How 1st-year Bears GM Ryan Poles built his draft board and prepped for this weekend

Draft begins Thursday, but Bears don’t have a pick until Friday’s 2nd round

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles speaks during a news conference, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

LAKE FOREST – Ryan Poles has been studying for his biggest exam yet. Now he’s ready to sit down with his No. 2 pencil and fill in the bubbles.

“I’m taking a step back after today,” Poles said Tuesday at Halas Hall. “I think sometimes you keep staring at it and you’ll start sliding guys around [the draft board] and doing crazy stuff.”

The first-year Bears general manager is as prepared as he’ll ever be for this weekend’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday night. He and his staff have spent weeks studying up on the college prospects available.

Now it’s time to see what shakes out.

“It’s never one person making a pick,” Poles said. “Yeah, you get on the table for certain players, and we’ve already gone through that. We’re at the point now where pretty much the hay is in the barn.”

Poles inherited a team of college scouts from the previous Bears front office. Most NFL scouts are employed through the draft, even when the GM changes. A lot of their work was done in the fall, and a new regime can’t start from scratch in January. Poles also brought in his own trusted advisers, notably assistant general manager Ian Cunningham (previously with the Eagles) and co-director of player personnel Trey Koziol (from the Chiefs).

The team of more than a dozen scouts and executives sat down in recent weeks and fleshed out the Bears’ draft board.

Poles had his scouts fill out polls on their phones. They ranked players at each position. They ranked players overall, regardless of position. The polls were anonymous, but they all could see the results.

“Sometimes it was a runaway for the top guy; sometimes it was a really tight race that just led to more conversation,” Poles said.

Poles wanted the votes anonymous so they would have everybody’s true feelings on these prospects.

“The key is sometimes you just want to remove groupthink,” Poles said.

There were occasionally some oohs and aahs in the room when the results popped up on the screen. Sometimes there was a surprise, sometimes there was a tight race.

Preparing for the draft is so much more than ranking players, though. There are 31 other teams to factor in. Much like the armchair GM playing a draft simulation on his computer, Poles and his team simulated the draft numerous times under various scenarios.

They did it “over and over and over and over again,” Poles said.

“We had guys call in fake trades just to test our communication, test our trade charts, test all of that, to make sure that everything’s smooth on game day,” Poles said. “And we’re just applying that. And I feel really confident at this point and it has a lot to do with the work of everybody.”

There’s a million scenarios that can play out on draft day. The Bears currently hold six picks, their highest are a pair of second-round picks (39th and 48th overall). With regards to trading up or trading down, Poles said it’s important to have an understanding of “where your team is at” and how many picks the team has.

“It’s a big-picture decision,” Poles said.

The big picture here, based on everything Poles has done since free agency began, is that the Bears don’t have a lot of picks, but they have plenty of needs. A trade up feels unlikely, especially with the team set at quarterback for the immediate future.

A more likely scenario is the Bears stay put or trade down and part with one of their second-round picks to acquire additional draft picks in the later rounds.

“I do think we will be in the business, depending on where it is and what it looks like, in moving back and trying to create more [draft capital],” Poles said. “That’s just what we’ve been handed, and we’re going to maximize that.”

Poles is looking at this team through a wide lens. He mentioned Tuesday that helping the entire roster helps quarterback Justin Fields. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears have to use their top pick on a receiver.

This is not a one-year turnaround. That much became clear when he traded Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack. Just don’t use the term rebuild.

“The rebuild thing is like supersensitive,” Poles said. “No, we’re constructing a very good football team. Regardless of how you use whatever term that is, we just continue to add talent.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.