Let me talk to ya.
It doesn’t take a dummy (yeah) to know NFL teams treat the draft as a year-round activity. Unless you’re Rams general manager Les Snead and using your L.A. (K)nights (yeah) to send every draft pick you own into oblivion, you’re constantly looking for ways to identify future early-round talent.
In the wake of ESPN’s report that Bears general manager Ryan Poles worked over 60 hours a week and slept in his office leading up to the 2023 NFL draft, now seems like as good of a time as any to keep looking forward towards the future. Though they’re likely doing so at a less frantic pace now, the team’s staff has to look for ways to build a consistent and sustainable roster, and that is just a fact of life.
There’s probably at least one player whose game the Bears’ college scouts have identified as a profile they’d like on their team as early as Round 1, but whose game is it? Let’s look at 8 players Chicago should keep their eye on early as potential first-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. Thank you for dealing with my mess of an introduction that was poorly disguised to make L.A. Knight references.
Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
Harrison is a dynamic route runner, a massive receiver at 6-foot-4 who can dominate at the catch point, an intelligent player who knows how to attack leverage points through his stems, a sure-handed pass catcher and an unanimous All-American. Oh, and his dad is one of the greatest wide receivers of all time.
Does Harrison even have a weakness? As hyperbolic as it is to say, there isn’t an aspect of his game that’s even below average. He won’t be a 4.2 runner in the 40-yard dash by any means, but he’s still more than fast enough to stretch the field. He won’t be mistaken for Tyreek Hill after the catch, but he still has solid agility in space and offers very good ball-carrier vision with the ball in his hands. If the Bears pick high enough with either of their 2 first-round picks to select Harrison, you’d have a hard time convincing me he shouldn’t be the pick.
Marvin Harrison Jr. might end up being the best WR draft prospect I’ve ever watched.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) July 8, 2023
Could he reach Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase production as a rookie? That’s a very high bar, but I don’t think it’s impossible. MHJ is that damn good. pic.twitter.com/7ZYmsRwiK5
Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
The other one of my bonafide blue-chip prospects in the 2024 draft who aren’t quarterbacks, Bowers rivals Kyle Pitts as the best tight end prospect I’ve ever seen, and the Day 1 impact could end up being just as large as Pitts’ 1,000-yard campaign in 2021.
Based off of his 2022 tape, Bowers is the best tight end after the catch I’ve scouted at the collegiate level. He’s an explosive athlete with tremendous agility and creativity with the ball in his hands, giving him rare jet sweep and screen value. His athleticism translates to his route running, as he sinks well coming into his breaks and bursts well out of them. He’s also a willing and capable blocker for a tight end who won’t exactly impress anyone with size. Bowers is a super athlete with a very high ceiling at the NFL level, and even if the Bears keep Cole Kmet around after his rookie contract expires, the Georgia star should be a player they strongly consider if he’s on the board.
Even if the #Bears extend Cole Kmet, I’ll be pushing for them to take Georgia TE Brock Bowers with one of their 2024 first-round picks.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) March 28, 2023
He’s a bonafide playmaker with All-Pro potential. Best YAC tight end I’ve ever seen in college. pic.twitter.com/prTJLqKQGP
Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State
While it’s entirely possible some wide receiver shake-up happens on my board by the time the 2024 draft comes around, the Ohio State duo of Harrison and Egbuka is far and away the WR1 and 2 on my board currently.
Compared to his teammate Harrison, Egbuka is shorter and less strong at the catch point, but he does have the speed and agility advantage. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage, elusive after the catch and twitchy as a route runner, combining with his sharp understanding of soft spots against zone for him to consistently separate at all parts of the field. The common worry with him among some Bears fans may be that he’s too similar to DJ Moore, but talent is talent at the end of the day. Why would having two DJ Moores be a bad thing?
#Bears fans are clamoring over Marvin Harrison Jr. for the 2024 draft, but don’t forget about his OSU teammate Emeka Egbuka.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) April 13, 2023
He’s an explosive athlete with a high route running IQ and great YAC ability. Legit WR1 potential at the NFL level. pic.twitter.com/iPDgICiAVS
Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State
The Bears have their offensive tackles locked in for 2023 in Braxton Jones and Darnell Wright. The belief is that Jones will continue to develop and build upon his strong rookie campaign, at which point he likely will have the left tackle spot locked down long-term. If he falls short of expectations, though, don’t rule out a tackle early for Chicago in the 2024 draft.
An expected first-round pick before staying in school for another year, Fashanu enters the 2023 season with a strong argument to be the top offensive tackle prospect college football has to offer. He’s an elite athlete at offensive tackle with great lateral agility, nice acceleration to the second level and great raw power proportioned well throughout his frame. Notre Dame’s Joe Alt and Alabama’s JC Latham also project as first-round picks, and Alt actually has my highest film grade out of him, Latham and Fashanu. However, given Fashanu’s athletic upside, I think the Bears would find him the most intriguing.
