Bears GM Ryan Poles’ high draft picks will dictate whether his rebuild succeeds

Poles had two second-round picks last year, has four of the top 64 selections this year and has two first-round picks in 2024. His success rate on those will mean everything as the Bears try to become a contender.

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Ryan Poles is in his second draft as Bears general manager.

Ryan Poles is in his second draft as Bears general manager.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

General manager Ryan Poles has gotten some leeway and understanding since beginning his massive rebuild of the Bears last year, but he doesn’t have much margin in the draft. While there were minimal expectations of the team last season and likely modest ones for this season, the picks he makes in his first couple of drafts will have huge ramifications down the road.

That’s especially true of his choices in the first three rounds, and Poles finally has restored those valuable selections in the wake of predecessor Ryan Pace’s many trades. The lack of rising stars was a big factor in Pace’s dismissal and left Poles with few pieces worth keeping as he began the demolition phase.

It’s impossible to draft perfectly, and one of Poles’ greatest strengths is the humility to know that. Even the Patriots whiff sometimes. Poles believes in giving himself as many swings as possible, as evidenced by piling up picks in the later rounds last year to see whether he could strike gold and by trading out of the No. 1 pick this year.

‘‘Having the flexibility to adjust and add volume for more opportunities at the plate, that’s a really sound thing to do,’’ Poles told the Sun-Times at Alabama’s pro day last month. ‘‘It’s been proven in the draft over the years. It’s part of our philosophy.’’

By dealing the top selection, Poles set himself up with four picks in the top 64 when the draft begins Thursday: No. 9 overall in the first round, Nos. 53 and 61 in the second and No. 64 in the third. He also will have two first-rounders next year, and the one he got from the Panthers might be very high.

Other than quarterback Justin Fields’ progress, that collection of high picks and the key selections he made last year will be the weightiest determinants of whether Poles’ rebuild succeeds.

In his first draft, he took cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker in the second round and receiver/return man Velus Jones in the third. Of his eight third-day picks, he landed offensive tackle Braxton Jones in the fifth.

If Gordon and Brisker build on the promise they showed as rookies and Jones holds up as a starter at left or right tackle, that’s a solid start with so many first- and second-round picks coming in this draft and the next.

If the Bears aspire to contend in 2024 or 2025, nailing those picks is the way to do it.

It’s also crucial for coach Matt Eberflus, who has a tough road to get his record above .500 after starting 3-14. Like Poles, he got some grace amid the teardown last season, but the pressure ramps up starting this season.

It’s good for the Bears, then, that Eberflus is taking such an active role in the draft process. He was on the road with Poles for several pro days and brought multiple assistants with him to scout prospects.

‘‘You can just glean that much more information,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘I met with all the head coaches for 20 or 30 minutes on the field, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, and you can get really good information from a guy when you’re there in person. It takes me back to when I was a college scout.’’

While there are no guarantees it’ll work out, that sounds far more collaborative than Pace and then-coach John Fox’s draft in 2017. At least the Bears’ process makes sense now.

Their list of needs, however, is as long as ever.

After allowing the fourth-most sacks and notching the fewest in the NFL, the Bears made minimal moves in free agency to fix their defensive line and modest ones on the offensive line. Neither renovation is complete.

Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson seems like the most likely pick for the Bears at No. 9, then they could shift Jones to right tackle. Regardless of whether their preference is Johnson or Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, the Bears probably will have the first choice of an offensive lineman in this class.

The top two pass rushers and top defensive tackle, however, are expected to be gone before the Bears pick, so those needs would get pushed to the second or third round.

At cornerback, Jaylon Johnson has proved he’s one of the best in the league, but there’s no certainty he and the Bears will work out a contract extension. Remember when it seemed as though there was no way they would let linebacker Roquan Smith leave?

Gordon is ascending but is still a work in progress, and no other cornerback on their roster is a sure-fire starter. In an era in which teams need three quality corners on the field for the majority of the game, it’s possible the Bears would take one in the first round.

There’s a lot to fix, but Poles has enough high picks this year and next to do it. It just depends on how many are hits. And the Bears will feel the real effect of those choices right when they’re hoping to compete.

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