clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Bears mock draft: Defense in Round 1?

The Bears are currently expected to go offense early, but what happens if they go defense first in the 2023 draft?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Georgia v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Bears have only played in one preseason game, and now we have to read another 2023 mock draft. What an overreaction to the first game of the year. Sad!

No, this mock draft has nothing to do with their Week 1 preseason win over the Chiefs. I’ve been trying to do a mock draft every month of the summer to slowly integrate year-round NFL Draft content, and I just so happened to find inspiration now. I, for one, liked what the Bears showcased this week!

I’m just a draft nerd who likes to talk about college football prospects. If you’re one of those folks, you like to just read mock drafts, or you want to tell me about how August mock drafts are worthless, welcome aboard!

Here is my latest, early 7-round mock draft for the Bears’ 2023 draft.

Round 1: Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

I’ve had the Bears drafting Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Kayshon Boutte in my first two mock drafts, but I decided to go with a different approach in this class.

Simply put, Jalen Carter is the 3-technique defensive tackle that Matt Eberflus needs. His first-step quickness is surreal, making it easy for him to generate instant pressure along the interior. He offers great athleticism in space and the skill set needed to rush with power as a true nose while also rushing with the explosiveness typically expected for an edge rusher. Carter’s quickness and activity in his hands stands out on tape, and on a Georgia defensive line with three 2022 first-round picks, Carter was arguably the best prospect of the bunch.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Carter doesn’t have too many flaws as a prospect, but it will be interesting to see what he can do in a bigger role this coming season. He offers rare pass-rushing value and athleticism for his position and could be a serious playmaker on an NFL defense.

Round 2: Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama

Is Jermaine Burton generally unproven at the collegiate level? Yes, but he has the potential to shoot up boards as a fringe first-round pick.

Burton averaged 17.0 yards per catch and 8 touchdowns in his two seasons at Georgia, and he should bring that deep-threat ability that he displayed with the Bulldogs. He has fantastic deep speed and, at 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, he uses his well-built frame and strong core to dominate at the catch point. He has very good body control and the ball skills to come down with difficult grabs.

As of this writing, he’s unproven as a high-volume talent and hasn’t developed a super deep route tree yet. However, Burton’s speed and physicality are tremendous, and he has the potential to grow into a massive role in Alabama’s offense. He projects as a strong fit for the Bears’ offensive system and could be a great option for Justin Fields to throw to.

Round 3: Blake Freeland, OT, BYU

Athleticism? Check. Size? Check. Efficiency? You bet. You’re getting a lot of positives by drafting Blake Freeland.

Freeland’s length is remarkable, as the 6-foot-8, 305-pound lineman has a large wingspan and long legs that cover a lot of space blocking on the move. He was a high school state champion in shot put and javelin, as well as a team captain in basketball, and that athletic background is obvious on tape. He is a coordinated athlete with very good lateral agility and surprising body control for someone his size.

Could Freeland stand to work on his pad level and add a bit more strength to his anchor? He could, but the tape he displays is really good. I view him as a solid second-round pick, but if he somehow drops to the beginning of Round 3, the Bears should jump all over him. Braxton Jones looks like a good addition thus far, but Teven Jenkins is practicing at guard, Riley Reiff is on a one-year deal, and Larry Borom’s status as a starter is up in the air. Take the best offensive linemen and put your best five out there.

Round 4: Justin Flowe, LB, Oregon

Roquan Smith is slated to hit free agency after this year, and though Jack Sanborn showed plenty of promise in his preseason debut, there’s still a lot up in the air at the linebacker position.

Here’s part of my write-up from my 2023 NFL Draft preseason guide on Flowe, an enigmatic prospect who has suffered consecutive season-ending injuries but has tremendous physical upside.

A five-star recruit known for his hard-hitting highlights in high school, Flowe is a rangy WILL linebacker with great athletic tools. He is a mobile athlete with tremendous straight-line speed and a red-hot motor on every single down. He has a thick frame at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, and his feet are quick enough and his hips fluid enough to offer value in zone coverage across the middle of the field.

Flowe tore his meniscus in 2020 and injured his foot in 2021. On the field, he’s still a work in progress diagnosing plays in the box quickly enough. From a physical perspective, though, he’s a player the Bears could receive serious return on investment from on Day 3.

Round 5: Mazi Smith, DL, Michigan

Two interior defensive linemen in the same draft might seem rich, but trust me: Mazi Smith will be skyrocketing up draft boards in due time.

He has a thick frame at 6-foot-3 and 337 pounds, and he’s an unbelievably strong athlete. He benched 22 reps of 325 pounds — 100 pounds more than the NFL Combine weight — and has a combination of strength, explosiveness and agility good enough to place him No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s college football Freaks list. Smith does a good job of generating leverage in his pads and has a super strong anchor eating up gaps in the run game. For someone as big as he is, he has solid burst off the snap and plays very hard as a defender in space.

Smith doesn’t have very good production at the collegiate level, and he doesn’t have a diverse arsenal of hand techniques yet. He’s raw, but he’s a powerful interior defender who projects best as a 1-technique and can line up as far out as a 3-tech. The upside he brings as an explosive run defender could make him a player the Bears do their homework on.

Round 7: Zakhari Franklin, WR, UTSA

If you’re looking for a Day 3 receiver with a high floor, Zakhari Franklin is a great value in Round 7.

Franklin is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound receiver who exploded for 81 catches, 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. He is a coordinated athlete with great ball-tracking skills and very good body control; some of the catches he makes are remarkable snags. He has polished footwork and an effective speed release against press, and for a skinnier receiver, he excels at the catch point and can box out defensive backs well.

He doesn’t have a super high physical ceiling, as his physicality might not translate from the Group of 5 level to the NFL, and his athletic traits are just average. However, Franklin is a quality ‘X’ receiver who could serve as a strong backup or even a No. 3 starter at the next level.