With the 53rd pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears selected Gervon Dexter Sr., and immediately I saw him become controversial on Twitter.
To some, he’s a clear reach — after all, how could a player with his get-off issues prove worthy of a mid-2nd round pick?
To others, he’s a 3T prospect in the mold of Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner, despite both of those comparisons’ famous long arms measuring over 2 inches longer than Dexter’s.
So who is he? And where does he fit on the Bears’ defense? I dove into his tape, threw together a few short videos, and took to Twitter to break down my thoughts on the matter:
Each of the videos below contains a voice-over explanation of the film reels being shown — be sure you’ve got your sound on!
Initial Impact & Comparison
The Chicago #Bears picking Gervon Dexter feels like a beautifully "boring" draft pick. Remember, the Bears were:— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) May 4, 2023
- Worst in Rush TDs allowed (31)
- 3rd Worst in Rush 1st Down % (27.9%)
- 6th Worst in YPC (4.9)
While playing 8 in the box. Turn your on, let's break him down. pic.twitter.com/POZrUFDjnK
The Chicago Bears’ defense, as we’re all unfortunately aware, was woeful last year in both run and pass defense, but their issues with stopping the run seemed to govern many of their personnel, formation, and coverage choices as early as Week 6.
Games like Week 2’s contest in Lambeau, which saw Packers RB Aaron Jones run for 8.8 YPC and 134 yards, led to Bears’ DC Alan Williams calling tons of pre-snap single-high defenses (despite primarily running a 2-high pre-snap defense in Indianapolis that often rotated a safety down into the box at the snap) in an effort to play 8 defenders in the box. As shown in the tweet above, that still didn’t fix things.
Enter Gervon Dexter. You’ve likely heard that he’s an outstanding athlete, but where he really shined at Florida was in stuffing the run. He was asked to play 2 gaps in their defense and exhibited extraordinary play-strength when doing so — winning 1 on 1 matchups consistently, drawing (and occasionally defeating) double-teams at the line of scrimmage, and holding up well versus both inside & outside runs while playing at ~310lbs (as opposed to Eddie Goldman’s 335lbs).
The Colts have a Defensive Lineman just like this named Grover Stewart, who not only dominated the Bears on the ground in the Colts’ 2020 Week 4 visit to Soldier Field but also received a healthy 3-year extension later that season. Eberflus clearly values having an athletic 1-Technique that can enforce his will on the ground while still contributing in the pass game, and I think Dexter profiles as just that kind of player.
Speaking of Dexter’s pass rush, let’s talk about that...
Room for Growth
As a pass rusher, Dexter is wildly raw -- you don't see any long arms, clubs, rips, or spins, you see a strong-as-hell athlete throw his arms into his man's chest & work leverage from there.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) May 4, 2023
He should be a solid supplementary pass rusher at 1T, especially if his hands improve. pic.twitter.com/NhmiZZ8k2U
As I discuss in the video above, 21-year-old Gervon Dexter doesn’t have a pass-rush arsenal as of yet and currently wins in the pass rush with raw athleticism. His natural explosion (as measured via his Broad & Vertical jumps) seems to show itself via a powerful lower-body & core that doesn’t give an inch when struck by Offensive Lineman, so he’ll effectively set his OL as if he’s defending the run (strike the shoulders, extend arms straight out, get eyes on the backfield) and then churn his legs to work through his man’s shoulder when he spies a pass rush. Occasionally he’ll swim past an OL that lunges into him, but it doesn’t happen often.
This rarely generates “quick” pressure and primarily serves to hurry the QB more than sack him outright, but with the Bears’ issues rushing the passer last year we’ll take just about anything. Especially coming from someone who projects to play that 1-Technique interior DL position (which you rarely expect much pass rush out of), impact via natural athleticism with room for growth in his technique is plenty to get excited about.
The Bears need defensive lineman that can make opposing QBs uncomfortable, whether they’re sacking the QB outright or not. A pocket-crasher like Dexter, that you rarely see overpowered in a 1 on 1 matchup, may not be a star 3-Technique immediately, but the floor set by his athleticism projects nicely at the next level. As he grows, he may very well flex to 3-Technique on occasion.
Now, this discussion is all well and good, but there’s an obvious issue in Dexter’s game that we can’t simply ignore — let’s talk through his get-off issues.
The Elephant in the Room
Now it wouldn't be a Dexter breakdown if we didn't talk about his get-off, right?— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) May 4, 2023
The problem isn't fake (even as a read-&-react defender he's still slowEST on his line) but the problem should get mitigated when he's at 1T.
It may never be GOOD, but it won't stay THIS bad. pic.twitter.com/zYcbYbWtid
We’ve likely all seen the still images of Gervon Dexter still in his 3-point-stance while the other 21 players on the field are playing football, and that’s a bizarrely consistent issue in Dexter’s 2021-2022 tape that we can’t avoid talking about it.
I know many Bears fans have pointed to Ryan Poles’ explanation of Dexter’s get-off issues at Florida, but after reading up on what “Reading and Mirroring” is, I wasn’t convinced that the entire problem was scheme related.
#Bears GM Ryan Poles said Gervon Dexter was asked to read and mirror in college which is much different than the one-gap technique he'll be doing in Chicago.— Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) April 29, 2023
I walk through my explanation frame-by-frame in the video above, but I basically think two things can be true at once:
- Dexter’s get-off/first step will never be outstandingly quick
- Playing Dexter at 1-Technique, where he’ll have the Center (who moves first) in his peripheral vision, should dampen the severity of the issue
It’s a strange problem, but one that shows up much more often in his pass-rush reps than his run-defense reps. The whole Florida defensive line is slow getting off the snap (though Dexter’s the slowest), so I’m sure some of the problem is coaching-related, but if Dexter does play 1-Technique with the Bears, I think the issue will be much less dramatic than it looks on his Florida tape.
Extra Highlights Because We Like Fun Things
Also: while you probably shouldn't take any players' highlights from a game against Kentucky TOO seriously (their OL was BAD)... I HAVE to show you these.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) May 4, 2023
Dexter looks like a MONSTER just wading through the OL, even tackles the RB with a right hook Wild athleticism on display pic.twitter.com/pgYdCHMJMy
These are just fun. If you’re looking for examples of Dexter whoopin’ lower competition, his Kentucky tape is exactly that.
Overall I think Gervon Dexter is a pick more misunderstood than anything — it’s near-impossible to find an athlete with Dexter’s play-strength & explosion on the open market, and he should be a stout run defender (with some pass rush upside) on a team that needs exactly that.
I like the pick! In my opinion, modern defenses need a 6-7 man DL rotation, and I think Dexter (and Pickens!) will serve to help defend interior runs and force more 3rd downs. For a Bears team that’s building their defensive line rotation from scratch, that’s worth the 53rd pick in the draft.
There’s a deeper discussion to be had about how Dexter and Pickens will likely both play 1-Tech and 3-Tech in the Bears’ defense to handle pre-snap motion that switches the offense’s formation strength, but we’ll save that for an article about Pickens.