For anyone who’s read my work here, listens to my podcast, or follows me on Twitter, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I want to see the Chicago Bears select a tackle in the first round of this draft. I haven’t waivered from what I heard last week that Ryan Poles would select Georgia Bulldogs DT Jalen Carter if he’s available at nine, but if he isn’t, he would like to move back in the draft.
Of the holes that remain on this roster, right tackle is the largest void. I don’t even think an argument can be made for any other position. Despite that being my desire, let’s look at the draft objectively and discuss why going tackle may not be the best move.
First is the aforementioned Carter. If he’s there at nine, nobody can deny the talent that Carter has. In my mind, he’s probably the second-best prospect in this draft behind Alabama edge Will Anderson and plenty of draft experts say his talent is the best in the class.
We know the strikes against Carter. He, of course, was involved in the incident that left two people dead in January, there’s been rumblings about character concerns, there’s concern his motor doesn’t run very high and that he doesn’t love football. He certainly could falter if those concerns ring true, but he could also be an obscene value in terms of talent at nine. If Ryan Poles believes Carter is the guy for the Bears and he’s there at nine, let’s roll the dice.
If Poles does trade back, he’s going to be at the mercy of how the draft unfolds. He could drop back into the late teens or early 20s and Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson, Broderick Jones and Darnell Wright could all be off the board. If that’s the case is it worth reaching on a lesser prospect? Of course not. Poles should take the best guy on his board at that point.
But for Poles to trade back, it will, of course, take two to tango. Poles is going to have to find a willing partner to move up to nine and that partner is going to have to offer compensation that he finds fair and wants to make the move.
For the sake of the rest of this article, let’s assume that Poles can’t find a trade partner and that Carter is selected before nine. Should the mindset be tackle or bust at nine? Let’s examine how this could play out.
In terms of non-QBs, we know Anderson will be gone, and we’ve already stated Carter will be gone. What’s fascinating about the rest of these prospects, whether it be Tyree Wilson or Christian Gonzalez, is none of them are a lock to go before the Bears at nine. Sure, odds are Gonzalez will be gone, but he could be there, same with Wilson.
When looking at the expert's big boards, you see one thing developing pretty consistently across them, whether it be Daniel Jeremiah, Pro Football Focus, CBS, or any others, you see Skoronski consistently ranked in the top ten, but you are seeing Johnson, Jones and Wright consistently falling in that 17 to 25 range.
As we know, tackle is a premium position, and Skoronski is an interesting case. Many are projecting Skoronski as a guard due to his short arms. I know some fans roll their eyes and say he was a great tackle in college and can be one in the NFL. That may be true, but the fact remains that tackles have not succeeded greatly at the NFL level with his arm length. It doesn’t make it impossible, but it would make him the outlier.
In terms of Johnson, Jones and Wright. Johnson and Jones project to the left side. And while I certainly wouldn’t suggest avoiding a prospect because Braxton Jones had a nice rookie season, it certainly will create another player, whether it be Braxton or the rookie tackle, that needs to change positions. In terms of pure talent, I think Johnson has the higher floor, but Jones has the higher ceiling. Wright is the best pure right tackle prospect in the draft, but taking him at nine would certainly be a stretch, no doubt about it.
So where does this leave Ryan Poles? Could he take Skoronski if he’s there and toss out his thresholds and go for the pure talent? Could he take Johnson who is probably considered the next best offensive line prospect in this draft? Or could he skip offensive line and take the best pure talent on the board, whether that be Gonzalez or Wilson or someone at a totally different position (WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba)?
If Poles takes a different position, he’s going to have to add a mediocre veteran tackle like a Cam Fleming to stop gap the position in 2023. He’s added quite a few stopgaps this season already like D’Onta Foreman, Andrew Billings and Rasheem Green. Someone like Fleming starting there is certainly going to be concerning for Justin Fields. Sure, Poles can take someone potentially like Syracuse tackle Mathew Bergeron in round two, but at that point the hit rate has already dropped substantially.
You can see how a pickle is developing for Poles and you can also see why Poles is reportedly actively seeking a trade down partner. If Jalen Carter is gone, it seems really reasonable, based on the current roster construction that Poles would want to draft a tackle. He may see Skoronski as a guard and feels that taking one of the other three tackle positions would be a reach at nine.
That’s why I think a trade down still seems to be the best plan for Poles. If he trades down to Pittsburgh Steelers at 17 or even a bit further, almost certainly, Paris Johnson will be off the board, but as we approach the draft, it certainly seems like Broderick Jones or Darnell Wright would be right in target range if Poles can land in that area.
Make no mistake about it, the Bears need a young tackle and I believe Ryan Poles knows this. But if he can’t move down from nine, it could be worth taking a pure talent rather than stretching to take a tackle, even if that means more risk to Justin Fields.