Now that the dust of the 2023 NFL Draft has settled, one position stands out among the rest as the Bears’ biggest need: defensive end.
Free agent signings DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green will factor into Chicago’s rotation of edge rushers, but to this point, the room still looks pretty thin when compared to other pass-rushing groups across the NFL. One could certainly argue it’s a better group than what the Bears had in 2022, but given how low of a bar that is, that claim alone isn’t anything to celebrate.
The Bears opted to not draft any edge rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft, boosting the interior with all three of their selections made towards their defensive line. Though a late free agency signing or a trade could be in the works, they figure to need an edge rusher in the 2024 draft.
Luckily for them, not only do they have two picks in Round 1 to work with after their trade with the Panthers, but they also have a potentially deep class of edge rushers to work with next year.
It’s very early in my pre-draft process, but I’ve done enough work on this class so far to put together a list of intriguing edge rushers for the Bears to keep tabs on, both in early rounds and later on in the draft. This list is incredibly fluid and will certainly change to some extent between now and the 2024 draft, as some top edge rushers might not live up to my expectations for them in the 2023 season, while others could prove concerns in their respective profiles wrong and shoot up my board.
For the time being, though, here are 15 edge rushers for the Bears to remember in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Tier 1: Round 1 targets
1. J.T. Tuimoloau, Ohio State: With a combination of size, speed and strength unparalleled by any draft-eligible edge rusher in the class, Tuimoloau is an explosive defender with a powerful frame and long arms. Though his pass-rushing arsenal needs to get deeper, he converts speed to power very well and has very good flexibility for a 270-pounder.
2. Jared Verse, Florida State: Verse probably would’ve been a first-round pick had he declared for the 2023 draft, but he now finds himself in competition to be the best edge rusher in the 2024 class. He’s a bit light but is insanely flexible with a wicked first step and a sharp understanding of how to string together pass-rushing moves at the point of attack.
3. Dallas Turner, Alabama: Turner is more of a projection than former teammate Will Anderson was heading into his junior year, but the former is a freak athlete in his own right. With tremendous acceleration off the snap, ideal weight distribution and pad level, and good fluidity in space, Turner has a very high ceiling if he can enhance his play strength and counter move strategy.
4. Jack Sawyer, Ohio State: A predominantly rotational edge rusher in 2022, Sawyer figures to step into a bigger role for the Buckeyes this coming year. He has a powerful frame with long arms, and he does a good job of keeping his weight underneath him to maximize his anchor strength. He’s also an above-average athlete off the edge, and while he’s currently pretty raw as a technician, the developmental upside with Sawyer is immense.
Tier 2: Day 2 talents with riser potential
5. Princely Umanmielen, Florida: Umanmielen is an impressive speed rusher who maximizes his tremendous raw athletic traits with a red-hot motor. He has good situational awareness setting the edge in the run game, and while he isn’t a reliable run defender off the edge quite yet, his speed, fluidity and intelligence are very encouraging when projecting his future NFL value.
6. Chop Robinson, Penn State: In addition to having one of the coolest names in the 2024 draft, Robinson is one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the class. A lack of tremendous size and power hurts him at times — like it did against Dawand Jones — but his flexibility, agility, acceleration and effort gives him plenty to work with at the next level.
7. Bralen Trice, Washington: Trice broke out in 2022 with 9 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss, and he enters this year as one of the top edge rushers in college football. He’s a powerful rusher with a deep arsenal of hand techniques and ways to beat offensive tackles at the point of attack. His athletic ceiling isn’t the highest in the class, but he packs a mean punch and has a variety of moves like clubs, swims, two-handed swipes and push-pulls at his disposal.
8. Laiatu Latu, UCLA: Latu is an interesting case, as he missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to his being medically retired with neck issues. That said, he’s a talented edge rusher with a polished use of his hands, nice quickness in a vacuum and very good play strength. With 10.5 sacks in 2022, another full healthy season could go a long way for Latu.
Tier 3: Later-round sleepers
9. Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington: Tupuola-Fetui broke onto the scene with 7 sacks in 2020, but his stock fell off a bit after a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2021 and a down year in terms of production in 2022. Nonetheless, he’s a thickly-built defensive end with good pad level, a quick first step and good grip strength at the initial point of contact.
10. Josaiah Stewart, Michigan: He’s an undersized edge at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, but Stewart tallied 26 tackles for a loss in his two seasons at Coastal Carolina before transferring to Michigan for the 2023 season. He’s like lightning in a bottle the way he plays with impressive speed and a playing style akin to a man with his hair on fire in all the right ways. He might be a better collegiate rusher than a pro, but his speed, flexibility, hand usage and motor should see him get drafted.
11. Korey Foreman, USC: The top high school recruit in the 2021 class, Foreman has yet to live up to his high billing in college, but the tools that had him so highly-touted are apparent. He’s quick off the ball, has very good length, plays with ideal flexibility and has nice fluidity in space. Pad level and power are issues for him, and he doesn’t have a massive sample size of starting tape to work with. That said, if he takes on a bigger role for the Trojans in 2023, a breakout year could be in store for him.
12. Chico Bennett Jr., Virginia: Bennett reminds me a bit of where former Virginia and former Bears edge rusher Charles Snowden was right before his final collegiate season in 2021. He’s a versatile defender who can rush off the edge and showcases tremendous speed and enough mobility to serve as a 4-3 SAM at times, but he struggles with setting the edge and getting his weight underneath him. I think the athletic upside is better with Bennett, though, which has him firmly on my radar for the 2024 draft.
13. Akheem Mesidor, Miami (FL): A stout edge rusher listed at 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds, Mesidor has the versatility to kick in as a 3-technique defensive tackle or even as far inside as a nose tackle in some packages for the Hurricanes. He plays with a high motor and a strong lower half, and he shows good awareness against the run. His athletic upside is somewhat limited, but the tools are there for him to be a solid starter in due time in the NFL.
14. Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State: With 15.5 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss in his first two collegiate seasons, Oliver has been a productive edge rusher at Oklahoma State. He’s an explosive edge rusher with a high motor and very good fluidity out in the open field. He’s quite undersized at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, but as a special teamer with rotational pass-rushing upside and potential off-ball SAM value, he’s a solid investment on Day 3.
15. Jacoby Windmon, Michigan State: Between his 2022 season at Michigan State and his final two seasons at UNLV, Windmon tallied 17 sacks and 28.5 tackles for a loss. He’s smaller for an edge rusher and has a concerning incident assaulting a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel to his name. That said, he’s a super flexible edge rusher with good acceleration, a high motor and calculated movements getting to the football.