With only six picks and a new GM and coach, Chicago has to be careful in upcoming NFL draft

2022 NFL draft

New Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles might turn into the “anti-Les Snead” when it comes to the NFL draft.

Snead, the Los Angeles Rams GM, famously wore a T-shirt during the team’s Super Bowl parade with the phrase “F— Them Picks.”

Then there’s the 36-year-old Poles, who said at his introductory press conference that the Bears were going to build through the draft.

Ironically, the GM Pole is replacing, Ryan Pace, has the Bears’ rebuilding efforts off to a great start – but the fate of Poles could be tied to yet another gamble by Pace.

At the start of last season, BearsGooglesOn’s Cody Young detailed some of the major draft problems Chicago had under Pace. From Young: “… Pace has quite a mix of good and bad with his draft picks. He’s found great success in the late rounds while his early-round selections haven’t exactly panned out.”

Pace was often aggressive during the draft – and that ultimately contributed to his demise, as the lack of success of former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky is the single biggest reason why the Bears aren’t competing for division titles.

Pace’s last big gamble? Trading up for Justin Fields, which also cost the Bears draft capital.

The hope is that Fields will be Chicago’s franchise signal-caller for the next 10-plus years. And if not? Then it makes Pole’s job that much harder.

As Young said early last season, “… that means you have to hit with what you got” in the draft.

Luckily, ChiCity Sports’ Stephen Johnson provided a road map to fix what’s ailing the Bears through the upcoming draft. You can read it here.

Thanks to Pace, the Bears already have building-block pieces in place: Young, athletic quarterback. “Safety-valve target” for that quarterback. Promising second-year offensive tackles. Playmaking safety and up-and-coming cornerback. Ten-plus-sacks-per-year pass rusher. Star middle linebacker.

Most of those players are young and were acquired through the draft.

But Chicago still has holes at receiver, cornerback, safety, offensive line and defensive tackle, as ChiCity Sports’ Johnson points out.

Armed with only six picks in the draft, here’s how the Bears can plug those holes:

Receiver

Best round to draft one

The top tier of WRs should be gone by pick No. 39 overall, but the next tier should carry over into the third round and include three small school targets (Christian Watson of North Dakota State, Jalen Tolbert of South Alabama and Skyy Moore of Western Michigan) and three receivers from big-time programs who come with injury concerns (Georgia’s George Pickens, Alabama’s John Metchie and Clemson’s Justyn Ross).

The safe pick

Tolbert. The redshirt senior has good size at 6-foot-1, 194-pounds and 10-inch hands, large for a receiver. He ran a good-but-not-great 4.49-second 40 at the Combine. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein called Tolbert a “Silky smooth athlete who has morphed into a monster over the last two seasons.”

Wildcard

Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky. Unlike Tolbert, Robinson doesn’t have ideal measurements at 5-foot-8, 178-pounds, and his 40-time at the Combine wasn’t much better than Tolbert’s at 4.44. But Robinson can be used all over the field and on special teams and is seen as a potential game-changing gadget player similar to Deebo Samuel of San Francisco.

Cornerback

Best round to draft one

Need a cornerback? This is a good year to draft one, with 28 ranked among the top 263 prospects. But if you need a rookie starter at the position, then you better take him by the early portion of Round 3, as there’s a big gap between Alabama’s Jalyn Armour-Davis, the No. 72 overall prospect in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, and Zyon McCollum of Sam Houston State, the No. 97 overall prospect.

The safe pick

There’s a good chance Roger McCreary of Auburn will still be available, but he might not be a good fit in new coach Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defense because he’s expected to rely heavily on cover-2 and cover-3 zones, while McCreary’s best fit is likely on a defense that allows him to rely on press-man coverage. Instead, either Alabama cornerback Armour-Davis or Josh Jobe would probably be a better fit scheme-wise. But the safest pick is likely Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound senior who ran a 4.54-second 40 at the Combine. A four-year starter with a ton of experience, Bryant is generally viewed as a zone coverage corner. From Zierlein: “Zone cover schemes that allow for a more linear, eyes-forward approach should play directly into his strengths.”

Wildcard

Tariq Woolen, UTSA. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound redshirt senior is a stunning athletic specimen: He ran a 4.26-second 40 at the Combine and had a 42-inch vertical jump. He’s also extremely raw, having only played the position full-time for two years after switching from wide receiver. If his instincts, technique and tackling prowess can catch up, then Woolen could turn into one of the steals of the draft. He could go as high as the back-end of the first-round or as low as the early fourth-round.

