After several months of studying, phone calls, watching hours of tape and hundreds of last season’s college games to prepare, the 2023 NFL Draft is finally upon us.
The Bears already made what will be the biggest trade of this draft by dealing the No. 1 overall pick. Now, we’re left to nail down what we expect to happen and what the Bears main priorities should be – and what they actually are.
For starters let’s do away with the fantasy that the Bears are the richest team in this draft, so loaded with assets they are likely to be the biggest winners. No question they are in great shape with 10 picks total, four of them among the top 64. But, when general manager Ryan Poles dealt his second-round pick this year to the Pittsburgh Steelers for wide receiver Chase Claypool, the price of poker went up dramatically.
With the Bears season falling apart after that trade, that second-round pick became the 32nd pick in the draft. The Bears did add the 55th pick when they traded Roquan Smith to the Ravens and the 61st pick as part of the package when they shipped the No. 1 selection to Carolina.
As the worst team in the NFL last season, the Bears are now just beginning a complete rebuild and have only the ninth and 55th picks in the draft among the top 60. That is their reality and not nearly as exciting as when we talk about them having four of the top 64 picks.
I am not suggesting they are in bad shape.
With D.J. Moore as their new No. 1 receiver, two first-round picks next year and two second-round picks in 2025, they are definitely in good shape. But, the key to all of this – these potential future picks – could be whether or not Claypool becomes the No. 1 receiver this season the Steelers hoped he would be when they drafted him in 2020 or at least a solid No. 2 to pair with Moore.
If Claypool can surpass this season what he did as a rookie in Pittsburgh with 62 catches for 873 yards and nine touchdowns, he will make Moore that much more dangerous and be worth all that the Bears paid for him.
So what else do the Bears have to do to hit a home run with this draft?
Many experts believe this is a shaky first round with no more than 18 to 22 true first-round picks, but it could offer a very deep second and third round with a number of players that will become better than those taken in the second half of the first round. That could be good news for the Bears.
Make some notes about players like offensive tackle Dawand Jones, defense lineman Bryan Bresee, edge rusher Tui Tuipulotu, defensive tackle Mazi Smith, cornerback Cam Smith and tight ends Luke Musgrave and Darnell Washington. They are players I am hearing for various reasons could fall to the Bears at 53, 61 or 64 even though they shouldn’t. All could develop into some of the best players in this draft.
Hopefully what the Bears will do is pay no attention to what their greatest needs are and make sure that with every one of their 10 picks they take the best player available regardless of position.
If the Bears don’t trade down from No. 9, it is most likely the best player available will be an edge rusher, running back, defensive tackle or cornerback and it won’t be an offensive tackle. Where the Bears are particularly lucky is their needs at edge rusher and defensive tackle are clearly greater than they are at offensive tackle.
There is one other possibility to consider that could really enhance the team’s chances to dramatically speed up its rebuild. What if only two quarterbacks are taken in the first eight picks?
It’s unlikely. I think Anthony Richardson should be the first QB taken, but right now the only sure things in the top eight appear to be Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
With little time left before the lights go on in Kansas City, this is the most unsettled first round I’ve ever seen in my 45 years scouting NFL drafts.
Get ready for some mayhem, folks. The more I read and more phone calls I make, the more convinced I am it is coming. The first two days of this draft are going to be a blast.