After all, Carter-to-the-Bears seemed like a match made in heaven for draft experts and fans heading into the 2023 NFL Draft — until it suddenly wasn’t due to Carter’s revealed involvement in a fatal car crash in January, the PR nightmare that followed and the former Bulldog’s uninspiring Pro Day workout.
The Bears told the world what they thought by actively trading out of a chance to draft Carter with the ninth overall pick and instead taking Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th pick, allowing the Philadelphia Eagles to scoot up quite possibly the best player in last year’s draft.
Carter has played every bit to that label so far, while Wright has had promising ups and predictable downs for a struggling Bears offense. Meanwhile, Chicago’s defense could badly use a dominant presence up front like Carter, who already grades out as one of the league’s best interior defenders.
Jalen Carter finished with a team-high 5 pressures on 16 pass rushes in the @Eagles Week 3 win over the Buccaneers (31.3% pressure rate).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 26, 2023
Through the first three weeks, the rookie is tied for 2nd among defensive tackles in total pressures (15).
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Did the Bears make a mistake going with Wright over Carter?
If you were going pure “best player available” in a vacuum, Carter should’ve been the pick 15 times out of 10. But the character questions were enough to make you wonder if the Bears had the right locker room culture to keep Carter out of trouble. (Recent events may have proven those fears correct.)
The Eagles, on the other hand, boosted not just a Super Bowl roster with strong veteran leadership but also several of Carter’s old Georgia teammates to aid in a more comfortable NFL transition. They were a much more natural fit for Carter as a person, even more than the Bears were for Carter as a player.
Additionally, let’s lose sight of the most important question the Bears had to answer going into this season: is Justin Fields the guy or not?
The Bears had no stability at right tackle last year, which wasn’t going to fly in 2023 if you wanted to see Fields possibly take a leap as a passer. Even if you weren’t sure how Wright would start the year, you’d figure he – like Braxton Jones in 2022 – would get better with time. Wright’s early reps have done nothing to dampen those expectations.
Darnell Wright still has some things he needs to clean up and has lost a few reps every game. But I still think he'll put it all together eventually. Below are two straight pass block reps in this game that give me hope pic.twitter.com/mYuV9CwmXG— Chicago Football Connection (@CFCBears) September 25, 2023
Plus, even if Fields isn’t the Bears’ quarterback next year, putting a new quarterback in a situation where you could have Wright, D.J. Moore, and potentially Marvin Harrison Jr. or a tackle like Joe Alt or Olu Fashanu possibly taking over for Jones on the left side is a situation you can build around.
While Carter would’ve been awesome in a Bears uniform and probably would’ve changed the complexion of this defense, he might have only taken this unit from “worst in the league” to “bad” on his own.
Additionally, while Carter would fit in any defense, it’s likely the 4-3 scheme the Bears would’ve drafted him for will be obsolete once Matt Ebeflus is fired at the end of this season (as he should be). The complexion of the defensive scheme could very well change entirely by next season, as could the entire defensive line rotation, but the right tackle position isn’t going anywhere.
Let’s be honest: some of this rationale is just pure coping. It would’ve been awesome to see Carter ply his game-wrecking trade as a member of the Chicago Bears. Goodness knows it would’ve made this defense more bearable to watch (pun intended).
But it was probably more important to give Fields the baseline supporting cast he needed – the jury’s still out on that, maybe – and find out what he is, even if it meant letting the defense suffer another year, than roll the dice on a player you were worried about possibly becoming another powder keg in a volatile situation.
No blame to you if you keep wondering “what if” every time this defense gives up another third-down conversion because they can’t rush the passer, though.
Ryan Poles has made a lot of mistakes in his season-plus of work as the Bears’ general manager. But even if Wright-over-Carter ends up being one of them, you can at least understand why he did it.