The Chicago Bears still have about a month to finalize their 2023 NFL draft board, but one national NFL insider seems to think they are already leaning away from one particular first-round prospect: Georgia’s Jalen Carter.
In his March 27 column for NBC Sports, veteran NFL insider Peter King shared a small insight into Carter’s volatile draft situation, one that has seen the former Bulldogs star go from being one of the top defensive prospects in the class to someone with character concerns that threaten to see him drop out of the top-10 selections in April.
“I think I won’t be surprised, unless Seattle takes him at five, if Jalen Carter drops out of the top 10,” King wrote in Monday’s Football Morning in America column.
King also added: “I asked the coach of a team outside the top 10 who is very interested in Carter and has researched him. The issue with Carter’s alleged involvement in speeding in connection with the accident that killed two people from the Georgia program is worrying, he said, and his team is still looking into that. “There are concerns there,” this coach said, “and I don’t know where we’ll end up on that. But as far as football goes, I don’t view the concerns there that would prevent us from drafting him. I’ve heard about him not practicing hard. I understand, and that could be an issue. But he’s such a freak of nature.” The point: talent shrinks big issues.”
Peter King Has Been Talking to Ryan Poles — A Lot
King has spent quite a bit of time over the past month talking with Bears general manager Ryan Poles, and it is one of the reasons why his comment about Carter dropping out of the top 10 should raise alarm bells for fans who want him in Chicago.
Poles has been open with King about his strategy for rebuilding the Bears franchise, talking to him about Justin Fields heading into the NFL Scouting Combine in early March and then again a few weeks later after pulling the trigger on their No. 1 pick trade with Carolina. That’s not to say he has been walking the veteran media insider through every detail of his offseason plan, but it would also be shocking if King didn’t walk away from their talks with at least some idea of how Poles feels about key prospects, especially one as widely discussed as Carter over the past month.
With that in mind, it is a little easier to read between the lines. King believes Seattle is the best hope for Carter being selected inside the top 10. He also makes absolutely no mention of Chicago looking to take him if he drops to them at No. 9 overall, suggesting his intel from Poles is pointing toward them going a different direction with the pick.
Now, Poles did say back on March 16 that the Bears were planning to bring in Carter for a top 30 visit to Halas Hall, but it is unclear if that visit has happened yet. Furthermore, Poles said he and his staff would sit down “some point in mid-April” to figure out exactly how they wanted to handle the Carter possibility after doing their due diligence, which indicates a final decision is still to come for Chicago.
If Not Jalen Carter, Who Will Bears Target at No. 9?
Fortunately, Carter isn’t the end-all, be-all for the Bears with the ninth overall pick. They could just as easily turn their attention to one of the top three offensive tackles in the 2023 class — Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr., and Broderick Jones — and still walk away with a high-level solution for one of their biggest roster needs for next year. The Bears were in attendance for all three of the tackle’s respective school pro days and showed a particular interest in Skoronski at Northwestern, but there is a good chance that all three of them could be available when the Bears pick at No. 9.
If the Bears miss out on their preferred offensive tackle prospect, they could still shift back to defense and prioritize one of the upper-echelon edge rushers in the class, such as Nolan Smith, Lukas Van Ness or Myles Murphy. One of the top cornerback prospects — such as Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon — could also make sense for them, as they still need another starter for the group and are not necessarily committed to keeping Kyler Gordon as a starter on the perimeter.
Wild-card options? Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Texas running back Bijan Robinson. The Bears have sufficient talent at both positions, at least for 2023, but if they are the last two remaining “blue” players at the top of Poles’ board — and a trade-down option isn’t available — they might use the ninth pick to add another electric playmaker to their offense alongside Fields in his third season.