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A Mock Draft Where Things Go Wrong (for Justin Fields)

This is a thought exercise in how drafts that mean well can slide away from a team that is trying to make smart moves.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

I am probably one of the strongest proponents of trading down to gain value that I know, and I am also a firm believer that investing in the trenches is one of the smartest things a team can do in the first round. Thus, I wanted to see if it was possible to challenge my own biases by staging a reasonable mock draft in which only two things went “wrong” at first, but those things set off a cascade wherein the Chicago Bears draft ended poorly. I realize that not everyone is going to agree with my definition of “poorly,” especially because I refused to make poor decisions–just unfortunate ones. I suggest that this exercise shows how easy it is for the Bears to put Justin Fields in a very bad position heading into 2023 so long as they don’t actively check against it. In fact, it is possible that what football clubs “actually do” will all but guarantee that FIelds is in trouble unless the Bears are wary.

In order to draft a player for a team, I needed the position to legitimately be a top need for that team as identified by DraftTek, I needed the player himself to be one of the top players available at that position on my confidence board, and I needed a close enough scheme fit that I did not feel like an idiot for making the move (although, being honest, I made fudge-factor moves where I felt that the GM in question would has a history of making poor moves, so long as they seemed to fit team needs). Meanwhile, when drafting for the Bears, I simply prioritized taking players that were rated near the top of the board and interpreted through the lens of what has been identified as positions of need, with one big distinction–I made sure to make one mistake, and that mistake was going with a defensive lineman in the first round after trading down with a move that on its surface makes perfect sense.

PIcks #1 through #8

The first eight picks are somewhat conventional, as there is solid agreement on what teams need and on who the top players are. My only “reach” here is that while my confidence board has Quenton Johnston as the top receiver, I have the Falcons taking Justin FIelds’ old teammate because multiple reports have confirmed that front offices see him as the best receiver in the draft. I tend to agree with them, but then this exercise isn’t about me. Note that after each pick I have listed the composite ranking on my assembled consensus board, the average rank, and the positional rank in terms of when the player is drafted.

  • Pick #1 (Carolina): Bryce Young #2/4.00/QB1
  • Pick #2 (Houston): C.J. Stroud #3/4.57/QB2
  • Pick #3 (Arizona): Will Anderson #1/1.86/ED1
  • Pick #4 (Indianapolis): Anthony Richardson #13/15.00/QB3
  • Pick #5 (Seattle): Tyree Wilson #6/9.29/ED2
  • Pick #6 (Detroit): Jalen Carter #4/5.71/DL1
  • Pick #7 (Las Vegas): Paris Johnson #8/12.29/OT1
  • Pick #8 (Atlanta): Jaxon Smith Njiba #1717.71/WR1

This leaves Chicago facing a board with the top receiver, tackle, defensive tackle, and top two edge rushers already taken. The Bears have many needs, and there is a long wait to get to #53, so when Pittsburgh comes calling with a very attractive package (#17 and #49 in exchange for #9 and #258) Poles would have to be thrilled. That’s a mild overpay on the part of Pittsburgh by the Jimmie Johnson Chart and it’s highway robbery for the Bears on the Rich Hill chart. This is a “no-brainer” move that causes ripple effects for Chicago

Picks #9 through #17

These next selections are where everything goes wrong, because Poles has no control over the other selections teams make, and it’s a cascade that makes sense for listed team needs and draft boards but still falls against Chicago’s needs as well. Again, my one exception to the composite board I put together is that I have moved Joey Porter down to the third cornerback, because most of the commentary I have seen has one of the other two ahead of him (he just benefits from not having serious detractors). I prefer Witherspoon to Gonzalez, but the board disagrees with me, as do many other people who do this professionally.

  • Pick #9 (Pittsburgh): Lukas Van Ness #15/17.00/DL2
  • Pick #10 (Philadelphia): Peter Skoronski #12/14.86/OG1
  • Pick #11 (Tennessee): Broderick Jones #30/37.71/OT2
  • Pick #12 (Houston): Myles Murphy #9/12.71/ED3
  • Pick #13 (New York Jets): #29/Darnell Wright 37.57/OT3
  • Pick #14 (New England): #11/Christian Gonzalez 14.29/CB1
  • Pick #15 (Green Bay): #26/Calijah Kancey 32.14/DL3
  • Pick #16 (Washington): #14/Devon Witherspoon 17.00/CB2

Note that I have two teams reaching down the board to grab the tackles that they need in recognition of how short this draft is on tackle help. Those two tackles are also curiously underrated on the strength of exactly one poor grade on the boards each.

