Bears could face tricky draft decision on Jalen Carter

The Georgia defensive tackle looks like a great fit as a 3-technique in Matt Ebeflus’ defense. But lucrative trade opportunities with the No. 1 overall pick could present a dilemma for GM Ryan Poles — is it worth losing out on Carter or Alabama’s Will Anderson to acquire extra draft picks?

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2023 CFP National Championship - TCU v Georgia

Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter (88) is No. 1 on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s list of Top 50 draft-eligible players.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The more that experts rave about Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, the more he seems like a perfect fit for the Bears as the dominant 3-technique coach Matt Eberflus craves for his defense.

“It’s overused, but I don’t know how else to describe him — he’s a freak show,” NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Friday in a teleconference before the NFL Scouting Combine. “It just looks like he works at a different speed than everybody else on the field. The change of direction, he can kind of teleport from one gap to the next, and you’re like, ‘I don’t even know how he got there.’ But you’ve got no chance.

“The offensive line coach at Georgia is a good buddy of mine, Stacey Searles. When I asked him about Jalen Carter, he said, ‘When he comes to practice and doesn’t want to get blocked, he’s not getting blocked.’ He’s a unique player.”

With the No. 1 pick in the draft April 27, the Bears can get Carter if they want. But with the opportunity to parlay that top pick into additional picks by trading with a team desperate for a quarterback, the opportunity to draft Carter comes with a quandary: Can they trade down for multiple picks and still get Carter — or Alabama defensive end Will Anderson, the most coveted pass rusher in the draft?

Acquiring multiple picks and still drafting Carter or Anderson looms as the biggest bonanza for GM Ryan Poles, but it would be a nifty gambit. Using the NFL’s accepted draft trade chart as a guide, Jeremiah identified three likely trade scenarios — with the Texans at No. 2, the Colts at No. 4 and the Panthers at No. 9. By the chart — and common sense — the haul increases as you drop in the draft:

† The Texans — the Bears would receive the No. 2 pick, the No. 33 pick and a second-round pick in 2024.

† The Colts — the Bears would include a 2024 fourth-round pick in exchange for the No. 4 pick, the No. 35 pick, a first-round pick in 2024 and a second-round pick in 2024.

† The Panthers — the Bears would get the No. 9 pick, the No. 39 pick and first-round picks in 2024 and 2025.

The Texans option virtually would assure them of getting Carter (or Anderson). The Colts option would come with the risk of losing him. And the Panthers option would almost assure them of missing out. Jeremiah has Carter rated as the No. 1 overall player in the draft — barring some late red flag, he’ll be long gone by No. 9.

So while the Bears want to maximize the value of the No. 1 overall pick, they might have to decide whether losing Carter (or -Anderson) is worth the extra picks.

For Jeremiah, it is — even considering how good Carter could be.

“When I look at those hauls — and I understand you could be trading off of the opportunity to get one of the premier defensive players [in the draft] at 2 or 4 — if you asked me, I would be hoping the Panthers want to pay that price,” said Jeremiah, a former NFL scout for the Ravens, Browns and Eagles. “And I’ll go to [No.] 9 and take all those first-round picks and try to fill some of those needs.”

If the Bears trade down and lose the opportunity to draft Carter or Anderson, Jeremiah pointed to Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski — the Maine South product — as an acceptable alternative.

“As bad as the Bears’ defense is, you’ve got to give Justin Fields some help,” Jeremiah said. “So if they traded all the way down to 9, I would think they’re probably better off trading into their choice of offensive linemen. It would be hard to trade away from those top two defensive players because they’re really, really good. But if you could get the sheer haul of picks that would serve you well into the future, I would go that route.”

On the eve of the scouting combine, which opens Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, it remains to be seen if a competitive bidding war for the No. 1 pick will ensue. In his mock draft released Tuesday, Jeremiah has (pending trades) three quarterbacks going in the top seven — Alabama’s Bryce Young (No. 2 to the Texans), Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (No. 4 to the Colts) and Kentucky’s Will Levis (No. 7 to the Raiders). He also has Florida’s Anthony Richardson (No. 18 to the Lions) and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker projected as NFL starters.

But . . .

“It’s not one of those years where you have Trevor Lawrence [or] Joe Burrow. Obviously not Andrew Luck,” Jeremiah said. “It’s not that year where you say, ‘This is that one — I don’t want to say can’t-miss, but it’s gonna be hard to miss.’ We don’t have that [in this draft]. They have warts. They all have flaws.”

But it’s mostly about projections at this point. Jeremiah noted that the quarterbacks teams have traded up to get since 2011 have been dubious: Trey Lance, Sam Darnold, Mitch Trubisky, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III.

So while a team like the Colts can sit at No. 4 and take the best quarterback available, that still comes with some risk.

“They’ve been on this veteran carousel for so long, they’ve got to get off of it,” Jeremiah said. “So if you have conviction of who that guy is, where their position is as an organization, I think it makes sense for them to be more aggressive than Houston would be — if you have that conviction, just go up and get him.

“At No. 4, there’s a lot that can happen. You might have one that you love, one that you really like and then it drops off. And nobody knows what order that’s in. But I would not be sleeping well at night if I was gonna sit and hold tight at No. 4.”

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