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2023 NFL Draft: But what if the Bears go defense Round 1?

The Bears contradicted expectations with their first two picks in 2022. What if they do that with their Round 1 pick next year?

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Bears have been criticized by opposing fanbases and national media for their lackluster offense on paper.

There’s no denying that their group of weapons and offensive line aren’t necessarily elite, let alone great. There are pieces, sure, but neither unit is complete enough to warrant serious playoff consideration for the Bears. Because of this, draftniks are making early forecasts and predicting them to target an offensive player in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft, assuming they pick in at least the top half of the order.

But what if the Bears go defense in Round 1?

Hear me out.

I’m expecting one of two comments to come with this article, whether it’s in the actual comments themselves or on Twitter, so let’s just address them both now:

  1. It would be idiotic for the Bears to go defense again early. They went defense early this year; they’re not going to do it again.
  2. Why are you covering the 2023 NFL Draft? It’s June of 2022! Don’t you have anything better to do?

The second one sounds a lot like my therapist. I’m covering the 2023 draft because the draft is a year-long activity, and if you aren’t interested in my early draft coverage, there are plenty of other quality articles on this website for you to read. Plus, if the Bears perform like the national consensus expects them to, then the pre-draft process is going to be a very interesting one for this team.

The wide receiver position is seen as arguably the Bears’ biggest need on the roster, and heading into the 2022 season, three receivers project as likely first-round picks: Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, LSU’s Kayshon Boutte, and USC’s Jordan Addison.

All three players are talented weapons in their own respective ways, and any of them would be tremendous additions to Chicago’s offense. This won’t be the last time you hear those players mentioned as potential Bears targets, and if you’ve read any Bears-related draft pieces — from my stuff at WCG or elsewhere — it isn’t the first.

For devil’s advocate, though, is there a possibility the Bears take a defender in Round 1 next year?

Ryan Poles bucked the trend of going wide receiver or offensive line in Round 2 by selecting defensive backs with each of the Bears’ two second-round selections. While cornerback and safety were certainly positions of need, very few expected the Bears to double-dip on defense to kick off their draft.

The best approach to the draft is to take the best player available, and judging by early looks at the 2023 draft, there’s a strong possibility the best player on the board for the Bears could be a stud defender.

Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. seems like a first-round lock even before the 2022 season starts, which says a lot about how dominant he was this past year. With 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss, he dominated against top-tier competition and looked like a man among boys in the SEC, which is no easy feat. His first-step acceleration is off the charts, his arsenal as a pass-rusher is refined and versatile, his flexibility turning the corner is top-notch, and his motor consistently runs hot. He might fit better in a stand-up edge role than in a traditional 4-3 base, but a player of his talent transcends scheme.

Anderson represents a “worst-case scenario” season for the Bears, as it seems likely at this stage he finishes as a top-3 pick. If the Bears finish as low as the bottom two picks, then an evaluation of the offense itself is necessary, starting with the quarterback. If they finish that poorly and Justin Fields doesn’t make any progress, then the question could be proposed that he might not be the guy. It’s worth noting that such a situation is unlikely and there is still plenty of reason to be excited about Fields, but the Bears picking high enough to consider Anderson might be the result of other, larger problems.

In a more realistic scenario — Fields shows progress but the holes around him sees the Bears finish with a down year — the team would have several other enticing prospects. They have a big need along the defensive line, and the likes of Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee stand out as fits in Round 1.

Carter was arguably the best defensive lineman on a Georgia team that had three linemen drafted in the first round this year. His explosiveness off the snap is fantastic, his pursuit speed is impeccable for a 310-pounder, his hands are active and quick at the line of scrimmage, and he’s strong enough to eat up gaps as a 3-technique against the run. Bresee is a former No. 1 high school prospect with good length and a mean punch at the point of attack. Also projecting best as a 3-technique, his combination of size, speed and power should be intriguing to NFL teams.

Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy is another prospect worth remembering. He’s incredibly versatile with experience as a stand-up EDGE, 5-tech, 3-tech and 4-tech for the Tigers’ defense. He has a lengthy frame and has great speed off the ball, as well as rare hip fluidity for his position. Should he continue to develop and work on his pad level, he possesses All-Pro potential at the next level.

That’s not even including off-ball linebackers. If the Bears win a few more games, they could be in the mix for Oregon’s Noah Sewell or Clemson’s Trenton Simpson. Sewell is an effective MIKE ‘backer with an NFL bloodline and a 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame. He plays with fantastic play strength, very good agility in space and great closing speed as a tackler. Simpson is a bit lighter but still has great length, and he has ample experience covering in the slot, as well as playing two-high safety or rushing off the edge. He is a rangy tackler with fluid hips, quick feet and eye-opening burst. Either would be a good fit alongside Roquan Smith going forward.

Not only does 2023 free agency still have to take place, but the entirety of the 2022 season has to take place, too. That means draft discussion at this stage is even more hypothetical than draft discussion already is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking consideration for.

If I were a betting man, I would still put money on the Bears going offense in Round 1 of the 2023 draft. The wide receiver talent — along with Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski and wild cards like Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer — might be too good to ignore.

Remember where you all as Bears fans were just two months ago, though. The idea of going defense early in the draft seemed like an odd one. It seems to be a talented defensive class in the first half of the 2023 draft, and that’s not even including the potential for a handful of major risers as the season kicks off.

Especially for a team like the Bears, talent wins over need. If they view a certain defensive player in a high enough light, they might pull the trigger on him early come next year.