It is very obvious to anyone who follows the Chicago Bears closely that their biggest need going into the 2023 NFL season is to add a pass rusher. Bears General Manager Ryan Poles has stated publicly that he still intends to obtain at least one pass rusher via trade or free agency sometime before training camp opens.
The best Edge players on the street have been the same players for the past six to eight weeks because none of them have signed with any team yet. Those players are Yannick Ngakoue, Leonard Floyd, Frank Clark and Justin Houston. Many fans will also list Jadeveon Clowney, but I just don't see him being a part of the equation as he is often injured and, for the most part, has been a career underachiever.
Regardless of who they sign or trade for, it will be more of a quick fix/band-aid than a long-term stabilization of the position. If the Bears sign a free agent, the contract will more than likely be a 1-year deal and then the club will go into the 2024 NFL Draft with Edge/DE/Pass rusher being their most important need.
Yes, the Bears would have loved to have drafted a pass rusher in last month's Draft, but the Draft didn't fall that way for them. The two best pass rushers (Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson) were already selected before the Bears were on the clock, and frankly, they weren't going to take those guys anyway, as they were set on selecting tackle Darnell Wright.
Between the Bears selecting Wright at #10 and the Bears' next pick at #53, nine more pass rushers came off the Board. At that point. They just weren't going to reach for a player to fill a need. That would be poor drafting.
That means that it is pretty much assured that the Bears will use one of their two first-round picks on a pass rusher next spring and perhaps two of the first three picks will be used to fill the position. Ryan Poles has shown no objection to doubling up on premium positions, and pass rusher is one of those premium positions.
The Edge class in 2023 was fairly good, but the class in 2024 could be even better. It's too early to rank them in order, as the 2023 College Football Season is still a little over three months away. How these players perform this fall will have a lot to do with where they will be ranked next spring.
Before I begin to list some names, I would like to discuss a little about what I look for. Obviously, the player has to have the necessary traits (size, speed, athleticism, length) but pass rush production, in my opinion, is also very important.
To give you an example of what I mean, let's look at the 2022 Draft. Georgia's Travon Walker was the first overall pick in that Draft as a defensive end. He got selected because of his traits, not his production. His speed, body control and overall athleticism were all at the top of the charts, but his production at Georgia wasn't close to what his traits were. In 2021, Walker finished with 6.0 sacks; the year before he had all of 1.0. As a rookie for Jacksonville last year, he had all of 3.5 sacks, hardly what you'd expect from the first overall selection in a Draft. If a player doesn't get sack production in college, how can we expect him to produce in the NFL?
My list of the top pass rushers going into the 2023 College season includes players who have produced, not just players with "big names."
Bralin Trice – Washington
Brice will be a junior this coming season, and he is one of the most ferocious pass rushers I have watched on tape. As a sophomore, he recorded 10 sacks and should improve that to 12-14 this year. He has good size (6040-255), long arms, speed, power and athleticism. He reminds me a little of Kansas State's Feliz Anudike- Uzomah, who went last in the first round to Kansas City. Trice is an all-out competitor on every down and plays the run as well as he rushes the passer. He not only has the natural tools but the production to back it up.
Demeioun “Chop” Robnson – Penn State
Robinson transferred to Penn State a year ago after spending his freshman year at Maryland. He's not the biggest guy at about 6036 – 248, but he is very fast and explosive. I would bet he will run in the 4.5s. He has superb bend and lean coming off the edge and can close quickly coming off a block. He still needs to get a little bigger and stronger, but he has a chance to be a double-digit sack guy in 2023. Last year playing in the rotation he recorded 5.5 sacks. He'll get more play time this year, and his numbers will improve. If he develops how I feel he will, he will go very high in the '24 Draft.
Jared Verse – Florida State
Verse has the biggest name going into the '23 CFB season, but I don't feel he has the natural talent of the above two players. Last year was Verse's first season at a Power-5 level school after beginning his career at FCS Albany in New York. He had a strong season with 9.0 total sacks, and he should improve on that in '23. I feel he needs to get stronger and play with a bit more bend, but there is no question that he is very talented. Jared's strongest game was early vs LSU and after that opponents learned to control him some. With a year's experience at the Power-5 level under his belt, he could very well jump to the top of the list by the end of the season.
Dallas Turner – Alabama
Turner played across from Will Anderson at the combo OLB/DE position last year at Alabama. With offenses concentrated on stopping Anderson, Turner had free reign to come clean off the edge. It will be a different story this year as he now becomes "the man," and how he adjusts to that will be important in his final evaluation. In 2021 as a freshman, Turner had 8.5 sacks, but that number dropped to only 4.0 last year. Part of the reason is he needs to get bigger and stronger. He's listed as being 6040-240, and he needs to put on at least 10 pounds, but he also needs to increase his power and explosiveness. It will be interesting to see how he improves this fall.
Laiatu Latu -UCLA
Just by watching tape from Last year and it would be easy to put Latu at or near the top of the list. His overall play and production last year was excellent with 10.5 sacks and 36 total tackles. The problem is Latu missed all of 2020 and 2021 with injuries while he was at Washington. His Combine medical will be just as important as his talent and workout.
J.T. Tuimoloau- Ohio State
Going into the '23 season, J.T.'s name is close to the top of most lists as a pass rusher. I don't totally agree. He got all his notoriety from one game (Penn State) where he had 2.0 sacks, two interceptions and a touchdown. The rest of the season he had only 1.5 total sacks. Tuimoloau is a very good football player, but I feel that at this time, he is a better run defender than a pass rusher. He will have all of 2023 to improve his pass rusher, but right now, I can't put him in the same category as some of the others above.
There will be others who emerge during the course of the season, but these are the players I like the most at this time.