Bears See ‘Grady Jarrett-Type Comp’ in Rookie Defensive Tackle

Travis Bell Jarrett Comp Bears

Getty The Bears see a bit of Grady Jarrett in one of their newest rookie draft picks.

Chicago Bears rookie defensive tackle Travis Bell hasn’t caught as much attention as Day 2 picks Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens since the draft ended, but general manager Ryan Poles sees a Pro Bowl comp in him.

During a recent NFL+ interview with NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund, Poles talked up Bell as one of his “favorite players” of the draft class during a behind-the-scenes look at the Bears’ newest draft picks. He also said the Kennesaw State standout reminded him of a “Grady Jarrett-type” player when looking at his tape and measurables, even though he played against smaller competition down in the FCS-based Big South Conference.

“This is one of my favorite players,” Poles told Frelund. “He came in, had a great visit, I love the human being, what he stands for. The guy had a full-time job while football. When you look at the measurables and the traits, obviously from a small school, but I saw Grady Jarrett-type comp. Same size, same testing numbers — almost identical. … Obviously, a big jump in competition [from the FCS], but he’s got the right make-up to do that and the tape is fun to watch.”

Travis Bell Becoming Grady Jarret Would Be a Dream

Travis Bell Jarrett Comp2

GettyTravis Bell, left, was the third defensive tackle the Bears picked in the 2023 NFL draft.

Fans in Chicago would obviously love if it Bell developed into the next Grady Jarrett. The Falcons’ star defensive tackle has racked up 32.5 career sacks, 420 total tackles and two Pro Bowl selections since coming into the league as a 2015 fifth-round pick. If Bell can amount to even half of that, it will have been worth the Bears’ seventh-rounder.

The road to the top, however, will be steep for Bell. The Bears also sunk a second-rounder in Dexter and a third-rounder into Pickens, both of whom are joining an interior defensive line group that also includes Justin Jones and Andrew Billings. The Bears will undoubtedly need a steady rotation, and the more effective bodies they can swap in and out the better, but being the fifth guy in the pecking order can be tough.

Bell also didn’t have heaps of production as a pass rusher during his collegiate career. He tallied just 1.5 sacks over 11 games as a graduate student in 2022, but he did at least prove to be a stout-enough run defender with 5.5 tackles for loss and 34 tackles total. The good news is, as a draft pick, he will have a guaranteed shot at getting to prove himself in training camp against some of the other bottom-depth contenders, such as former fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes and Nigerian implant Roy Baeteka.

How Much Will Bears Play Other Rookies Early?

Travis Bell Jarrett Comp3

GettyBears defensive tackle Zacch Pickens could push for starting opportunities early in 2023.

While Bell might not see many defensive snaps early in his rookie career, the Bears’ other two rookie defensive tackles — Dexter and Pickens — have much better chances of seeing playing time early in their first NFL seasons. The bigger question is: How much will the Bears be willing to put on their plates when the season starts in September?

The Bears have high expectations for both Dexter and Pickens. Ideally, the two will eventually develop into a starting tandem for the Bears with Pickens playing in the three-technique role and Dexter filling out the one-technique spot in Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defensive scheme. It is possible, though, that neither of them will start against Green Bay in Week 1 and instead come off the bench as (still meaningful) parts of the rotation behind veterans Jones and Billings.

Jones is entering his second year in Eberflus’ system, and while he didn’t always fill up the box scores with sacks or tackles for loss in 2022, Poles has remarked how impressed he was with his ability to make plays for their line throughout the season. Meanwhile, Billings — a 2023 free agent signing — is an experienced run-stopper who figures to begin the season next to Jones. Unless one of the rookies overperforms in camp and the preseason and undeniably proves he is ready to go, it could be several weeks before the Bears feel comfortable trotting out their rookies as starters on defense.

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