Earlier today, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles met with the media at the annual NFL Scouting Combine hosted in Lucas Oil Stadium. For a quick recap of that, you can click here.
Later, we heard from their head coach, Matt Eberflus. He touched on various topics, including Justin Fields, their plan on how to build around Fields, and the kind of traits he seeks for rebuilding his defense. Here is a link to the full presser posted on YouTube.
Plenty of good nuggets to enjoy here.
“They have to love the game” - Matt Eberflus’ top criteria when looking at new players to add to their roster
This has been a trait of which he pairs with his H.I.T.S. principles when discussing what he searches for between free agency and the draft. Matt mentioned he scouted over 60 different players projected to hit free agency and typed up reports for each individual. Everything from schematic to philosophical fits are evaluated.
In January, our fellow contributor and veteran NFL scout Greg Gabriel outlined the different roles and responsibilities to be expected for everyone on Matt Eberflus’ and Ryan Poles’ respective staffs. Every assistant and member between the front office and coaching staff are assigned different players to write reports on. The free agency reports are likely finalized and the game plan is beginning to take shape.
The plan for the draft is just beginning to be discussed behind the scenes. Of course, all eyes are on whether a deal is struck to trade out of their slot at first overall. Ryan Poles alluded to a potential deadline of March 15th for any trade to be formalized, at least if it’s involving players in addition to draft picks. As Matt Eberflus said, “everything is on the table,” when it comes to their positioning towards the offseason.
Considering the cap space and draft capital available, and the amount of holes currently on the roster, there’s going to be a ton of movement on each side of the ball.
Matt Eberflus echoed the same statements made by GM Ryan Poles regarding Justin Fields
All signs point to Justin Fields remaining as the franchise quarterback for at least 2023. If not many years past this coming season. There’s also room for improvement in his game. All of those sentiments are true.
Specifically, Matt Eberflus discussed Justin Fields’ need to take what the defense gives him in certain scenarios. Moreso on first and second down as opposed to the magic he can create on third down. Every young QB learning a new system like Justin struggles with this in year one of installation. When asked about making a third-year jump like Jalen Hurts, Matt Eberflus did not dodge the question. I feel that was his best way of suggesting his faith in Justin Fields to do the same is reasonably high.
Of course, Matt will also do his job and meet with the QB prospects at the combine. What he’s looking for is their overall makeup as a player — leadership, the ability to make plays in critical situations, and who they are as a person. As I mentioned during the recap for Ryan Poles, every single team will meet and evaluate the quarterbacks of each draft class. So there is no fraudulent quarterback-related news or speculation to be made here.
This has been a practice standardized around the league since Hall of Famer Ron Wolf introduced his concept — drafting and evaluating quarterbacks every year — with the Green Bay Packers in the 90s.
Overall the level of expectations and amount of faith Matt Eberflus has in Justin Fields is higher than ever. Months ago, Matt declared Justin the franchise quarterback. His comments, and praise of his development, mirror those ideals. The relationship between head coach and quarterback is the most important of any in the pro football business.
Playmakers are needed at wide receiver
One position group Matt Eberflus did not sound overly confident with was the group at receiver. It may have been the most bearish — pun not intended — he’s been in his career at Halas Hall so far. He gave the group, along with his coaching assistants, praise for their effort in buying into the blocking concepts.
And that’s it.
I’ve always advocated for Ryan Poles to reload the receiving corps completely. It’s even more apparent now when his own head coach mentioned how big of a role real “playmakers” made during the latest postseason. Just to paint a picture, here is the group of teams that made the playoffs.