Pick #17 (Chicago): Bryan Bresee #22/28.71/DL4

Is Bresee a bad player? No. Some might argue that getting him at #17 is a steal for a team that had such a weak defensive front last season. The only two wide receivers are likely second-round players in many years, the running backs are very poor positional value, tight ends are not a position of need at all for the moment. This is in isolation a fine choice even though Anton Harrison is still there. However…

PIck #18 through #31

Tampa Bay would probably be pretty happy with how things fall, and there’s some real talent to be picked up by teams. To some extent, this is a perfect illustration of how the strong get stronger in the NFL despite everything the league does to help with parity.

  • Pick #18 (Detroit): Nolan Smith #28/35.29/ED4
  • Pick #19 (Tampa Bay): #19/Will Levis 21.57/QB4
  • Pick #20 (Seattle): #36/Isaiah Foskey 43.29/ED5
  • PIck #21 (Los Angeles Chargers): #10/Joey Porter 13.71/CB3
  • Pick #22 (Baltimore): #7/Quentin Johnston 10.14/WR2
  • PIck # 23 (Minnesota): #31/Deonte Banks 38.00/CB4
  • Pick #24 (Jacksonville): #23/Anton Harrison 29.14/OT4
  • Pick #25 (New York Giants): #20/Jordan Addison 22.57
  • Pick #26 (Dallas): #5/Bijan Robinson 7.57/RB1
  • Pick #27 (Buffalo): #35/Zay Flowers 41.71/WR3
  • PIck #28 (Cincinnati): #18/Brian Branch 19.29/S1
  • Pick #29 (New Orleans): #38/BJ Ojulari 43.86/ED6
  • Pick #30 (Philadelphia) #27/Antonio Johnson 32.29/S2
  • Pick #31 (Kansas City): #67/Adetomiwa Adebawore 73.71/DL5

Pick #32 through #48

So, let’s assume that Poles starts trying to trade back in because of how the board is falling. He has already shown that he is patient and is unwilling to overpay in free agency, and overpaying to trade up after trading back (and on a team with so many needs) just doesn’t make sense. So, while he might try to work some deals, if nothing else happens here is how this mock falls. For the record, I am slotting in Aaron Rodgers as being traded for some package that involves one of New York’s second-round picks.

  • Pick #32 (Pittsburgh): Tuli Tuipulotu #50/55.00/DL6
  • Pick #33 (Houston): Michael Mayer #16/17.43/TE1
  • Pick #34 (Arizona): #25/Cam Smith 30.29/CB5
  • Pick #35 (Indianapolis): #60/Matthew Bergeron 66.14/OT5
  • Pick #36 (Los Angeles Rams): #49/Steve Avila 54.86/OG2
  • Pick #37 (Seattle): #52/John Michael Schmitz 56.57/OC1
  • Pick #38 (Las Vegas): #33/Kelee Ringo 39.14/CB6
  • Pick #39 (Carolina): #61/Jalin Hyatt 68.00/WR4
  • Pick #40 (New Orleans): #21/Jahmyr Gibbs 26.86/RB2
  • Pick #41 (Tennessee): #24/Dalton Kincaid 29.57/TE2
  • Pick #42 (New York Jets): #75/Joe Tippman 79.57/OC2
  • Pick #43 (New York traded to Green Bay): #71/Christopher Smith II 75.43/S3
  • Pick #44 (Atlanta): Felix Anudike-Uzomah #46/52.71/ED7
  • Pick #45 (Green Bay): Josh Downs #45/50.29/WR5
  • Pick #46 (New England): Will McDonald IV #44/49.00/ED8
  • Pick #47 (Washington): Dawand Jones #41/45.29/OT6
  • Pick #48 (Detroit): Cody Mauch #51/55.00/OG3

Pick #49 (Chicago): Emmanuel Forbes #32/39.00/CB7

Forbes is a ballhawk who sits at #31 overall on my composite board. The only other players near him who have gone unselected are Drew Sanders, Trenton Simpson, O’Cyrus Torrence, and a pair of tight ends (plus Clark Phillips III, but not only is he a lower-ranked cornerback than Forbes, he’s the wrong kind of corner to boot). Poles would need to reach (a lot) for Jaelyn Duncan at this point–and I’m aware that some drafts have him doing exactly that, but that does not match what little we have seen of him so far. As a pick in isolation, Forbes makes sense.

Picks #50 through 52

Here, Miami does exactly what Poles did not do and they reach for Duncan. Of course, if this is how the board falls, I can easily see them trading ahead of Chicago anyway (perhaps into the mid-40s) to be able to secure some offensive line help. Who knows, maybe they even outbid Chicago in a situation like that. Seattle grabbing Wypler also hurts. Tampa Bay is shaping up to have a nice draft.

