The Bears run the NFL offseason. How many times have you heard that or something like that these last few weeks?
The first wave of free agency has come and gone, and one could argue the second wave has passed at this point, too. Now, it’s time to focus towards the 2023 NFL Draft.
Albert Breer from Sports Illustrated reported in The MMQB in March that Bears general manager Ryan Poles has seven prospects his grades view as worthy of considering with the No. 1 overall in the draft. This was before Chicago traded the top pick in the draft to the Panthers, thus moving the former’s top pick to No. 9 overall.
This begs the question: who are those seven players?
We’re going to try to identify who they are. Starting things off is a simple assumption: there are no quarterbacks. There’s a chance those players do include quarterbacks, but judging by an implication from Breer and the fact it was unlikely the Bears would’ve picked a quarterback first overall in the first place, we’re removing quarterbacks for the time being.
Breer mentioned there’s a strong chance one of Poles’ top 7 falls to No. 9, considering four quarterbacks are expected to come off the board before Chicago gets on the clock. If the likes of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis all go in the top 8, at least three of these prospects will be on the board, which would be a great spot to be in.
Let’s take a shot in the dark as to which prospects could be in the “Ryan Poles Seven”.
Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
Anderson is one of the most accomplished, productive and talented pass rushers to enter the NFL Draft in the last decade. It would be stunning if he didn’t make the cut for Poles’ top tier; not much more needs to be said.
Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Breer’s aforementioned article that included quotes from Poles came out a week after Carter’s charges for reckless driving and racing were first issued. There’s a possibility the seven prospects have changed since then, but if they haven’t — which seems unlikely this late in the game — then the Georgia star is probably a part of it.
Carter met with the Bears on Monday, and Chicago knows he won’t be there for either of their two second-round picks. It’s no surprise they brought him in, considering all the questions surrounding him right now. It’s also no surprise when you consider he’s the consensus best defensive tackle prospect in the 2023 draft, dominating at a 3-technique alignment that is crucial to head coach Matt Eberflus’ system. Whether the Bears strongly consider Carter is unknown, as is whether or not he’ll be available at No. 9. Given his talent level, it would also be surprising if he didn’t make the cut in this exercise.
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
From a pure size and length perspective, Wilson might be the most gifted edge rusher in the 2023 draft.
Possessing 96th-percentile arm length off the edge with a 6-foot-6, 271-pound frame, Wilson is the prototype for what one expects out of a high-profile edge rusher. In addition to his obvious frame advantages, he’s an explosive defender who’s quick off the snap, carries significant raw power and plays with a high motor. He’s had 14 sacks and 27.5 tackles for a loss in his last two years with the Red Raiders, and it seems like his best football is still ahead of him. He plays a premium position, has a sky-high ceiling and is projected as a top-10 pick, so I feel safe saying Wilson’s one of the Ryan Poles Seven (patent pending).
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Bears still have a massive need at one of their starting offensive tackle spots, and luckily for them, there are multiple tackles worth considering in the top 10 of the 2023 draft.
In terms of pure, undisputed tackles, Johnson is probably the best of the bunch. He’s an agile athlete who changes direction well in pass protection and blocks well on the move. He has a well-built frame with tremendous raw power and insanely long arms, and he’s shown significant
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
It’s also worth noting that Breer’s article — and thus, the “seven players” nugget — came out before the Bears traded out of the No. 1 pick, acquiring star wide receiver DJ Moore in the process. However, both Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney are slated to hit free agency in the 2023, and Chicago likely won’t keep both of them. That’s where a receiver like Smith-Njigba enters the fray long-term.
Jeff Hughes of DaBearsBlog indicated from a source the Bears love JSN, and it’s not hard to see why. Like Johnson, he has a strong relationship with Fields, and no wide receiver in the 2023 draft has as good of a collegiate season to their name as JSN’s 2021 campaign. He’s an incredibly intelligent route runner with great lateral quickness and burst out of his breaks. Even with the Bears’ wide receiver room for 2023, Smith-Njigba is still a player worth considering.
Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
The big debate is whether Skoronski will play at guard or tackle at the NFL level. What isn’t up for debate, however, is the fact that he’s a damn good offensive lineman.
He doesn’t fit the ideal arm length mold NFL teams want in an offensive tackle, which will likely kick him inside at the next level. With that in mind, the Bears may not hold a guard in that high of graces due to perceived positional value, but if any potential guard since Quenton Nelson in 2018 could be an exception, it would be Skoronski. He’s a rock-solid blocker with good pad level, precise strike placement, very good situational awareness and above-average athleticism. He seems like a safe bet to be a reliable anchor along an NFL offensive line, which is something Chicago would be foolish to not at least consider.
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
This last entry was the biggest mystery to me. I considered Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy, Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, and ever so briefly, Texas running back Bijan Robinson. The latter, though absurdly talented, seems like a long shot given his position, but the other three all play premier positions that would be worth considering with the No. 1 overall pick.
That said, positional value played a role here, and Jones is one of the most talented offensive linemen this class has to offer. He was one of the top testers across the more among linemen at the Combine, and his tape backs that up: he’s incredibly coordinated, mobile and has tremendous speed for his size. It also helps he plays with a tenacious attitude and brings very good length to the table. Jones is a great system fit for Chicago with the potential to play at a perennial Pro Bowl level if all goes well.
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