Now that the 2023 NFL Draft has been completed and we have had some time to reflect on all the selections, I have some thoughts on what transpired.
1 – Overall, the Chicago Bears had a very strong draft. They filled multiple needs and on Day 3 they got some outright steals.
The only area of need the Bears missed was not being able to get a speed pass rusher. There were plenty in this draft, but the picks didn’t fall in a manner that would have allowed the Bears to select an edge.
Going back well over 20 years, I have used the average number of players taken at a position over a seven-to-eight-year period to determine how many players at a certain position will be taken in each of the early rounds (one through three). In the case of pass rushers, the average number selected in the first round has been five, and in the second round, four have been selected. This Draft went away from the norms, as seven edge pass rushers were taken in the first round, and eleven were selected before the Bears picked in the second round.
While it may have been the plan to select a pass rusher, the only way they were going to get one was to “reach” for one in the second or third round. That totally goes away from the philosophy of good drafting.
A club spends weeks putting its board together, and when it is completed, the scouting department and the coaching staff agree and are on the same page about how that board is set. You have to deviate from the board to take a position of need when there is a player rated higher on the board that, in all probability, also played a position of need.
Instead of reaching for a pass rusher, the Bears strengthened their interior defensive line with Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. Both of those players are capable of playing either of the defensive tackle positions at a high level. Going into OTAs and training camp, the defensive tackle position can now be looked at as a position of strength on the roster.
The Bears still need a pass rusher, and I feel confident that at least one veteran free agent will be signed in the coming days. The three best that are available are former Bear Leonard Floyd (yes, Floyd can play DE in the Bears scheme), Yannick Ngakoue and Dawuane Smoot. Floyd and Ngakoue are clearly the better players of that small group.
2 – In watching the draft, I saw one thing that I had never seen before in a Bears Draft Room following a selection. In the nine years I was the Scouting Director for the Bears, I was the person who called the player we were going to select, followed by head coach Lovie Smith and then the position coach. General manager Jerry Angelo seldom talked to the selected players.
When Ryan Pace was the GM, he was the person who made the call to the player, followed by the head coach. This past weekend, following Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus’ conversations with the player, new team president Kevin Warren talked to the new Chicago Bear. In all the years I have been involved in scouting, I have never seen a team president talk to a drafted player right after his selection. I felt that was an interesting new dynamic to the process and shows us that Kevin Warren is going to be fully involved.
3 – The Steals: In my opinion, both fourth-round draft picks were steals. Running back Roschon Johnson was the first fourth-rounder selected by the Bears, and I felt he was clearly a second-round talent. Yes, Johnson was a backup RB at Texas, but the player he played behind was Bijan Robinson, who was perhaps the best running back in a Draft since Saquon Barkley was selected six years ago. Had Robinson not been at Texas, Johnson would have easily been a 1,500-yard rusher and probably a second-round pick. There isn’t a weakness in his game.
The second fourth-round pick was wide receiver Tyler Scott who, on the hoof, looks like a clone of Darnell Mooney. They are almost the exact same size and speed, but in watching tape, Scott is a better “home run” threat than Mooney was coming out. At Cincinnati, he was a big play waiting to happen. He further strengthens an already much-improved wide receiver room.
Fifth-round pick Terrell Smith, the corner from Minnesota, was also a steal. I first watched tape on Smith back in early October, and his play was so good that as a member of the East-West Shrine Bowl Advisory Bowl, I highly recommended Smith to be invited to the game. During the week of practice before the game, Smith was clearly the best corner on the field as he jumped out every day in practice. The addition of Smith and second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson give the Bears awesome depth at the corner position.
4 – Non-Combine players drafted: Every year, there are about 35 to 40 non-Combine players selected in the Draft. This year was no different. The Bears selected two, and both are very interesting.
Defensive tackle Travis Bell came from an FCS level school but was a dominant player at that lower level of comp. While not tall at 6000, he is thick, strong, and very athletic, to go along with a non-stop motor. He may be just a seventh-round pick, but he will challenge for a roster spot.
Safety Kendall Williamson from Stanford is a size/speed selection. He’s 6000 – 205 with 4.45 speed and was a physical player on the backend of the Stanford defense. At worse, he can be a helluva special teams player for the Bears.