LAKE FOREST – Before anyone even arrived at Halas Hall for Day 3 of the NFL draft Saturday, it was clear that unlike Day 2, the theme of the day would be quantity as much as quality for Bears general manager Ryan Poles.
Trade one on the day, sending the Chargers’ 2023 sixth-round pick acquired for Khalil Mack back to L.A. for two late seventh rounders this year made perfect sense.
To a rebuilding club looking to build a foundation, late-round picks now are much more valuable than next year.
Then things got a little crazy as three more trades early in the fifth round turned a day that started with just the 148th, 150th and 186th picks, into 168, 174, 186, 203, 207, 226, 254 and 255.
By moving from 148 and 150 in the fifth round to 168 and 174, Poles lost the opportunity to claim over 20 players clearly coveted by his competition.
The upside, however, is that in taking offensive tackle Braxton Jones at 168th overall, edge rusher Dominique Robinson at 174 and tackle/guard Zachary Thomas at 186, Poles still got players the Bears had done extra work on and coveted themselves.
If just one of the other five bonus players he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to claim makes his team, he’s ahead of the game.
So what are the odds Poles got it right?
There is reason to believe Saturday’s first pick at 168, Jones out of Southern Utah, is a player Poles might have considered at 148 since assistant offensive line coach Austin King was in Utah last Monday for a special workout with him to confirm the team’s scouting report.
A very solid week at the Senior Bowl where several scouts I talked to saw Jones as a potential developmental high fourth-round pick at left tackle is reason for optimism.
Robinson at pick No. 174 was the best value of the day with NFL.com ranking him the eighth best edge rusher in the draft with a third-round grade.
Robinson is a former high school quarterback that played wide receiver at Miami (Ohio) before switching to defense. His ceiling is as a high-end situational pass-rush specialist who actually hails from Canton, Ohio.
The Bears appeared to fall in love with him watching him compete with Jones at the Senior Bowl.
Thomas, out of San Diego St., is another player the Bears took a special interest in with a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall. He’s a kid area scout David Williams suggested has exactly the temperament and play style Poles wants in his offensive linemen.
That he started at left tackle, right tackle and guard in college is a huge plus.
Among the bonus picks, running back Trestan Ebner and offensive guard Ja’Tyre Carter are the two to keep an eye on.
Ebner is one of the more versatile backs in the draft out of Baylor, particularly heralded for his receiving skills and a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s new hybrid West Coast offense.
Carter is an athlete, a former Louisiana high school basketball player of the year and three-year starter at left tackle at Southern University that hung tough stepping up in class at the Senior Bowl. He could project nicely inside at guard.
For all of you who were concerned Poles had done nothing to address his offensive line woes, his plan is now clear after he used four of his eight Saturday picks on mean, hungry kneecap biters who all claimed Saturday the tough, athletic, nasty demeanor Poles seeks up front fits them like a glove.
We’ll have to talk the day after the final game of the 2023 season to grade this draft.
But for one that began with just six picks, the Bears left with 11 new players including at least four (Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, Velus Jones Jr., Thomas or Carter at guard) potential plug-and-play Week 1 starters/contributors. It may not be sexy, but it feels like Poles had a pretty nice weekend.