Fans from all 32 teams can be found in Kansas City for the 2023 NFL Draft but after the Chiefs, the Chicago Bears seem to have the most representation. It’s incredibly easy to tell apart loyalties as 95+% of the crowd is wearing team gear, mostly jerseys, with media and NFL staffers being the exception. Maybe it’s my biased eye, with the beauty of navy and orange pulling my attention in a sea of humanity, but it appeared as though every group of 20 random fans had at least a couple of Bears jerseys.
As I walked through “The Draft Experience” I took a poll from every Bears fan I passed by. The guy wearing a Johnny Knox jersey wanted Jalen Carter, as did his friend wearing Cutler’s number six. A Trubisky fan wanted Bijan Robinson, the Texas running back, while the gentlemen wearing Devin Hester’s 23 was looking for Peter Skoronski, the offensive lineman out of Northwestern.
The answers were all across the board and as varied as the jerseys spotted. Carter was the most popular answer, “winning” the poll with about a third of respondents. Jaxon Smith-Ngiba took second place to “reunite with Justin” while absolutely no one voted for an offensive tackle.
Overall, the NFL Draft Experience had high energy. People were having fun eating BBQ and trying to be heard over the live concert blaring music on a stage below. The music was interrupted regularly by different talking heads. One exhausting exchange had someone roll through all 32 teams asking for cheers from their fans. Both Cardinals fans cheered loudly, bless their hearts, while most teams drew more boos from their division rivals than cheers from the fans themselves.
You have to hand it to the NFL, creating an event out of something that used to happen in the basement of a hotel. People want to wear their jerseys, in April, and cheer for their team selecting college players that most have never heard of before their names were called. While that may not make a ton of sense on the surface, there’s something powerful about the grip this game has on this country.
The Media Room
Two conference rooms set up with wall-to-wall tables, packed with laptops, cameras, microphones, caffeinated beverages, and more power strips than a Best Buy warehouse greeted me after a quick BBQ dinner. I found a corner to charge my dying phone in time to see the first pick announced.
After leaving the highly partisan Draft Experience, the subdued reactions of the media around me were somewhat surprising. Then I remembered that everyone there was working and the day was long for everyone. Most journalists are there to cover what happens, not give analysis.
The Bears Trade and Pick
When the Bears traded back one spot, that told me immediately that the rumblings I heard from everywhere about Jalen Carter not getting past Chicago was smoke with no fire. Always a good reminder that outside of an incredibly small clutch of people, no one truly knows anything about the intentions of the decision-makers at the top. In the moment, I felt a twinge of disappointment because it would’ve been a swing from the heels. A Javy Baez-esque hack at the plate, where the ball either lands in the bleachers or in the catcher’s mitt for strike three with little chance of anything in between.
There’s no way to know the conversations about character evaluations or what Carter’s career would have looked like in Chicago had Ryan Poles rolled the dice. I do believe that Philly is the ideal landing spot for him given the Georgia teammates and veteran leadership around him. He may turn into a star in this league for a long time, but there’s no guarantee that Chicago would have supported him in the same way.
As the Bears turned in their card for Darnell Wright, I felt two conflicting feelings. One, good pick at a position of need. Yes, the Bears probably boxed themselves into this outcome by not addressing right tackle in free agency. The minute that Denver pulled Mike McGlinchey to the Rockies, this outcome seemed the most likely. Wright has, ahem, the right stuff to anchor the right side of the offensive line for years to come. He’s an excellent pass blocker and should be able to step in early to win the starting job in Week 1. This is a good result, the fourth-round pick from Philly in next year’s draft to move down one spot a nice little treat, an after-dinner mint you stick in your pocket to enjoy later.
The other feeling was one of disappointment because Darnell Wright was not present at the draft in Kansas City. The 17 players present at the draft eventually made their way to the media hotel for a quick interview and Chicago not taking one of those guys meant I wouldn’t get to ask the newest Bear a question. It sure would be nice to see the NFL invite more of the big fellas out to the draft.
A Random Walk Down Main Street
I decided to walk back to my hotel in the middle of the first round to see if I could find some Bears fans to get their reaction. I spoke with about a dozen Bears fans on my walk, the overwhelming majority of which liked the pick. The first guy I spoke with, wearing an Adrian Amos jersey, said “It ain’t sexy, but we don’t need sexy.”
That point was echoed by a Bears fan wearing a #9 jersey with the nameplate covered up (McMahon? Gould? Brisker?). His friends, a Colts fan happy with Anthony Richardson and a Falcons fan thrilled with Bijan, wanted me to note specifically that he had been saying he wasn’t sexy for the last half hour but was talking himself into it at the end of the night.
A couple of guys that “have been Bears fans for a long @#$#$@% time” let me know that the Bears can never develop anyone so it doesn’t really matter who they took, but sure, they were happy about it being a lineman. Wow...
A couple wearing a Walter Payton jersey and a Brian Urlacher jersey had the biggest issue with the pick because they felt Wright was taken too high and wanted a trade back further to the late teens. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Wright would’ve been there that late, given where Skoronski and Broderick Jones went.
Thanks to Danny and Mason on the Livestream
Our guys held down a different draft show than we had in the past and I got a chance to hop on late with them. Big shout to the guys hanging with Bears fans, giving analysis throughout the night. On to Day 2 of the NFL Draft!