Safety

Best round to draft one

Day 3 is the time to draft a safety, especially if you’re hoping to find one who could develop into a starter by Year 3. Seventeen of the 24 safeties have Day 3 rankings in the Rigdon big board. If Chicago is desperate to find a sure-fire Year 1 starter, then the Bears will need to take him in the second round, because with just six safeties ranked in the second- to third-round range, it’s possible all of the Tier 2 safeties are gone by the early third round. However, as safety is always seen as a position in which you can find starters in the later rounds and with early picks in the fifth round, the Bears could wait until the third day and still come away with at least a rookie contributor.

The safe pick

Dane Belton, Iowa. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior ran a 4.43-second 40 at the Combine is a physical safety with a nose for the football, as he picked off 5 passes this past season, but he played a hybrid position at Iowa, making his projection a bit of a mystery. With that said, recent draft picks Amani Hooker and Geno Stone played the same position at Iowa and have had NFL success. That’s what makes him a “safe pick” on Day 3.

Wildcard

Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound redshirt senior has a ton of experience and set several school records, including career tackles (419). But Blankenship has fallen way under the draft radar, as he wasn’t invited to the Combine or the Senior Bowl. Still, it’s hard to ignore his 50 career starts and overall production (26.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 9 INTs, 19 PDs, 4 FRs, 3 FFs for his five-year career.)

Offensive linemen

Best round to draft one

It’s a top-heavy draft for offensive tackles, with eight ranked among the top 64, then a big dropoff after that. And there are currently only 19 tackles ranked among the top 263, which would be the fewest OTs drafted since 16 were taken in the 2017 draft (25 were drafted last year). Translation: Bears fans should get used to seeing the Teven Jenkins-Larry Borom pairing for at least one season. That doesn’t mean the team can’t find an experienced tackle in the later rounds who can at least provide some depth, if not fill in for a start or two as a rookie. There are five tackles with fifth- to sixth-round rankings.

The safe pick

This comes down to whether Chicago wants to continue to let Borom develop at right tackle or if they want to turn him into their swing tackle, because there’s a chance that one of the top eight tackles falls to the Bears early in the second round. In other words, this pick may come down to Borom versus Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere. Instead, if the team wants to wait until the later rounds, then a player like Illinois’ Vederian Lowe or Michigan’s Andrew Stueber should still be available in Round 5, where Chicago has two early picks.

Tackle, though, isn’t the only spot that could use an upgrade. The Bears also need a guard, and that position is even more scare when it comes to potential rookie starters. Chicago would need to draft one by the third round to ensure it’s probably getting a starter. Ed Ingram of LSU has several fans among draft analysts, but past off-field issues could push him down draft boards. It’s possible Ingram falls to the fifth round due to those concerns, but, without a fourth-round pick, the Bears would need to take him (or any other guard) on Day 2.

Wildcard

Tyler Smith, Tulsa. The 6-foot-5, 324-pound redshirt sophomore is extremely raw and is seen as a bit of a “boom or bust” prospect. But his strength, quickness, athleticism and overall nastiness makes him an intriguing prospect. He’s also seen as a potential guard prospect. Will Smith still be available early in Round 2 when Chicago picks? Probably not. But if he’s still there, Smith would be hard to pass up.

For the interior linemen, Chattanooga’s Cole Strange, an old-school brawler who can line up at center or guard, has seen his draft stock soar since the Senior Bowl and Combine. Will the 6-foot-5, 307-pound redshirt senior still be available by the early part of Round 3? Probably not, but taking the small school prospect in the second round would be a bit risky, given the level of competition he faced in college.

Defensive line

Best round to draft one

Keep in mind, the Bears should aim for two rookie starters out of this draft. Three would be fantastic. And, presumably, those three starters will likely come from the team’s two picks in the second round and their early pick in the third. Therefore, if you draft a safety and a defensive tackle with your first two picks, for example, then you have to choose between receiver and safety as the third rookie starter. Fanspeak On the Clock draft simulations often have Devonte Wyatt available with the seventh pick of the second round, but players like Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey should be available in the third round and Texas A&M’s Jayden Peevy and Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett in the fifth round.

The safe pick

Wyatt, Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal and Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis could all be available when Chicago is on the clock in the second round. Again, though, taking one of those defensive tackles makes it even more important that Chicago hits on its next pick, No. 71 overall. Instead, Garrett would be a safe Day 3 pick. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior might have had an uninspiring final season, but he comes from a program that routinely produces NFL-ready defensive linemen.

Wildcard

The 6-foot-4, 283-pound Leal is the wildcard pick because no one knows yet what his best position will be at the next level. His best position might be as a defensive end in a 3-4, but for Chicago, he would likely play the 3-tech position at defensive tackle. He could also be used as a strong-side defensive end for the Bears.

Which direction will Chicago go with its first three picks? Find out in Fanspeak’s latest Bears mock draft.

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