Now that the Chicago Bears finished the 2022 season, we take a look at general manager Ryan Poles’ first draft class and get an idea of what to expect with his next class.
Another Chicago Bears disappointing and frustrating season is over. Once again there were more losses than wins. However, there are some positive aspects that resulted from all the losses.
First, general manager Ryan Poles took a lot of heat for assembling a poor roster. That could have been the plan, though. He signed many players to one-year, low-cost deals. That way he could part ways with them without a financial hit.
As a result, the Bears have the highest salary cap space in the league. When the new league year and free agency begin, Poles can make a play on anyone he wants. He said he won’t go on a crazy spree, but if there is a player he covets he has the wallet to go after.
The draft is of utmost importance
While signing free agents is big for the rebuild, Poles stated on a number of occasions that he wants to build the team through the draft. By doing that, the Bears will have the right players under control at rookie deals. Free agent signings will be a lot more by design.
We saw last season that Poles is not afraid of pulling the trigger on draft-day trades. He entered the draft with just five picks, two of them in the second round. He turned those picks into 11 of them. Even better, he acquired all those picks without giving up his two in the second round.
In the upcoming draft, Poles currently has eight picks to work with. That number is expected to go up, though. Owning the worst record in the league this season, the Chicago Bears were rewarded with the top overall pick of the draft.
Without having a need for a franchise quarterback, Poles is sitting pretty. There are a number of quarterback-needy teams who want to have the number one overall pick. Poles will field a lot of calls for that pick.
The Chicago Bears have a lot of holes to fill. Trading that top pick assures they not only receive more picks this year but also next year. Additionally, he has flexibility. Despite trading the top pick, he’ll still have a first-round pick. On the other hand, he could trade that other pick for even more picks.
As we saw with his wheeling and dealing in last year’s draft, Poles could end up with a treasure trove of picks in this draft.
Grading Poles’ first draft class
Let’s take a look at Poles’ first draft class. Here are the grades:
Round 2 — CB Kyler Gordon
In 2021, the Chicago Bears had an awful secondary. The pass rush did a good job of covering up a lot of deficiencies in that secondary but Poles knew he needed to shore up the unit because that wasn’t going to happen again.
Poles selected Kyler Gordon with his first draft pick. Gordon struggled out of the gate. He had trouble in coverage and got burned for some big plays. The Bears expected Gordon to team up with Jaylon Johnson to give the team a young, athletic duo to wreak havoc on opponents’ passing attack.
Gordon did make an adjustment, however. He was much more active and made plays later in the season. He gave the team hope that he could be the player Poles expected. Grade: C
Round 2 — S Jaquan Brisker
Poles continued to stress the secondary help by selecting Jaquan Brisker. Brisker ended up being the best pick Poles made. He fit right in and didn’t look like a rookie.
Brisker made plays you wouldn’t expect a rookie to make. He looked like a solid veteran from the first moment he played stepped onto the field. He finished the season leading the team in sacks with four.
Brisker and Eddie Jackson were a perfect fit. Jackson returned to being his ball hawk self with Brisker on the field. The only shame is that Jackson got injured and had his season cut short. The Jackson/Brisker duo seems legit and will be a good one. Grade: A
Third round — WR Velus Jones
This was Poles’ most controversial pick. Velus Jones was projected as a fourth or fifth-round pick. Many experts felt that picking Jones in the third round was a stretch.
Early in the season, it seemed that the experts were right. He got injured in the preseason and missed the first three games of the season. Then, when he finally was healthy enough to play, he hurt the team.
In two of his first three games, Jones had huge fumbles on punts that ended the Bears’ chance at winning the games. From there, he didn’t return any punts for the rest of the season.
In addition, Jones was not able to make much of an impact on the offense. He finished the season with almost as many yards rushing (107) as he did receiving (103). That isn’t good for a wide receiver as a third-round pick.
