Thursday was an exercise in waiting for Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles. Inside the team’s draft room at Halas Hall, Poles had a snack table and extra reserves of patience to help him pass the time during the NFL draft’s first night. But he didn’t have a first-round selection.
That meant two hours and 33 minutes of observing and adjusting, of hand-wringing and fist-pumping. Thirty-two players were drafted in the first round with Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker going No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Minnesota Vikings picking Georgia safety Lewis Cine with the night’s final selection.
Now Poles gets his chance. The 36-year-old GM will enter the party Friday with two second-round selections (Nos. 39 and 48) and another in the third (No. 71).
The Bears have plenty of holes to fill on their roster and for now own only six selections. Poles will have to be resourceful and might have to get creative to make the most of his first draft as GM.
After Thursday’s first round, here are 10 things you should know about the Bears and the rest of draft weekend.
This year’s quarterback class was widely considered to be ordinary. That’s why teams looking to upgrade that position this offseason heated up the trade market in March.
The Denver Broncos dealt for Russell Wilson. The Cleveland Browns rolled the dice on Deshaun Watson. The Indianapolis Colts landed Matt Ryan. And the Washington Commanders reeled in Carson Wentz.
Three other teams dipped into free agency to sign potential starters with the Pittsburgh Steelers signing former Bear Mitch Trubisky as a potential bridge option, the Atlanta Falcons giving Marcus Mariota a fresh start and the Miami Dolphins bringing in Teddy Bridgewater as a potential Plan B behind Tua Tagovailoa.
So how would all of those toppled dominoes from earlier this spring affect the draft?
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett was the first quarterback to come off the board Thursday night, selected 20th by the Steelers. That was the latest the first quarterback was selected since 1997, when Jim Druckenmiller lasted until No. 26 before the San Francisco 49ers picked him.
No other quarterbacks were picked in Round 1.
Before Thursday, a quarterback had been picked No. 1 in the previous four drafts and multiple quarterbacks had been selected in the top 10 of every draft since 2014.
The Bears were without a first-round selection, having dealt it to the New York Giants as part of the 2021 trade up to snag quarterback Justin Fields. That pick wound up slotted at No. 7 with the Giants using it on Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal.
New Giants general manager Joe Schoen, who also interviewed for the Bears GM opening in January, had two top-10 picks, the first coming at No. 5, where he selected Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Schoen might have been considering Neal with the fifth pick. But when cornerbacks Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner went third and fourth, the board shifted in a way that allowed Schoen to wait on selecting an offensive tackle.
For record-keeping purposes, the Bears dealt four picks to the Giants last year to jump from No. 20 to No. 11 to grab Fields. In 2021, the Giants used the No. 20 selection on receiver Kadarius Toney and a fifth-round selection from the Bears at No. 164 as part of a deal that allowed them to trade up five slots in Round 3 for cornerback Aaron Robinson.
They still have a fourth-round selection from the Bears (No. 112) in their wallet for Saturday.
For those hoping Poles’ efforts to support Fields lead him to the offensive line shelf first, the best available tackles heading into Friday are Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, Washington State’s Abraham Lucas, Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere and Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele.
Raimann and Petit-Frere are on the Tribune’s lengthy “best players still available” list.
The Bears had a bottom-three passing offense in 2021, averaging just 188.8 yards per game. No team saw its quarterbacks sacked more with Fields, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles taken down a combined 58 times.
At last week’s voluntary minicamp, the new Bears coaching staff looked at second-year tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom on the right and left sides, respectively. But Poles won’t shy away from adding a potential starter up front this weekend.
Nine offensive lineman were picked Thursday night.
Poles and his staff kept a close eye on the Round 1 run on receivers in which six were taken in the first 18 picks, including four in a five-pick span from No. 8 to No. 12.
USC’s Drake London was the first receiver selected, picked eighth by the Falcons. Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson went two picks later to the New York Jets. Then the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions engineered aggressive trades up to get Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Alabama’s Jameson Williams, respectively. The Lions jumped 20 spots to No. 12 to grab Williams.
Later in the first round the Commanders took Penn State’s Jahan Dotson at No. 16, and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks went to the Tennessee Titans at No. 18.
From the menu of 12 possible Day 2 receiver targets for the Bears, 10 are still on the board. That list — with scouting reports here — includes Georgia’s George Pickens, Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce, North Dakota State’s Christian Watson and Alabama’s John Metchie III.
In a nutshell, Poles has plenty of intriguing options, particularly if he opts to address that need with his first selection at No. 39. But the Bears should still be in the mix for a good receiver if they wait until No. 48.
