After dropping to No. 9 in the 2023 NFL Draft, what the Chicago Bears will do with their first overall selection has become harder to figure.
General manager Ryan Poles has added defense and a top-end wide receiver in D.J. Moore, leaving openings along the offensive line and a viable pass rush as the two most glaring deficiencies on the roster. Putting aside the Jalen Carter piece of the puzzle for a second, the best prospects and best values serving Chicago’s immediate needs come at the offensive tackle position in the forms of Peter Skoronski out of Northwestern and Paris Johnson Jr. out of Ohio State.
Mel Kiper of ESPN predicted in his most recent mock draft that the Bears will reach down for Johnson with the 9th pick, despite Kiper himself rating Johnson as the 12th best overall prospect in the 2023 class behind Skoronski at 11th.
Johnson’s Length Makes Him Premium Prospect For Bears O-Line
One of the primary reasons for Kiper’s belief that the Bears will pursue Johnson is his length. At the NFL Combine earlier this month, the tackle’s arm length measured out at 36.125 inches, while Skoronski’s arms stretched nearly four inches shorter at 32.25 inches.
A second reason is Johnson’s connection with quarterback Justin Fields as former Buckeyes teammates.
While the Bears could be in play for a defensive lineman here — particularly if Jalen Carter drops — I see offensive tackle as their biggest hole after their moves in free agency. They added guard Nate Davis to start on the right side, but are they really trusting Teven Jenkins to lock in the right tackle job?
They could have their choice of the class’ tackles here. Johnson played both tackle spots and right guard for the Buckeyes, and he already has blocked for quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago needs to keep supporting Fields and get him a stellar lineman with this pick, and it could still address the defense with its two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 61) and early third-rounder (No. 64).
Bears Must Take Carter if Defensive Phenom Drops in Draft
As exciting as Johnson would be with the No. 9 overall pick, the Bears must select Carter if he falls that far in the draft, even though he is undeniably a gamble who has grown more precarious since he helped the University of Georgia win its second of back-to-back National Titles in January.
The 3-technique defensive tackle is a perfect fit for the Bears defense and has the potential to be a generational talent at his position. He would add to Chicago’s league-worst 2022 pass rush (just 20 sacks total) and solidify the middle of the front-seven. But how reliable Carter will be as a pro is a legitimate question.
Carter recently pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges stemming from a car-racing incident in which he was involved, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN. The incident resulted in the deaths of one of his Georgia teammates and a UGA football staffer, both of whom were riding in a separate vehicle.
Around the same time he was settling his legal matters, Schlabach reported that Carter weighed in nine pounds heavier at his March 16 pro day than at the combine approximately two weeks prior. Schlabach added that the defensive tackle proved unable to finish his position drills in front of scouts “because he was cramping up and breathing heavily.”
The developments of the last few months don’t bode well for Carter, but Kiper still ranks him as the most talented prospect in this entire draft class. In his most recent mock draft, Kiper projected Carter to come off the board at No. 6 to the Detroit Lions. However, should the Lions look elsewhere, the Bears must revisit Carter as a target with the 9th overall selection.