Ryan Poles stressed local connections when he signed free agents Robert Tonyan and T.J. Edwards, both originally from the Greater Chicago Area. Did this same sort of interest play out in the 2023 draft?
It did not.
The NFL reported that 243 different high schools had players drafted in 2023, with Illinois high schools contributing 12 different players to the draft (5th overall). However, the Chicago Bears drafted none of them. Instead, division rivals led the way in that regard. The Green Bay Packers took Lukas Van Ness (Barrington) and Jayden Reed (Naperville Central). Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions drafted Sam LaPorta (Highland). Had Poles catered to the crowd demanding a new Center, he could have tried to beat New York to drafting John Michael Schmitz (Homewood-Flossmoor), and many fans were also probably hoping that Poles would create a rivalry inside the Skoronski family. That didn’t happen.
Grandpa Skoronski’s Packers did seem to have the greatest regional loyalty of any of the NFC North teams, also taking players from South Dakota and Ohio in addition to Illinois and Michigan. Perhaps amusingly, then, the Packers did not draft any of the three players who went to high school in Wisconsin, nor did the Vikings take Evan Hull out of Brownstone, Minnesota. Likewise, those two picks Green Bay spent on players out of Michigan were two more than Detroit. The Bears’ only selection out of the Midwest was Tyler Scott from Ohio, and since he grew up closer to Canton than to either Cleveland or Cincinnati, Chicago fans are probably hoping that he ends up back where he started from. The Vikings showed less regional loyalty even than the Bears, not taking a single player who finished high school in the Midwest.
Instead of staying local, Poles ended up drafting players from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. This shouldn’t be too surprising. The value of stressing local connections is finding players who have a reason to join a team when the decision is theirs to make. In the draft, though, the teams make the choices and not the players. Otherwise the Bears would have George Kittle (a lifelong Bears fan) instead of having drafted Adam Shaheen.
Still and all, players who were drafted to play in front of their “home crowd” were not all that rare this year. Daiyan Henley of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles was drafted by the Chargers, as was Tuli Tuipulotu of Lawndale High School. Julius Brents was drafted by the Colts after going to high school in Indianapolis. Carter Warren and Israel Abanikanda were both drafted by the Jets, so that team is covered whether you consider them a New Jersey team for Warren or a New York team for Abanikanda. Colton Dowell was drafted by the Titans after going to high school and college in the Volunteer State. Dylan Horton (Houston) and Damarvion Overshown (Dallas) were likewise schooled in the Lone Star State for high school and college alike.
Ultimately, though, the homecoming pick of the draft should go to Joey Porter, who went to school in Pittsburgh, attended Penn State, and was drafted by the Steelers–the same organization with which his father won a Super Bowl and earned numerous other honors, including two 1st-Team All Pros. The Bears helped facilitate that particular moment, but I can’t help but think that Chicago fans would have preferred for it to be otherwise.
A quick look at future prospects tells us that one of the highest-ranking prospects from the Chicagoland area next year is J.J. McCarthy out of LaGrange Park. Let’s hope that the Bears have no need for his services in 2024.