Hub Arkush: Cornerback could be too tempting for Bears GM Ryan Poles to pass up at No. 9

Oregon defensive back Christian Gonzalez covers California safety Miles Williams during the 2022 season.

Although the Bears clearly are just emerging from the first year of a full rebuild, they are not completely without talent.

Justin Fields, Khalil Herbert, D.J. Moore, Braxton Jones, Nate Davis, Cole Kmet, T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, Jack Sanborn and Jaquan Brisker – to name just a handful – are still young players coming off promising seasons and likely to improve. All could develop into excellent players and key contributors on the Bears next contending team.

That said, as the NFL draft inches closer and closer, there isn’t a position on the roster where the Bears can’t still get better. No position can be written off as a possibility for the Bears to draft in a few weeks.

Realistically we can agree the Bears won’t be drafting a quarterback, tight end or linebacker in the first round, and a wide receiver or safety coming off the board for the Bears there is highly unlikely.

But if the rebuild is to be successful, it is critical that the Bears find studs. Hopefully they land future Pro Bowlers on every pick but particularly with their first four picks. Taking the best football player available regardless of position is a must, but rankings aren’t that simple or clear. When the Bears pick at No. 9, 53, 61 and 64, there likely will be two, three or four players at different positions that could be winning choices. Some will fit the Bears’ needs better than others.

But what if there are one or two players who are just too good to pass but don’t necessarily fit the biggest needs?

The position at which it is most likely to happen is cornerback. It is the deepest position among the 50 top-rated players in this year’s draft with as many as five, six or even seven likely to be selected. Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez are among the top nine prospects on the board, and many believe Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. belongs in the top 10 as well.

Although Witherspoon is rated first on the majority of boards, Gonzalez has been flying up boards since the combine. Both could be gone by the time the Bears pick at No. 9, if they don’t trade the pick. If the Bears do trade down again – let’s say to 14, 15 or 16 – Porter Jr. very well could be the best prospect on the board.

What makes this such an interesting debate is general manager Ryan Poles’ first two picks in his first Bears draft – both in the second round last spring – were cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 and safety Jaquan Brisker at 48. Both had impressive rookie campaigns.

Last year’s other starting corner, Jaylon Johnson, also was a second-round pick – taken at No. 50 only three seasons ago. Johnson has played well and shown real promise.

So if the Bears already are young and talented on the corners and the best player available is a cornerback, what are the Bears to do?

If either Wistherspoon or Gonzales is available, Poles may have to pull the trigger. Both players are much better prospects than Gordon or Johnson were. And, much like the NFL has become anti-running back in the draft’s early rounds, it is very much a cornerback league these days, and the top teams all have three or even four good ones.

Witherspoon is coming off one of the best college seasons by a corner in some time. He has good if not great size (5-11 ½ , 181 pounds), and although he isn’t a burner, he did run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the combine. What made him unique was allowing only 22 receptions for 206 yards on 63 targets while he broke up 14 throws and picked off three passes. He’s as physical as they come and will play the run all day long.

What makes Gonzalez unique is his physical ability and over-the-top athleticism. He’s 6-1, 197 pounds and notched a 4.38 40-yard dash. A number of scouts marveled at his performance at the combine.

Porter (6-2 ½, 193) is the biggest of the group, but he isn’t a burner with a 4.46 40 time. What makes him special are his 34-inch arms that allow him to make plays on throws that few corners can.

Edge rushers Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson fit the Bears’ greatest need and are top-six or -seven prospects. But Anderson definitely will be gone, and Wilson probably will be as well, making the decision even harder for Poles if Gonzalez or Witherspoon is there.

Don’t be shocked if one of them ends up a Bear.

Hub Arkush is the senior Bears analyst for Shaw Media and

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush was the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and