Two teams got rid of established receivers Thursday night. The Baltimore Ravens sent Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to the Arizona Cardinals to reunite with his college quarterback, Kyler Murray, and the Titans sent A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman put together a blockbuster deal for A.J. Brown, giving up the No. 18 selection plus a third-round pick and then finalizing a four-year contract extension with the standout receiver worth up to $100 million. The Titans quickly used the No. 18 pick to draft Burks.
The Cardinals traded the No. 23 pick for Hollywood Brown, and the Ravens then traded that selection to the Buffalo Bills for the 25th pick and a fourth-rounder.
Man, what a spring this has been on the receiver market with headline-grabbing trades, record-breaking contracts and Thursday’s impressive first-round draft class.
Four years ago, the Bears dipped into the University of Memphis talent pool on Day 2 of the draft to grab a receiver with top-tier quickness and a full tank of competitive tenacity. Anthony Miller had joined the Tigers as a walk-on, then driven himself to become the program’s all-time leading receiver.
“The Memphis grind is one of a kind,” Miller said the night he was drafted at No. 51.
Miller’s career in Chicago fizzled, however, after his seven-touchdown rookie season. The Bears traded him last summer and he failed to break through in subsequent stops with the Houston Texans and Steelers.
All of that is simply background information as another Memphis receiver, Calvin Austin III, sits on the Day 2 draft menu with the Bears seeking to add weaponry for Fields. Like Miller, Austin also entered the Tigers program as a walk-on before emerging as a playmaking standout. He, too, has eye-catching quickness and a hunger to win plus a library of game film that is like a 32-ounce energy drink for talent evaluators.
“Man, he’s fun to watch,” ESPN senior draft analyst Todd McShay said.
Added NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah: “That dude is just a blur.”
Coming off a 74-catch, 1,149-yard, eight-touchdown season at Memphis, Austin went to the combine and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds before adding a vertical jump of 39 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 3 inches. That kind of explosion reduces the understandable worry about his size: 5-foot-9, 162 pounds.
Miller’s NFL nosedive shouldn’t have anything to do with Austin’s projected potential. And maybe Austin will be the Day 2 receiver Poles falls in love with because of what Jeremiah calls his “juice.”
“It’s instant. There’s no buildup to it,” Jeremiah said. “It just happens right now. He’s going to run by people at the next level.”
Nine teams made multiple selections Thursday with the Giants and Jets picking twice apiece in the top 10. The Giants, as noted above, put together the Thibodeaux-Neal pairing, while the Jets went with a combination of Gardner at cornerback and Wilson at receiver with the Nos. 4 and 10 picks.
The Jets later traded back into the back end of Round 1, working a deal with the Titans for the No. 26 pick, which they used on Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson.
The other teams who picked more than once were the Lions, Texans, Saints, Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.
The nine teams besides the Bears that sat out Thursday’s action were the 49ers, Broncos, Browns, Cardinals, Colts, Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders.
As of Thursday night, the Bears had 65 players on their roster, leaving 25 vacancies to fill as they piece together a 90-man roster for organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. Yet they have only six selections over the next two days. You do the math.
It will take more than this draft class to replenish the roster with talent and quality depth. And given the overall strength of this year’s draft pool, don’t be surprised if Poles does substantial work on the undrafted free agent market Saturday night and into Sunday.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a ripple effect in college football, with the NCAA granting all players from the 2020 season an added year of eligibility. That, in turn, added volume to this draft with folks around the league believing the later rounds will include some notable value picks.
Jeremiah tried to put things in perspective last week. He typically tries to study about 400 players as he works through his pre-draft grades and analysis.
“Usually I get to about 350 or 360 and then it’s a mad scramble to find some more guys to get to that 400 number,” Jeremiah said. “This year I got to 400 pretty easily.”
This draft comprises 262 picks. That means quality players can be found in the seventh round and undrafted free agency.
Don’t be shocked if Poles opts not to use all three of his draft choices Friday night as he looks to expand his first draft class beyond six players. To do so, he will have to be ready to wheel and deal, looking for opportunities to trade picks — or even players? — for added draft capital.
In fact, it would be surprising if the Bears didn’t trade down at least once in this draft to collect more picks.
As we noted earlier this week, Poles isn’t averse to trading up if he sees something he really likes. But he was pretty clear Tuesday that he wasn’t leaning in that direction with the current state of his roster and the draft capital available.
“You have to know where your team is at and how many picks you have,” Poles said. “And it’s a big-picture decision. Because there is an effect of losing picks to move up and get that player.”
For those wondering when they should tune in to the draft to catch the Bears picks Friday, we have you covered. Barring any trades up or down, of course.
The Bears are scheduled to go on the clock first with the No. 39 pick. Over the last five years, that selection has been made as early as 6:32 p.m. and as late as 6:47. The No. 48 pick has come in the 7:14-7:30 range. The ballpark for No. 71 in the third round is 8:35-9:01. You’re welcome.