The Chicago Bears have had a mini-bye and are getting ready to face the Minnesota Vikings. Justin Fields has had back-to-back 100+ passer rating games, and in any reasonable sense of the term, it’s a year or more too early to think about grading the 2023 draft. However, a few impressions are so clear that it feels wrong not to offer a few hot takes.
#1) the Bears and Eagles both won the trade at #9
Chicago desperately needed help on their offensive line, and so far Darnell Wright has been everything they needed. I’m not a fan of Pro Football Focus, but they have him as the top tackle in the 2023 draft, ahead of even Paris Johnson, jr. More than that, he’s currently even outpacing Titans’ guard Peter Skoronski (who will hopefully get back to form after recovering from his appendectomy). Meanwhile, ESPN’s NextGen-driven numbers have Wright as a high-level player, as well, crediting him with one of the higher run-block win rates in the league for weeks now. The Bears got an offensive anchor they needed and picked up an extra lottery ticket in 2024.
As for the Philadelphia Eagles? With his former Georgia teammates around him and with a team that has the stability to harness his talent, Jalen Carter has been a wrecking ball. There’s no way they care at all about the future 4th-rounder they gave up to ensure they got their guy, and that defense can be terrifying.
#2) Optimist Prime was right about Jaxon Smith-Njiba
There was considerable buzz around Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njiba, and a number of Chicago fans wanted Ryan Poles to reunite Justin Fields with his former teammate. By contrast, Windy City Gridiron’s own Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter said this “I’m standing on my hill and saying Jaxon Smith-Njigba is fool’s gold.” While that might have been harsh, it has also turned out to be correct so far. JSN is the 14th receiver from his class in receiving yards, and Detroit and Green Bay actually each have two rookies with more receiving yards so far.
Meanwhile, the best receiver of the class to date has turned out to be Puka Nacua.
#3) This cornerback class is looking as deep as promised
Devon Witherspoon was my favorite out of a loaded cornerback class, and he has already shown up big time with four pass deflections, a pick-6, and a pair of sacks. However, Christian Gonzales is also playing well, and Joey Porter is flashing promise as well. That leaves aside tackling machines Clark (Arizona), Stevenson (Chicago), and Forbes (Washington), who along with Witherspoon are three of the top six tacklers in this class.
#4) Bijan Robinson is looking like Saquon Barkley, for better and worse
Like Barkley, Robinson was supposed to change discussion about first-round running backs. Like Barkley in his early years, he’s putting up nice numbers and probably helping win fantasy games, but he’s not on a path to rewrite draft strategies. He’s not even the most productive running back from his class except on a volume basis (De’Von Achane holds that title, his present injury notwithstanding). Atlanta currently has the 13th-most rushing yards despite having the 8th-most attempts, and Robinson himself has only the 8th-most yards.
Is Robinson a good player? Absolutely. However, he has not reinvigorated the Atlanta Falcons’ offense (they are converting 38% of third downs, actually a decrease from 41% last season). He has not saved the quarterback from pressure (the Falcons’ sacked rate is at 9.25%, up from 8.19% last season). He also has not solved the passing problems as a safety valve (passer rating of 86.3, a dip from the 87.7 of last season). Robinson belongs in the Pro Bowl, where he will join a list of players who are individually successful without actually helping to buoy their team.
#5) When in doubt, pick the TE from Iowa
I was raised a Hawkeyes fan, so I’m biased here. However, after all of the debate about Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid, it turns out that Sam LaPorta is looking more like the real deal than either of them. In that way, he’s a lot like T.J. Hockenson. Who was, in turn, a lot like George Kittle. Noah Fant might be a little disappointing, but otherwise that’s a heck of a list. The Detroit Lions have been taking a lot of players from their “home” conference in the B1G Ten, and so far it’s been working for them.