Bears GM Ryan Poles’ draft approach is refreshing, reassuring

Poles attacked a clear list of roster needs by targeting players who thrived at major programs. It’s not foolproof, but it’s sensible.

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Poles went into Day 2 of the draft with two second-round picks and a third.

Poles went into Day 2 of the draft with two second-round picks and a third.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A chief frustration with former Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s approach to the draft was that the obvious moves seemed too obvious for his taste. He overly romanticized the idea of finding hidden gems and too often was certain he knew something the rest of the NFL didn’t.

His successor, however, has gone about it straightforwardly.

While Ryan Poles took a winding route — full of trades, both up and down — leading up to his high-value picks, he did the simple, sensible thing: He chose players who dominated at the biggest college programs. That’s not foolproof, of course, but betting on players who thrived at that level to thrive when they reach the league is a sound strategy.

Poles also stuck to a clear list of needs, which was reassuring and refreshing.

He scooped up a protector for quarterback Justin Fields when he took Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright at No. 10 on Thursday, then followed with Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter (No. 53) and Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (No. 56) in the second round Friday. He added another defensive tackle in South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens with the first pick of the third round (No. 64).

“It was spot on,” Poles said of the Bears’ draft-board rankings matching their roster needs. “I don’t remember it being that perfect last year, which is really cool.”

The Bears still lack pass-rushing forces at defensive end, but there’s no question Poles addressed urgent needs.

This was hardly a make-the-best-of-it draft for him like last year. He had the resources he needed this time.

Poles started with the No. 1 overall pick and ended up with the Nos. 10, 53, 61 and 64 selections over the first two days. It’s pertinent that he also picked up wide receiver DJ Moore — instantly the Bears’ best player at the position — and a 2024 first-rounder when dealing the top pick to the Panthers last month.

On the flip side, he also gave up the first pick of the second round, No. 32 overall, in a deal with the Steelers for wide receiver Chase Claypool. Poles said at the NFL Scouting Combine he had no regrets despite Claypool’s painfully slow start.

The Steelers used that pick to take Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr., son of the former All-Pro linebacker. Porter was the fifth corner selected; Stevenson was eighth.

Stevenson grew up in the high school football hotbed of South Florida, then held his own at Georgia for two seasons before transferring to Miami.

“Elite competition on the practice field at both institutions,” he said when asked about his college experience preparing him for the pros.

The Bears will lead off again when the draft resumes with the fourth round Saturday. They have another fourth-rounder at No. 133, followed by a fifth-rounder and two seventh-round picks.

Any viable talent Poles finds on Day 3 is a bonus, but the four draft picks in the top 64 are crucial as he tries to form a young, talented core. None of those players can take their time to develop, especially Wright.

“I embrace expectations,” Wright said Friday. “Whatever [my] role is, I’m going to take it full-on.”

Knowing the Bears need him to be an immediate starter, he added, “It gives me a lot of confidence that they think that I can come in and help them.”

While Poles can afford if one of Dexter, Stevenson and Pickens doesn’t pan out, he needs Wright to be a big hit. One of the Bears’ biggest flaws is that they lack undeniable stars, and they’re banking on Wright becoming one of the NFL’s best tackles.

This can’t be just a roster full of decent players. That usually translates to being a decent team. Poles is aiming higher than that, and the more draft picks who rise to legitimate stardom, the further the Bears will go.

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