In early breakdowns of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Bears have predominantly been tied to wide receivers.
Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and LSU’s Kayshon Boutte are seen as the consensus top two receivers in the upcoming draft. Incoming USC transfer Jordan Addison also projects as a first-round pick coming into the regular season. The Bears currently don’t have much proven production at the position outside of Darnell Mooney, so the position is seen by many as a major need on the current roster.
It seems likely the Bears will invest in wide receivers next offseason. Even if the likes of D.K. Metcalf or Deebo Samuel don’t hit the open market, there will be plenty of talented weapons available in free agency and the draft who would likely be an upgrade over what the team currently has.
As easy as it may be to shoehorn the Bears into a receiver-first draft strategy, though, they still have plenty of glaring needs on their roster.
Among those needs is the 3-technique defensive tackle. The Bears signed former Chargers lineman Justin Jones to a two-year deal, but the structure of his contracts implies he might be more of a one-year option: Chicago frees $4.9 million by cutting him after the regular season and would only have to pay $2.5 million in dead cap.
Players like Mario Edwards Jr. and Angelo Blackson should compete for pass-rushing reps along the interior, while Khyiris Tonga figures to be more of a firm 1-technique/nose hybrid who rotates on rushing downs. The Bears have solid depth at the defensive tackle position, but they don’t have a true difference maker there, which brings down the overall value of the unit.
Should the Bears pick in the top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft — which most oddsmakers and national analysts believe will happen — then Georgia’s Jalen Carter should be right up Matt Eberflus’ alley.
Advanced analytics adore Carter, who led all FBS defensive tackles with a 90.0 PFF pass-rushing grade last season. He also had the third-best pass-rush win rate from a head-up or inside-the-tackle alignment in the nation, generating 33 quarterback pressures in the process. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound defender was arguably the best defensive lineman on a Georgia defense that had three first-round picks in the 2022 draft, including the top overall pick in Travon Walker.
Part of what made Carter so effective for the Bulldogs in 2021 is his explosiveness off the snap. He has a tremendous first step for a defensive tackle, and his quickness in a vacuum helps him generate initial pressure along the interior on a consistent basis. His athletic ability often sees him draw plenty of attention right off the ball, which opens up opportunities for his teammates, whether it be through inside pass rushes off the edge, stunts or delayed blitzes.
I know it’s popular for the #Bears to go WR in Round 1 of the 2023 draft, and for good reason.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) June 15, 2022
But Georgia DL Jalen Carter is such a perfect fit in an Eberflus defense. His athleticism, raw power and finesse as a pass-rusher are unreal. pic.twitter.com/RJefb53DGS
Carter is able to maximize his athleticism with a red-hot motor and a diverse repertoire of pass-rushing techniques. While some college defenders rely heavily on their speed at the expense of developing as a technical player, Carter blends physical talent with a pro-ready skill set. His arm-over is an especially eye-opening move in his arsenal, as are his two-hand swipes and rip moves. He showcases good quickness in his hands and an ability to string together moves to get into the backfield. He’s strong enough to hold his ground in either the A or B gaps in run support, and he has the gap awareness needed to know when to free up his hands to disengage at the point of attack.
Watch Jalen Carter swim move the right guard, absorb the block from the running back and get to the quarterback all while the right tackle left tackle leans on him in futility. pic.twitter.com/RfzjEIStfc— Rundown 2021 National Champions (@RundownUga) January 5, 2022
Because of his high motor and pure straight-line speed, Carter showcases very good range as a tackler. Few interior defenders bring much in the way of value as a tackler in space, especially on backside runs or screens. However, his relentless style of play, precise angles in pursuit and closing speed allow him to make highlights plays more often than the average defensive tackle.
Just remember the name..Jalen Carter pic.twitter.com/KQughRAF4z— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) April 6, 2022
If there’s one aspect of Carter’s game that can improve a little bit, it’s his pad level. He has a tendency to pop upright coming out of his stance, and while he’s still very good as a finesse rusher, working on lowering his center of gravity could generate more force out of his anchor and make it easier for him to convert speed to power.
Carter took on more of a rotational role on a stacked Georgia defense in 2021, which had an impact on his production; he tallied just 3 sacks last year. While his basic stats aren’t necessarily jaw-dropping, his presence up front was undeniable on tape. Assuming he stays healthy, he should get plenty more opportunities to rush the passer and put together an even stronger resume.
Eberflus saw plenty of success with DeForest Buckner as a 3-technique during his time with the Colts. One of Eberflus’ mentors, Rod Marinelli, has seen his defenses excel with the likes of Warren Sapp, Henry Melton and Jason Hatcher. Lovie Smith also comes from the same tree and led a dominant Bears defense with Tommie Harris manning the 3T role.
As it stands right now, this current Bears team doesn’t have that dominant 3-technique tackle. If selected, Jalen Carter has the potential to be a centerpiece of their defense.