April 17, 2024


Bears News

4 burning questions facing Chicago Bears ahead of NFL Scouting Combine

NFL combine begins Tuesday in Indianapolis

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles walks on the sidelines prior to a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Chicago.

LAKE FOREST – A big week lies ahead for the Bears.

General manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus have a lot of work to do at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week. The week-long combine will feature 321 athletes interviewing and working out for all 32 NFL teams.

For the teams, this is a chance to have a hands-on approach to their scouting process. They’ve watched countless hours of tape on all these players, but now they have a chance to ask questions and get medical evaluations.

The Bears have a huge offseason ahead. They hold both the No. 1 and the No. 9 overall draft picks in the 2024 draft. They have a chance to acquire two highly touted prospects. The combine is another big milestone for determining who they will pick.

Here are four burning questions facing the Bears as they head to Indianapolis this week.

1. Is Caleb Williams really the answer?

USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up before a game against Washington Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Los Angeles.

With the No. 1 overall pick, the Bears hold all the cards. If they want USC quarterback Caleb Williams, he’s theirs to take. If they think they’re better off trading the top pick and sticking with Justin Fields, that’s an option too. They pretty much control the draft board.

To be clear, they aren’t likely to come to a decisive conclusion at the combine. The combine interviews with prospects are quick. If the Bears are going to invest the top pick in Williams, they will want to speak with him for a more extended period. Those types of interviews typically take place over dinner around the prospect’s pro day.

But the Bears can still begin probing their relationship with Williams. The same goes for North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels.

Who these quarterbacks are, as people, matters as much or more than their abilities on the field.

“The person. That’s the biggest part,” Poles said in January. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our ability to see talent on the field. The human being, we got to figure out.”

2. Can the Bears find WR2?

In his first year with the Bears, DJ Moore met and exceeded all expectations. He totaled 1,364 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for one of the best receiving seasons in team history.

But he had little help.

The Bears need to find a second dynamic receiver to pair with Moore. Darnell Mooney, who will become a free agent, doesn’t appear to be the answer. But there are several promising receivers near the top of the draft. The 2024 draft is expected to be deep at the receiver position, with as many as five or six going in the first round.

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., LSU’s Malik Nabers, Washington’s Rome Odunze, LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr., Florida State’s Keon Coleman and Texas’ Adonai Mitchell all have first-round grades, per ESPN’s big board.

The Bears will have options with that No. 9 pick. Harrison is almost certainly going to be a top-five pick and possibly the first non-quarterback taken in the draft. But all of those other names could be in play for the Bears at No. 9.

3. How can the Bears improve their defensive line?

UCLA defensive lineman Laiatu Latu runs a play during the first half against Coastal Carolina Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif.

After adding defensive end Montez Sweat midway through the season last year, the Bears defensive line (and the defense as a whole) improved tremendously. But the Bears still have room to improve along the defensive line. Defensively, it’s one of their biggest needs.

They need to find a “3-technique” defensive tackle to disrupt things from the middle and they need to find another defensive end to pair opposite Sweat. Generally, the top of this year’s draft isn’t considered heavy in talent on the defensive line. There’s no Will Anderson or Jalen Carter, who were both top-10 picks last year.

But there are some intriguing options in the back half of the first round and into Day 2 of the draft. If the Bears trade down from either No. 1 or No. 9, an edge rusher or a defensive tackle could be an option. Some top edge rushers include Florida State’s Jared Verse, UCLA’s Laiatu Latu and Penn State’s Chop Robinson. Illinois’ Johnny Newton is expected to be the top defensive tackle.

4. How high is too high to draft a center?

The Bears offensive line is much better now than it was a year ago. The only significant hole on the line is at center. The Bears already released Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick is set to become a free agent. The only center currently on the roster is Doug Kramer, who spent most of the 2023 season on the practice squad.

Center is one of the team’s biggest needs. It’s also a position that teams don’t typically draft very high. Nobody has selected a center with a top-20 pick since 2019, and over the past 15 years, only one draft (2018) featured two first-round centers. That being said, the hit rate on first-round centers is quite high.

Interestingly, though, there are two centers in this draft who could be potential first-round picks. Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson and Duke’s Graham Barton could be potential first-rounders. To be clear, the Bears aren’t likely to take a center with a top-10 pick. If they trade down in the first round, or if they find a way to acquire a second-round pick, center should absolutely be on the table.

While having a rookie quarterback and a rookie center might not be ideal, letting those guys bank reps together could pay huge dividends in the future.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.