After trading the No. 1 pick, the Chicago Bears are still in a good position heading into the 2023 NFL draft.
The Bears have the Carolina Panthers’ No. 9 pick — along with three additional selections over the next three years and wide receiver DJ Moore — which gives general manager Ryan Poles an opportunity to bolster the roster.
While Chicago is sitting on the edge of the top 10, there are still a number of top prospects who could very well be on the board when the No. 9 pick rolls around. The trenches figure to be a focal point for the Bears in the draft, but there are some other options that we can’t necessarily rule out at this point.
With that in mind, here are 10 potential targets for the Bears at ninth overall:
There’s a belief that Jalen Carter could fall to the Bears at No. 9 given his off-field concerns and poor pro day performance. Carter is everything that Matt Eberflus is looking for in a disruptive 3-technique to power his defense, but his draft stock has plummeted and has teams wondering if they’re willing to take a chance on him. Whether or not Chicago would choose to pull the trigger on Carter remains to be seen. But the Bears are having him at Halas Hall for a top 30 visit.
It feels like a safe bet that the Bears are going offensive tackle at No. 9, and Peter Skoronski could be another homegrown product to join the roster. With the emphasis on protecting Justin Fields, Skoronski would be a solid addition. He allowed just six pressures and had the highest pass-blocking grade (93.0) in college football, via Pro Football Focus. While there’s concerns about whether Skoronski translates to a tackle at the pro level, if the Bears are picking him there, it’s an indication they believe he could fill the role.
Assuming the Bears go offensive tackle at ninth overall, Paris Johnson Jr. could very well be the first tackle off the board. Unlike Skoronski, Johnson has the arm length that this Bears regime is looking for in an offensive tackle. He’s also a fit in the wide zone scheme that Chicago runs, where he would shore up the pass protection and be a solid contributor in the run game, where the Bears excelled last season. It also doesn’t hurt that Johnson is a former teammate of Justin Fields during their time at Ohio State, providing a sense of familiarity.
While Skoronski and Johnson have been popular links to the Bears during mock draft season, Broderick Jones is an underrated option for Chicago at ninth overall. Jones would help fill that gaping hole at tackle, and he’s a perfect scheme fit for the Bears. Jones is athletic and a nasty blocker, and he’s been solid both in pass protection and run blocking. Jones is someone who could be available if Chicago opts to trade back again in the first round.
Don’t let the fact that Lukas Van Ness wasn’t a starter at Iowa downplay his value in the first round. The Bears need to shore up their pass rush, and Van Ness would the kind of disruptive defender that the team can build around. Not only does he know how to get after the quarterback, but he’s an asset against the run. Last season, Van Ness totaled 46 QB pressures and a 80.9 run defense grade, per Pro Football Focus. Van Ness grew up a Bears fan, which is something Poles has valued in his offseason additions.
Chicago had the worst pass rush in the NFL last season, so shoring up the defensive line is a top priority in the draft. Myles Murphy has a high motor and is explosive off the snap. He’s a big-time run defender who would help shore up one of the league’s worst run defenses, but he has work to do as a pass rusher. Murphy has met with the Bears twice during the pre-draft process, and he very well might be the guy.
Cornerback has been an underrated need for the Bears this offseason, and they didn’t make any moves in free agency to address it. That’s an indication that we could see Chicago target a cornerback early in the draft, perhaps even with their first pick, where Devon Witherspoon figures to be on the board. Witherspoon is the consensus top cornerback in this draft class, and it’s no surprise. He flies around in coverage, is a physical tackler and makes plays on the ball. Witherspoon would be the perfect complement opposite Jaylon Johnson on the outside while Kyler Gordon plays exclusively in the slot.
It certainly sounds like cornerback is an option for the Bears at ninth overall, where Gonzalez is projected to be a top-10 pick. Chicago needs to find a solid third cornerback to pair with Johnson and Gordon, and Gonzalez could very well be the guy. Gonzalez was elite against deep passes, allowing two catches on nine targets for 69 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions on passes of 20 or more air yards. Gonzalez could help fortify a Bears secondary that has some playmakers and needs another ballhawk.
The Bears traded for DJ Moore this offseason, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily out on Jaxon Smith-Njigba. While you figure the trenches will be a top priority throughout the draft, it’s hard to rule out Smith-Njigba at No. 9 given his playmaking ability and familiarity with quarterback Justin Fields. Smith-Njigba is widely regarded as the top wideout in this draft class, and it’s never a bad thing to give your young QB another weapon. Not to mention, Fields made it clear that he’d love for the Bears to draft Smith-Njigba.
The Bears don’t have the luxury of choosing a running back — even one as good as Bijan Robinson — at ninth overall given their abundance of needs along the defensive and offensive lines. But it’s hard to rule anything out, especially considering Poles has mentioned he won’t let positional need get in the way of landing a really great player. If Robinson is one of Poles’ “blue” players and he’s the best option available at No. 9, he might pull the trigger. Just imagine a backfield featuring Fields and Robinson.
This content was originally published here.