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What will Bears do with 9th pick in NFL draft?

SportsWhat will Bears do with 9th pick in NFL draft?

CHICAGO — Upon returning last week from the NFL league meetings in Orlando, Florida, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles planned to break his personnel staff into groups to go through the three likeliest avenues for the No. 9 pick.

After Chicago selects a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick — likely USC’s Caleb Williams — the team will shift its focus to its second selection in the first round.

The directive from Poles was simple: One team would sort through the highest-rated offensive tackles on the board, another would evaluate wide receivers while the third group looked at defensive ends. The entire group will then come together in meetings to debate the best short-term and long-term play.

“We’re going to get a ‘blue’ [the highest-rated prospect by how the team color codes its draft board] player there for sure,” coach Matt Eberflus said of the No. 9 pick. “What we’ve done in free agency allows us to be flexible, to really be able to take the best player, the one we feel fits for us in that spot.”

With fewer than three weeks until the Bears are on the clock twice on April 25, here’s a look at their options with the ninth overall pick.

Wide receiver

Poles left Orlando and headed straight for LSU’s pro day in Baton Rouge, where he, assistant general manager Ian Cunningham and Eberflus got an up-close look at wide receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Field Yates has Nabers off the board at No. 6 to the Giants while Thomas, who led all FBS programs in 2023 with 17 receiving touchdowns, teams up with fellow former LSU star Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati with the 18th overall pick.

Wide receiver is one of the deeper positions in the draft with a total of 14 selected in the first two rounds of Yates’ mock draft.

The Bears already made a major addition to their wide receiver room last month when they sent their own fourth-round selection (they still hold No. 122 from Philadelphia) to the Los Angeles Chargers for Keenan Allen.

Williams is expected to enter an unprecedented situation for a quarterback taken with the first pick. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there has never been a QB selected in the top five in NFL draft history to play their rookie season with multiple players who had at least 1,200 receiving yards in their previous NFL season.

In 2023, DJ Moore reached several career highs, including 1,364 receiving yards. Allen had 1,243 in his 11th season with the Chargers.

The chance to continue adding pass-catchers to aid in the development of a rookie quarterback sparks intrigue. The Bears hosted Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze on a top 30 visit on Thursday, per a team source, the player Yates projected to Chicago at No. 9 in his latest mock draft.

The prospect of joining forces with the quarterback he saw the past two seasons during Pac-12 play excites Odunze, who was one of two wide receivers to produce at least 2,400 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons, along with Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., who is expected to be the first receiver taken.

“I got to see Caleb first hand,” Odunze said at the combine. “I got to see his talents and abilities. So definitely. I know he’s a student of the game and someone who brings a lot of passion and a lot of desire to the game. So, of course, to be paired up with him would be something special.”


Free agency came and went without the Bears signing a defensive end to line up opposite Montez Sweat. For as much improvement as Chicago made following Sweat’s arrival at the trade deadline, the Bears finished last season 31st in sacks (30) and with the lowest sack percentage in the NFL (4.64%).

“To me, it’s always about affecting the quarterback or helping the quarterback,” Eberflus said. “It comes down to those two questions.”

Alabama’s Dallas Turner, who took his top 30 visit this week, per a source, could be exactly the type of player Eberflus is eyeing to affect opposing quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide edge rusher had 10 sacks in 2023 and 22.5 over his college career, to go along with 32.5 tackles for loss. Florida State’s Jared Verse had 9.0 sacks in each of the 2022 and 2023 seasons and totaled 29.5 tackles for loss. Both have the speed Eberflus desires off the edge, with Turner running a 4.47 second 40-yard dash and Verse clocking in at 4.58 seconds. There’s also UCLA’s Laiatu Latu in consideration among the top defensive end prospects.

“We’re looking at all pass-rushers,” Eberflus said. “It can be inside, outside, all along the line. We’re having an open mind in that regard.”

Keeping all pass-rush prospects on the table means the Bears could consider Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II, who is considered the best three-technique in the draft. Chicago used a second-round pick last year to draft DT Gervon Dexter Sr., but if they feel he’s not ready for a full-time role following the departure of Justin Jones in free agency, bolstering the interior pass rush is an avenue the team may want to consider.

Offensive tackle

The Bears have two young offensive tackles in Braxton Jones, at left, and Darnell Wright, at right. The lack of flexibility Chicago had up front is something that bothered Poles and pushed the Bears to send a fifth-round pick to Buffalo last month for center Ryan Bates, who projects as the starter. With Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis at guard, the Bears have their starting five set. For now.

But what if Notre Dame’s Joe Alt or Penn State’s Olu Fashanu is available when the Bears draft at No. 9? While the O-line could be in sufficient shape for 2024, the long-term outlook Poles said he and his staff will consider could yield an upgrade, potentially at left tackle.

“I do believe [Jones is] a starting left tackle, but if it comes down to a situation to increase competition, and that’s what’s best for us, then we’ll do that,” Poles said in January.

The draft’s other top tackles, like Alabama’s JC Latham and Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga, might not be the right fit in Chicago given their experience at right tackle versus left. Latham started 27 games at right tackle over the past two seasons while Fuaga started 25. The Bears did not move Wright from where he played most of his snaps collegiately when they drafted him.

Later in the first round, offensive tackles like Georgia’s Amarius Mims, Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton, BYUs Kingsley Suamataia and Arizona’s Jordan Morgan could be options if the Bears decide to move back from No. 9.

Trade back

The Bears currently have four picks — Nos. 1, 9, 75 and 122. That’s the least amount of draft capital Poles will have at his disposal during the draft since he arrived in 2022. Each of his first two draft classes surpassed double digits as the general manager pulled off a handful of draft-day trades in each of the past two years.

So, does the potential to remain stagnant with four picks cause stress?

“This year it doesn’t,” Poles told ESPN. “The way this is set up and [with] some of the draft capital we’ve been able to create in the first two years, I feel pretty comfortable about it. It’ll be boring if we don’t do any trades, but I feel pretty good about where we’re at.”

Poles pulled off three trades during the draft in 2023, swapping spots with Philadelphia in the first round to select Wright at No. 10, moving up in the second round to draft cornerback Tyrique Stevenson at No. 56 and moving back in the fourth round after a trade with New Orleans to draft running back Roschon Johnson at No. 115 and cornerback Terell Smith at No. 165. Wright and Stevenson held down starting roles last season while Johnson and Smith saw ample time on the field as rookies.

Poles said he’ll give consideration to moving back from No. 9 depending on how the first eight picks play out and the teams interested in moving up. The potential to recoup several draft picks to close the gap between the ninth and 75th pick could be intriguing for Chicago.

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