LAKE FOREST – What’s the very first thing that comes to your mind when asked about rookie Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ first draft?
For me, it was “not what I expected.”
Let’s start with our annual disclaimer: you cannot grade this draft until at least the end of the 2023 season, and possibly even until 2024.
What kind of NFL players cornerback Kyler Gordon, safety Jaquan Brisker and wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. will be is a work in progress; no more, no less.
So where “not what I expected” starts is with Poles actually making picks at 39th, 48th and 71st overall.
He had indicated a few days before the draft in at least three different comments that he really hoped to be able to trade down to acquire more picks.
In a draft that set records for most trades in the first round, and a second round that began with three of the six picks in front of the Bears at 39 traded (one of them twice), Poles was either unable or unwilling to play let’s make a deal.
Next, everybody and their brother assumed short of making a tremendous reach, Poles would address his two greatest needs at wide receiver and on the offensive line, With the exception of his making a tremendous reach for Jones at 71, he did neither.
There are needs everywhere on this football team. And they do include at safety, where there was no starter to pair with Eddie Jackson, and cornerback, where there was decent competition for the spots across from Jaylon Johnson but no one exciting. Gordon and Brisker appear to be impressive additions.
But with priority 1A clearly being enhancing the supporting cast around Justin Fields to develop their long sought-after franchise quarterback, the Bears will now go to Day 3 of the draft having done little-to-nothing here or in free agency to enhance that pursuit.
But if that’s what it takes for a successful rebuild … there was good news, too.
The best way to build a championship team is to draft the best player available with every pick you make. In this case, with both Gordon and Brisker, it’s quite possible that’s exactly what Poles did.
Francis St. Paul, the Bears area scout who did the most work on Gordon, thinks he can be a plug-and-play starter.
“Probably, the confidence he has, you’re going to need that confidence to play that position,” St. Paul said. “The movement skill is NFL-ready, to play inside and out. But he has to come out and show it.
“How coach (Matt) Eberflus is, he’s not going to just give it to him. He’s going to need to come out and show it. I think he will.”
Gordon definitely has a Pro Bowl ceiling and will most likely get a chance to start climbing toward it immediately.
The same goes for Brisker, who area scout Chris Prescott told us should be really complimentary to Jackson and is tough, versatile, physical, has great ball skills and should arrive NFL-ready.
Most importantly, almost every team and analyst I talked to leading up to the draft shared the Bears’ high-upside assessments of both players.
Jones, however, is a different story. His 4.31 40 speed along with his 6-1, 205-pound frame is unique, and he’s won an SEC special teams player of the year award, but he’s a 25-year-old rookie and raw as they come as a receiver.
Think Cordarrelle Patterson but he’s a long climb from getting there, and that still does a lot more for special teams than it does for Fields.
The down side heading into Day 3: receiver and offensive line are still glaring needs, and the Bears are still without a fourth- or seventh-round pick.
But the upside is they now have one of the youngest and more promising secondaries in the NFL.
All in all, not a bad night’s work, just not quite what we expected and many hoped for.