Jones did do a good job on kickoff returns, however. He ranked third in the league in kickoff return average (27.6 yards per return). He is a big play waiting to happen once he learns the offense more. In the meantime, he’ll try to impress with his returns. Grade: D
Fifth round — OL Braxton Jones
Poles’ choice of Braxton Jones ended up being a great one. The Chicago Bears’ offensive line has struggled for decades. Poles, being a former offensive lineman himself, wanted to change that. He picked a number of linemen, but Jones was the best of the bunch.
Jones started out camp just trying to find a spot on the roster. He worked hard, however, and by the end of the preseason he ended up being the starter. Additionally, he was the only lineman to play every snap this season.
Of course, Jones isn’t a finished project. He took some lumps during the season. The great part of what he did, though, was that he learned quickly from his mistakes. he took a failure as a lesson learned and he did better the next time.
Furthermore, Jones showed the he had a high football IQ. He made some plays that not many rookies would ever think of attempting. His future is bright. Grade: B+
Fifth round — DL Dominique Robinson
Dominique Robinson was supposed to be a project for the Chicago Bears this season. He was a quarterback in high school who converted to a wide receiver who converted again to a defensive end.
Robinson has incredible athleticism due to him being a wide receiver. He also has good quickness. He used both of those skills to beat offensive linemen. That was on display in his first professional game. He finished the game with 7 tackles (one for loss), and 2 quarterback hits.
Unfortunately for Robinson, that was the highlight of his season. He didn’t have any more sacks or even quarterback hits the rest of the season. Also, the 7 tackles he had in that first game was his season high and accounted for almost a quarter of his total tackles.
Robinson had to play more snaps with the trade of Robert Quinn. However, he received a lot of valuable experience he wouldn’t have had otherwise. He’ll understand more about what he needs to do to succeed and the speed of the game won’t be a problem anymore. Grade: C
Sixth round — RB Trestan Ebner
The selection of Trestan Ebner might have signaled the Chicago Bears’ plans to not re-sign RB1 David Montgomery. While Khalil Herbert is the likely starter if Montgomery doesn’t return, he has some deficiencies.
Herbert still needs to improve a lot in the passing game. He just doesn’t do a good job of catching.
That’s where Ebner comes in. The Bears will expect him to take over the role Tarik Cohen held when he was in Chicago.
Ebner did not do much this season, however. he received a chance to help when Montgomery and Herbert both went down with injuries but he just could not contribute. He showed he was still a project.
Perhaps with the snaps he received this season and another offseason of training, Ebner could be a bigger contributor moving forward. Grade: D
Seventh round — OL Ja’Tyre Carter
Ja’Tyre Carter spent most of the season inactive. He was active in three games but only played in the team’s regular-season finale. He was another project who could be more of an asset later. Grade: D
Seventh round — S Elijah Hicks
Sometimes picking up a starter isn’t the only point of the draft. If a team picks up a player who ends up being a good backup for years it is just as good as finding a starter.
That could be the case for Elijah Hicks. He might not end up being a starter but he could be a great fit in a backup role.
Hicks played mostly on special teams and backed up at safety. However, he did start four games when the starters went down due to injury. He might not be a superstar but Hicks will be a great depth piece for a long time. Grade: B
Seventh round — P Trenton Gill
One of Poles’ first moves as general manager was to let punter Pat O’Donnell leave via free agency. O’Donnell was the Bears’ punter for the past eight seasons and did a pretty good job.
That move was heavily criticized. There were plenty of holes to fill on the roster without having to create more.
Poles spent his final pick on Trenton Gill. Not only did Poles let O’Donnell walk, he replaced him with a rookie. That was a huge gamble.
Well, the gamble seemed to pay off. With Gill, there wasn’t a dropoff. O’Donnell averaged 46.2 yards per punt in 2021. In 2022, Gill averaged 46 yards per punt. O’Donnell finished averaging 44.5 yards per punt in 2022.
O’Donnell could be starting his decline while Gill should get better after his rookie season. Grade: A
There were two other draft picks that Poles made. He selected offensive linemen Zachary Thomas and Doug Kramer in the sixth round. However, Thomas spent his time on the practice squad before the Los Angeles Rams signed him. Kramer got injured in training camp and missed the entire season.
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