  • #50 (Tampa Bay): Darnell Washington #42/48.14/TE3
  • #51 (Miami): Jaelyn Duncan #79/81.57/OT7
  • #52 (Seattle): Luke Wypler #87/84.43/OC3

Pick #53 (Chicago): Derek Hall 58.14/ED9

Best player available at a position of need strikes again. I think there’s a lot to like about Derek Hall, but at this point Ryan Poles should probably consider backup quarterback a position of need, because with how little help he’s giving Justin Fields and PJ Walker, there are going to be games that they miss.

Picks #54 through #60

The run on receivers starts, with other picks at positions of need for teams scattered in. Buffalo is arguably reaching for Morris, but his grade seems to be up and down all over the place. I move the Iowa tight end in front of some of his colleagues on the strength of the history of the program at the position, but that’s not super relevant to this exercise.

  • 54 (Los Angeles Chargers): #63/Rashee Rice 71.43/WR6
  • 55 (Detroit): Trenton Simpson #37/43.29/LB1
  • 56 (Jacksonville): JL Skinner #76/79.86/S4
  • 57 (New York Giants): Kayshon Boutte #64/72.14/WR7
  • 58 (Dallas) Cedric Tillman #82/82.14/WR8
  • 59 (Buffalo): Wanya Morris #107/91.43/OT8
  • 60 (Cincinnati): Sam La Porta #59/66.00/TE4

Pick #61 (Chicago): Zach Charbonnet #58/65.86/RB4

Chicago finally makes an offensive pick, and it’s a running back. However, it almost has to be. With needs at defensive line, edge, and cornerback all met, the need to rotate to the offense should be clear. The only problem is that the top and even middle receivers are all gone. Arguably A.T. Perry (88.43) could be the pick here, but Chicago needs a potential tackle far more than it needs another body in the receiver room.

The only problem is that Blake Freeland (89.57) is basically the highest tackle available, and he’s even more of a stretch. There are linebackers available, and history tells us that second-round linebackers tend to play pretty well, but Poles used free agency to address the linebacker room. Charbonnet has been linked to the Bears and he’s not a bad player. He’s also far less of a reach than the other offensive help. Achane (RB3) could also be the pick here, as he has a slightly higher rating on the board (61.29), but he is not the style of back Chicago is missing and the Bears have a recent history with undersized backs who might face durability concerns.

Pick #62 and #63

Responding to the receiver run, the two teams between Chicago’s late picks each grab a receiver. I have no idea where Dell is going to go, so I slot him here. I’m not sure that this impacts what Chicago does, because at #64 there’s basically one move left.

  • 62 (Philadelphia): Nathaniel Dell #84/82.57/WR9
  • 63 (Kansas City): AT Perry #97/88.43/WR10

Pick #64 (Chicago) Blake Freeland #101/89.57/OT9

Is Freeland a bad player? No. He is, per Lance Zeirlein, “an unfinished product with a modest ceiling as a pro.” Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated is generally positive as well, saying his “notable movement skills and promising power may, in time, translate to a starting role in a zone offense; first, he needs to clean up various technical issues.” Our own Jacob Infante placed him ahead of Darnell Wright earlier, but there is consistent agreement that he is going to need time that Justin Fields just doesn’t have.

Every other move available to Chicago is a defender (which the middle of this particular draft is long on) or a tight end, which the Bears don’t actually need at the moment. As a consequence, the Bears are left to reach for a tackle who might not be ready for at least a year and whose length makes him unusable as a guard as a backup plan.


This draft is actually not terrible for Chicago as a whole, because the goal was not to assemble a poor draft. That’s possible by focusing on punters, long snappers, and fullbacks. Instead, this draft is terrible for Justin Fields. There is no high-level help given to him–there’s not even mid-level help given to him–and he is going to face a repeat of the same problems he has faced for his entire Chicago career. It is possible that Day Three picks will bail him out, but historically they will have very little impact except as marginal role-players, especially at first.

If Poles passes on the trade with Pittsburgh, he misses out on Emmanuel Forbes and Brian Bresee, but he retains the ability to select either Broderick Jones or Darnell Wright. With almost no additional luck, he then still has the potential to take Hall and Charbonnet, with Gervon Dexter or Keion White (at least in this draft) still available at #64. Given that there tends to be a distinct difference in the talent available in the first 11 picks and later, plus the extraordinarily low likelihood of finding a starting tackle outside of the first round, that is the safer and wiser strategy.

The addition of Nate Davis and D.J. Moore will help Fields, but that is likely not going to be enough help. By not paying attention to the needs of a developing quarterback, Chicago has set itself up for the future. It will just likely be a future where someone else is going to need to be under center sooner rather than later.