The Chicago Bears just got blown out for the second week in a row, this time by the Detroit Lions, but the losing ways in Chicago aren’t expected to last for long.
If the season ended today, the Bears would own the second selection in the NFL Draft. If the Houston Texans defeat the Indianapolis Colts next weekend and Chicago loses to the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears will pick first overall.
Two typical schools of thought have emerged as to what the franchise will do with its No. 1 or No. 2 overall selection — trade down a few spots and draft a defensive game-changer, or hold onto the spot and draft the same kind of guy.
Much speculation has been centered on Will Anderson Jr., the dominant outside linebacker and pass rusher from Alabama. However, Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus predicted recently that Chicago will look a little further east to the University of Georgia and star defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
“On a defensive line that featured Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Nolan Smith, Carter felt like the best of the bunch during Georgia’s historic national championship run,” Sikkema wrote on December 28. “He continued that elite play in 2022 and has a good case for the best overall talent in this class, regardless of position, with elite burst and rare strength. He’s posted pass-rush win percentages above 16.0% in each of the past two seasons.”
Bears Must Choose Between Carter and Edge Rusher at Top of Draft
Carter isn’t exactly flying under anyone’s radar as potentially the top-graded prospect in 2023 by the time the draft comes around this spring. It was believed by some draft experts that the dominant interior lineman wouldn’t even be an option for the Bears back when the team was projected to select in the No. 4 spot, as Carter would already be off the board.
A team spending top first-round draft capital on Carter is in no way unexpected. In fact, based on Sikkema’s analysis, it is absolutely going to happen. The Bears making that call, however, strays slightly from the prevailing logic of the franchise’s suspected draft strategy up until now. The reasons for that are two-fold.
First, the Bears have well north of $100 million in salary cap space in 2023 and the defensive line is expected to be an area of top priority. A player like Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders is a proven entity at the position and makes a good deal of sense for Chicago as a free agent target. NFL teams can never have too many pocket-collapsing forces in the middle of a defense, but if the Bears sign Payne, or another player like him, it makes more sense to use their draft capital on an edge rusher who covers a greater expanse of the field.
Secondly, premier edge rushers are exceedingly difficult to procure in free agency. When they are signed away from a competitor, the cost is often exorbitant for a player nearing, or already at, the end of his prime.
Every situation is unique, but a general rule is that top-level defensive tackle play is cheaper than top-level play at defensive end or signing a pass rushing savant at outside linebacker. Thus, a generational talent like the one Anderson is capable of becoming carries more value as a top-five draft pick and is typically a smarter selection than a player like Carter, even when said player turns out to be as phenomenal as initially projected. There are, of course, exceptions to this notion — Aaron Donald and Warren Sapp, just to name two — though defensive tackles who reach that caliber are few and far between.
Anderson has tallied 34.5 sacks 58.5 tackles for loss in just 41 collegiate games. Carter’s counting statistics are much lower, as he has accounted for only six sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss across 34 games played at the college level. While traditional numbers don’t tell the whole story, passing on a player with Anderson’s history of production wouldn’t be easy for a Bears team in need of pass rushers after trading away Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.
Bears Also Linked to Potential Trade-Down For Wide Receiver
A third, albeit less likely option, for the Bears is to trade down. They could move just a couple of spots in hopes of bringing back a massive haul from a QB-needy team eager to move into position to draft Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud and still be in a spot themselves to scoop up Carter or Anderson.
Another choice for Chicago is to drop even further, sacrificing its draft position for a proven commodity at wide receiver. One such move could involve Tee Higgins and the Cincinnati Bengals, an idea pitched by The Draft Network in their December 26 mock.
The encouraging news is that regardless of how the Bears choose to deploy their assets, the overwhelming likelihood is the arrival of several talented contributors with either high upside and/or bonafide credentials to help turn one of the least successful NFL franchises in 2022 into a formidable foe in 2023.