Jalen Carter (right) and Will Anderson (left), 2023’s greatest prospects.
For weeks, the NFL community has been discussing which player will be chosen first in the 2023 NFL Draft. It was generally agreed upon that the Houston Texans would obtain this valuable pick, as they were firmly in last place for much of the season. But disaster struck for Houston; they won against the Colts. Usually, this would be a blessing, but for them, it was a curse. The Texan’s victory against the Colts in Week 18 of the regular season took them from last to second-to-last, placing the vaunted first pick into the hands of the Chicago Bears. This shift from the Texans to the Bears has turned the draft conversation completely on its head. Both teams are looking for very different things in this draft, making the landscape totally new now.
The question that we are left with is; what will the Bears do? Typically, the first pick of the draft is used on a quarterback prospect. In fact, in 15 out of the last 20 first picks, a quarterback has been chosen. But the Bears don’t need a quarterback. They already have their franchise starter, Justin Fields, who they drafted in 2021 as the 11th pick. He had an incredible year, including a rushing season of 1,143 yards, the 7th best in the league. But even with this solid quarterback play, they still have the worst record in the league. So what exactly is the problem?
Well, everything, to be quite honest. Their receiver core is supposed to be built around Darnell Mooney, who had a poor 493 yards over 11 games. The Bears’ lead running backs, David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, ranked 28th and 37th in yards this season, leaving them in the bottom tier of starting running backs. And their defense is even worse than the offense. The Bears ranked close to last in most team defense stats, including fourth in total yards allowed. More specifically, their run defense was terrible, leaving them at second in rushing yards allowed. Furthermore, their D-line is the worst in the league. Truly, the Bears have problems everywhere. So the question becomes, what draft prospects would be the most useful in solving some of these problems?
One great option would be this year’s most touted defensive prospect, Jalen Carter, the nose guard for the championship-winning Georgia Bulldogs. Carter would be the perfect piece to help the Chicago run defense. He was one of the best run stoppers in college football this year, dominating with his explosiveness and speed, and a best-in-class swim move. Carter would be able to clog up holes in the middle of the line and force running backs to bounce outside, which is exactly what the Bears need. However, Carter will almost certainly be picked within the first three picks of the draft, which means that the Bears wouldn’t be able to trade down their first pick and still get Carter. This could limit them in the total value that they can get out of the first pick, but Carter just might be worth it.
Another possible option for the Bears would be edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. out of Alabama. As one of this draft's most highly rated prospects, Anderson is a very versatile player who uses his knowledge of his opponent’s playbooks to decipher plays as they happen and attack the most important points on the field. This ability makes him one of the most effective run defenders in college football. The Bears desperately need a player who can put pressure into the backfield like Anderson, as they ranked last in the league in both quarterback hurries and sacks. Anderson could absolutely have a massive effect on these stats. Another advantage with Anderson is that he will likely fall in between picks three and six, making it easier for the Bears to trade down a couple picks and obtain him along with some other pieces. A trade with the Colts seems likely, with the Bear’s pick being swapped for a first round this year as well as a future pick package.
However, the defense isn’t the only department in need of aid. The offense definitely needs some tools for quarterback Fields to utilize. The primary receiver prospect is Jordan Addison out of the University of Southern California (USC), but he is projected as a later draft pick, around 12 or 14. Would it be worth it to trade for a prospect who isn’t as highly ranked as the more exciting defensive players? Fields certainly needs a receiver to open up the offense, and Addison fits the bill. One option is Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who is a technically skilled and intelligent receiver who’s crisp route running could add a lot of vertical threat to the Chicago offense.
Overall, the Bears have a wealth of options, and with the empty cap space and high picks they have, this will be a massive off-season for them. What they end up doing won’t be known until draft day, and the NFL waits with bated breath to see what the Bears will do to their team before the season starts back up again.