Think we need to start talking about Penn State LT Olu Fashanu as a first-round option for the #Bears.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) November 4, 2022
His athleticism, play strength and coordination are surreal for someone who’s only 19. Might have the highest ceiling of any OL in the 2023 draft. pic.twitter.com/u8PiTqY9UX
Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama
The Bears’ biggest need heading into the 2023 season figures to be the edge rusher position, and Turner is a popular name as the top draft-eligible player at the position in college football.
With outlets projecting him as a 4.4 or 4.5 athlete in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Turner has the athletic upside that NFL teams swoon over. His first-step acceleration is impressive, and his fluidity out in space allows him to tackle ball-carriers in the open and chase down scrambling quarterbacks with ease. He turns the corner very well on outside speed rushes, and his athletic tools are maximized by active hands at the point of attack and a high motor. Though he’s not the most powerful EDGE you’ll find in this class, he very well might be the most athletic, which is something worth remembering.
Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner is an early name to have circled for the #Bears in Round 1 in 2024.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) April 30, 2023
Explosive rusher with long arms, great speed and tremendous bend. If he has a great year without Will Anderson, he might be a top-10 pick. pic.twitter.com/l94vFaJbZV
J.T. Tuimoloau, EDGE, Ohio State
Though arguably the most raw of the consensus top edge rushers, Tuimoloau might just be the best physical fit for what the Bears are going for on defense.
At 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, he offers good length, nice height and tremendous power in his frame. He does a good job of converting speed to power with an active lower half, powerful hands and a quick first step. His anchor strength is maximized well by his ideal pad level and weight distribution at the line of scrimmage. For someone who’s bigger for his position, he also turns the corner well and moves well out in the open field. He doesn’t have a deep arsenal of pass-rushing moves, as he relies too much on just his physical tools to get by. The game-by-game consistency isn’t quite there yet, but if you want to see what Tuimoloau can be at his best, turn on the Penn State game from last year, when he had 6 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and two interceptions.
After the 2023 draft, the biggest need the #Bears have is EDGE.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) April 30, 2023
With 2 first-round picks in 2024, I’d be interested in Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau. Length, power, speed and flexibility: he’s the real deal. pic.twitter.com/ibaIVVzhbN
Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State
Another player who likely would’ve gone in Round 1 in the 2023 draft had he declared, Verse has the chance to legitimize himself as a potential top-10 pick with another strong year at Florida State.
Verse had 9 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 2022, just one year removed from reaching 14.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss for Albany prior to transferring down to Tallahassee. It sounds like cheating given he’s also a Florida State edge rusher, but I see a lot of Brian Burns in Verse. He’s a lengthy, athletic and super flexible defensive end with a deep arsenal of hand techniques who struggled a bit against the run in college but has all the tools to develop into a star in the NFL. Considering Burns is a two-time Pro Bowler with 38 sacks in his first four seasons, that should show how high of regard I view Verse in.
I see the #Bears loving Jared Verse as an EDGE option in Round 1 of the 2024 draft.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) July 7, 2023
Speed off the snap, agility bouncing inside, good length and refined hand usage. He’s everything you want in a pass rusher and should be focused on heavily this season. pic.twitter.com/FkODdtHsJy
Maason Smith, DL, LSU
The Bears drafted Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens at defensive tackle this year, but if the value’s right, I wouldn’t rule out their selecting a defensive tackle early in 2024, either. It depends heavily on how each rookie performs, but Chicago’s front office has ties to organizations who have aggressively attacked the interior, and when you factor in the 2023 draft appearing to have a good interior defensive line class, it’s not impossible.
With a torn ACL in 2022 and a season-ending leg injury near the end of his 2021 campaign, Smith needs to prove he can stay healthy in order to become a Round 1 selection. That said, the upside with him is absurdly high. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder has great length and size that allows him to lock out blockers from his frame, and he packs a strong punch while also being able to disengage to make plays against the run. He’s a dynamic athlete with plenty of 5-tech reps, though I like him best as a 3-tech in the NFL. Quick off the ball and both powerful and aware against the run, Smith was a freshman All-American in 2021 and has the tools to become a star defensive tackle in the pros if he can put his injury concerns to rest.
The #Bears have key guys from teams (PHI, IND) that have aggressively drafted interior DL in recent years.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) July 8, 2023
LSU’s Maason Smith is a 2024 draft name to remember. Injury history but athletic and powerful with quick feet & great run-stuffing value at 3-tech. pic.twitter.com/XptLqJMzcI