opening, and his quickness in his first step allows him to create instant penetration in opposing backfields. He is a fantastic pass-rusher active hands, and he also displays good gap awareness as a run defender. His sack production could improve, but his athletic tools are superb and should see him highly touted as the 2023 draft process heats up.

Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson

If Carter isn’t your top interior defensive lineman in the upcoming draft, the odds are strong your DL1 is Bresee.

The consensus No. 1 prospect in the nation coming out of high school, Bresee blends an enticing combination of size, speed and strength. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder has a powerful frame with solid length and a mean punch at the point of attack. He is an explosive rusher with great acceleration off the snap and very good mobility as a stunt rusher. The strength he possesses in his upper body allows him to hold up blocks and shed offensive linemen at the point of attack. Bresee is coming off of an ACL injury and will need to prove he’s recovered fully from it, but his long-term outlook is certainly intriguing as a 3-technique who can also rush off the edge.