Whom should the Bears draft? Our experts weigh in

Despite trading away the No. 1 overall pick in March, the Bears still need a franchise-altering selection in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.

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NFL Draft

A sign shows the Bears’ pick at the 2015 draft.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Despite trading away the No. 1 overall pick in March, the Bears still need a franchise-altering selection in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. It will be vital to the careers of general manager Ryan Poles, who is picking in Round 1 for the first time, and quarterback Justin Fields, who needs to prove himself in Year 3.

The Bears have many holes to fill and any number of directions they could take when they are on the clock to pick ninth. The Sun-Times’ Bears experts — Patrick Finley, Jason Lieser and Mark Potash — lay out what they would do if they were the ones making that call:

Patrick Finley: Georgia DT Jalen Carter

Picking ninth in a draft where they believe there are about a half-dozen valuable players, the Bears will look to trade down. They have more needs than they have picks, after all.

At No. 9, prospects at their positions of need could look a lot like Noah’s Ark, with the top two cornerbacks and top four tackles still around. They could trade down without losing out.

If a quarterback remains on the board, the Titans could look to move up two spots — in exchange, perhaps, for the Bears moving up 12 spots in Round 2. The Texans could cough up the 10th pick of Round 3 to climb three spots.

Only one player, I think, would make the Bears want to keep No. 9: Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. He’s the most skilled player in the draft — albeit with baggage.

Carter was arrested during the NFL Scouting Combine and booked for two misdemeanors in relation to a car crash that killed two in January. He pleaded no contest to reckless driving and racing, meaning he won’t serve jail time or face further charges. One day before his plea, Carter posted a dud of a pro day, agreeing to do only one drill — and failing to complete it while looking out of shape. It was, potentially, one of the most damaging months in draft history.

His game tape is amazing, though, and he plays a position that is the engine of Matt Eberflus’ defense.

The Bears had concerns about Carter even before the arrest and have since given him plenty of opportunity to discuss it, meeting with him at his pro day and earlier this month at Halas Hall. Even if they weren’t left fully satisfied, the risk-reward calculus of taking the most talented player in the draft at No. 9 is worth it.

Other teams believe the same. The better question isn’t whether the Bears should take Carter, but whether someone else will first.

Jason Lieser: Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez

Coaches have been saying for years they can never have too many cornerbacks, and Matt Eberflus certainly would agree. It’s a premium position and it’s hard to fill with undrafted players and free agency bargains.

The Bears have two cornerbacks they like in Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon, but defenses have three on the field for most of the game. Gonzalez, who has the versatility to play outside or in the slot, would fit perfectly with Johnson and Gordon. There is no obvious third cornerback if the Bears don’t draft one, and that’s a dangerous spot to patch it together and hope for the best.

The secondary needs all the help it can get. This is a layered problem that includes their pass-rushing deficiency, but the Bears allowed the seventh-highest opponent passer rating (94.4) and fifth-highest completion percentage (67.2) last season. They haven’t been in the top half of the NFL in opponent passer rating since 2019.

He also would give the Bears insurance if either of them doesn’t stick around. Johnson is up for a contract extension, and it’s no sure thing that he and the team agree on his value. Gordon showed promise after the Bears drafted him in the second round last year, but he must keep climbing.

The problem with suggesting Gonzalez is that he’s probably out of reach of the Bears, though the Steelers brought him in for a pre-draft visit. They pick 17th.

It goes against Ryan Poles’ philosophy of accumulating as many picks as he can, but he might need to part with some Day 2 capital to move up and get him. Otherwise, if he wants a corner, he’ll have to pivot to Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and hope he’s still there at No. 9.

Mark Potash: Ohio State OT Paris Johnson, Jr.

Even with all their salary cap money, the Bears emerged from free agency with three huge holes to fill — offensive tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end. But after dropping down to No. 9 after trading the No. 1 overall pick, the area of need should be obvious — offensive tackle. And Johnson gets the edge over Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, though both project to be long-time productive NFL starters.

After dropping out of the range for Alabama defensive end Will Anderson and with Carter likely gone before No. 9 — and a risk even if he is available — offensive tackle is the strongest position of need where the Bears are drafting.

They’ll likely have their pick of the top four tackles, and there’s value in that. In the last 10 seasons, 10 of the 11 offensive tackles taken in the top 10 have been full-time starters every year in the NFL. Only Greg Robinson (second overall by the Rams in 2014) is not in the NFL.

And it plays to a presumed strength for the Bears — Poles and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham are former offensive linemen and offensive line coach Chris Morgan is highly regarded by both. Morgan’s work with fifth-round pick Braxton Jones at left tackle and converted tackle Teven Jenkins at right guard in 2022 is creditable.

If the Bears can identify and develop a fifth-round pick such as Jones into a viable starter (He made several all-rookie teams last season), if figures they can do even more with the best offensive tackle in the draft. Or even the second best.

The Bears haven’t drafted an offensive tackle in the first round since Gabe Carimi in 2011 (29th overall). They haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in the top 10 since tackle Jimbo Covert in 1983 (sixth). This is a good spot for much-needed change at Halas Hall.

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