- Philadelphia Eagles - selected DeVonta Smith in the 1st round of the 2021 draft and traded for AJ Brown in 2022
- San Francisco 49ers - selected Brandon Aiyuk in the 1st round of the 2020 draft and Deebo Samuel in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft (also have George Kittle at tight end)
- Minnesota Vikings - selected Justin Jefferson in the 1st round of the 2020 draft and signed Adam Thielan as an UDFA in 2013
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - selected Mike Evans in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, Chris Godwin in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, and signed Julio Jones in free agency
- Dallas Cowboys - selected CeeDee Lamb in the 1st round of the 2020 draft and Michael Gallup in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft (also dealt Amari Cooper away to the Browns)
- New York Giants - selected Wan’Dale Robinson in the 1st round of the 2022 draft, Darius Slayton in the 5th round of the 2019 draft, and struck gold with Isaiah Hodgins on the waiver wire
- Seattle Seahawks - selected Tyler Lockett in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft and DK Metcalf in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft
- Kansas City Chiefs - selected Skyy Moore in the 2nd round of the 2022 draft, signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency, and traded for Kadarius Toney (also have Travis Kelce at tight end)
- Buffalo Bills - traded for Stefon Diggs in 2020, selected Gabe Davis in the 4th round of the 2020 draft, and signed Isaiah McKenzie in 2018 (also have Dawson Knox at tight end)
- Cincinnati Bengals - selected Ja’Marr Chase in the 1st round of the 2021 draft, Tee Higgins in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, and Tyler Boyd in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft
- Jacksonville Jaguars - signed Christain Kirk and Zay Jones as free agents in 2022 and Marvin Jones in 2021
- Los Angeles Chargers - selected Keenan Allen in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft, Mike Williams in the 1st round of the 2017 draft, and signed DeAndre Carter as a free agent
- Baltimore Ravens - selected Rashod Bateman in the 1st round of the 2021 draft and signed Sammy Watkins in 2021 along with Andy Isabella in 2022 (also have Mark Andrews at tight end)
- Miami Dolphins - traded for Tyreek Hill in 2022 and selected Jaylen Waddle in the 1st round of the 2021 draft
What that exercise shows everyone is a majority of teams who punched their ticket into the playoffs invested premium resources into their receiving corps. Especially in terms of draft picks. Most of those players were homegrown by their respective teams. Free agency is particularly weak this year. However, the trade market may explode much like it did last year. The 2023 draft class presents an excellent group to pick from early and often as well.
You also don’t need to look far as to the kind of playmaker Matt Eberflus and the Bears seek. Ian Cunningham was with the Philadelphia Eagles when DeVonta Smith was selected. He’s the kind of player the Bears don’t have on their roster. Trade options exist, or they could look to move down and pick a player like Jordan Addison, who I find to be a nearly identical comparison to DeVonta Smith. If not a slightly more polished player altogether.
How the Bears opt to add a difference-making kind of guy to a group currently headlined by Darnell Mooney — a candidate for an extension — and trade acquisition Chase Claypool is anyone’s guess. But expect something major to happen here.
Heavy praise for O-Line coach Dan Morgan and the work he produced with the hogs
Of all the coaches to receive any praise by Matt Eberflus, he spoke higher on Dan Morgan than anyone else. Where Matt also highlighted the obvious need to improve in pass protection, he praised Dan profusely for working to find an effective combination almost every week due to injuries or other factors. His work in drawing out the blocking concepts for the ground game, in particular, is what stood out most to Matt Eberflus.
It is worth noting the Bears never had their projected starting five together for more than a single game.
Alas, there will be some sizeable moves made here as hinted by Ryan Poles earlier this morning. My hunch is that new starters will be added at left guard, center, and right tackle. At the very least.
Eddie Jackson is looking like a long-term piece at Safety and a great mentor for Jaquan Brisker
When asked about Eddie Jackson and the young secondary Matt Eberflus voiced his support about their development as a group. He then pointed out Eddie Jackson as being the role model for Jaquan Brisker to shape some of his game with. That group in the secondary is young but has a high ceiling between players like Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson, Jaquan Brisker, and Kyler Gordon. Now they need to beef up the front seven to make everyone’s lives easier in coverage.
Speaking briefly on the pass rushers, Matt mentioned he’s looking at players who can bend the edge and have an explosive get-off when building the D-line. Not a lot was said at linebacker, with questions about the all-important “Will” still existing. The entire front seven is going to look substantially different heading into 2023. I feel as many as six new starters could be added between free agency and the draft - the only starter I feel is coming back will be Jack Sanborn at either “Mike” or “Sam.” All the other jobs are up for grabs.
“This is a great opportunity for our franchise.”
The 2022 regular season was absolutely dreadful for the Chicago Bears. Yet, plenty of optimism is shown between Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles. And why wouldn’t they be optimistic, given the sheer amount of resources at their disposal?
Time will tell how the Bears execute their plans for improvement. You can absolutely count on Matt Eberflus to keep the high energy, full-speed tempo moving forward. The new Bears players to be added better love it.