It’s fair to say the Bears look a lot different from how they did at the start of the 2023 offseason.
Names like DJ Moore, Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Nate Davis, D’Onta Foreman and DeMarcus Walker have all joined the fray in the Windy City within the last month. Chicago’s roster is still a work in progress, but the roster seems significantly better than it was last year, and there are a handful of positions that were big needs that don’t seem as pressing leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Bears put themselves in a strong position by trading out of the No. 1 pick, acquiring pick No. 9, Moore, and a deep arsenal of draft picks in 2023 and beyond. Now that they’re lower down the board, certain prospects who were tied to them often before their trade down seem like unlikely options.
Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson seem unlikely to fall to No. 9. Jalen Carter’s offseason might knock him down a few spots in the actual draft, but his talent could be too overwhelming for one of the teams with the first 8 picks to pass up. Outside of that, every other non-quarterback prospect could realistically be fair game.
As things currently stand, Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. makes the most sense for the Bears in Round 1.
I look at the following criteria for making a draft pick, in this order:
- Value (best player available?)
- Positional value
When you’re drafting, you aren’t making a pick because of how it will impact your team in Year 1. You’re drafting for the future, hence why many raw, yet physically gifted prospects are selected early. Even if the immediate return isn’t great, the long-term value could far exceed it if a player grows into having a high ceiling. First and foremost, you get the prospects you like the most. That sounds incredibly obvious, I know.
Positional value also has to play a role in the selections you make in the draft. That’s why quarterbacks often get drafted incredibly high — they might not be the best pure football player in the class, but they play easily the most valuable position. Other “premium” positions generally include offensive tackle, edge rusher, cornerback and — depending on who you ask — wide receiver. If a prospect’s pure value outweighs positional value, as will be the case with Texas running back Bijan Robinson, you take them early, but the fact that Robinson doesn’t play a premium position means he might fall farther than he deserves.
Johnson is the No. 8 overall prospect on my 2023 NFL Draft big board, which is very close to what the consensus is on him. He plays an incredibly important position in offensive tackle. It also just so happens to be a major need for the Bears in 2023 and beyond, so those things alone should qualify him as an option in Round 1.
It goes much deeper than just that, though. Johnson fits the arm length criterion that has been tied to the current Bears regime, measuring with the third-longest arms of any prospect at the Scouting Combine at 36 1/8 inches. He’s a big-bodied offensive tackle with insane physical attributes.
He didn’t partake in speed or agility drills, but there’s reason to believe Johnson would be a top performer there. Coming out of high school (albeit being 23 pounds lighter than he measured at the Combine), he ran a 5.07 40-yard dash and a 4.53 20-yard shuttle. On tape, he showcases impressive lateral agility and acceleration climbing to the next level, indicating his athletic testing would be impressive.
Using his confirmed Combine measurements and testing through the bench press and broad jump — along with his old high school numbers — Johnson would be one of the best athletes at his position in this draft.
That’s highly speculative, but considering Ohio State’s strength and conditioning program and how athletic Johnson looks on the field, it doesn’t seem all that unlikely.
Johnson projects best as a zone blocker at the next level, especially in wide-zone situations. He showcases very good body control blocking on the move, along with impressive coordination at the point of attack. He changes direction well in pass protection and has good initial burst in his pass sets. In the run game, he’s quick off the snap and does a good job of rolling his hips through contact to seal off defenders.
There are some flaws in Johnson’s game: his pad level can run too high, and his spatial awareness when he doesn’t have a defender directly over him can be hit or miss. That said, he complements the aforementioned length and athleticism with good strike placement and very good raw power in his frame, and his weaknesses seem incredibly coachable.
The Bears have Braxton Jones at left tackle, but their right tackle role is currently wide open after the events of free agency. Whether you want to put Johnson or Jones at left tackle is another discussion, but at the very least, you’re locking down a key position with a talented rookie. Given Jones’ flashes in 2022, there’s reason to believe he could grow into a long-term starting role if he takes the next step this coming season.
It also helps that Johnson overlapped at Ohio State with Justin Fields, and by all accounts, the two have a good relationship with each other. That’s not the biggest factor in deciding which player to draft in Round 1, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, considering Fields might be Chicago’s franchise quarterback going forward. Oh, and he’s also a high-character guy who’s been involved in his community and has been in high academic standing in college!
Johnson checks all the boxes as a potential draft pick for the Bears at No. 9. Time will tell who’s available for them in the first round, and there’s no guarantee PJJ will be available there. That said, it seems like a realistic possibility, and if the 2023 draft plays out the way many mock drafts and speculative reports seem like it might, Johnson is my top choice for Chicago this year.
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