Bears draft grades: How Ryan Poles did from Round 1 to Round 7
Final grades for Bears 2023 draft class originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears undoubtedly made themselves better over the course of the 2023 NFL Draft. Right out the gate, they helped Justin Fields by selecting right tackle Darnell Wright. He’s a player who’s proven he can shut down legit talent and many believe he has Pro Bowl or All-Pro upside. From there, they addressed a big position of need by adding two defensive tackles, added skilled playmakers on offense and bolstered their secondary. What they didn’t do was add a defensive end to the mix, which is another area of need. With big names still available in free agency, like Frank Clark and Yannick Ngakoue, help at that position may be coming later. Overall, here’s how we grade the Bears draft. Note: we did not grade the seventh-round picks because the nature of the round is that they’re developmental players.
NO. 10: DARNELL WRIGHT - RIGHT TACKLE - TENNESSEE
This season is all about helping Fields, and the Bears did that by bringing in a bonafide offensive tackle with a top-10 pick. We hear most about Wright’s stout pass defense in 2022, even when taking on players like Will Anderson (No. 3 overall pick) and B.J. Ojulari (No. 41 overall pick). He’s big and strong, and surprisingly athletic for his size. That blend of traits makes him extremely effective in running blocking, as well. The thinking is that Wright can come in and play right tackle for a long time, and if he does that we’ll look back at Poles’ first-round pick as a huge win.
NO. 53: GERVON DEXTER - DEFENSIVE TACKLE - FLORIDA
Dexter is a big guy, and fills a big need in Matt Eberflus’ defense. He’s 6’6”, 310 lbs and can use his size to overwhelm offensive linemen. The size plays well on the pass rush, however scouts believe his true strength lies in defending the run. That’s important considering the Bears gave up 31 rushing TDs (worst in the NFL in 2022) and 2,674 rushing yards in 2022 (second worst in the league). But defensive line experts say Dexter can be slow off the snap, which allows blockers to engage him first and neutralize his first move. His production at Florida was nothing to write home about either. Dexter only notched 4.5 sacks and eight TFLs over the past two years.
NO. 56: TYRIQUE STEVENSON - CORNERBACK - MIAMI
Stevenson is 6’0, 198 lbs. and one of the words used most by scouts to describe him is “stout.” They say Stevenson uses his physicality well, especially in press man scenarios. He’s a big hitter and did well to deny opposing receivers the ball. According to PFF, Stevenson gave up a 47.2% completion rate in coverage between 2021 and 2022, which was fifth-best across that span. He had three interceptions over those two seasons, too. But scouts also say Stevenson struggles in zone schemes, which is what the Bears play most of the time. Adding a player to compete for the second outside corner spot was important, and if he wins that will allow Kyler Gordon to focus completely on slot corner, which is a big bonus.
NO. 64: ZACCH PICKENS - DEFENSIVE TACKLE - SOUTH CAROLINA
It’s not surprising that the Bears took two defensive tackles within 11 picks because generating pocket pressure from the interior is so important for their defense. Similar to Dexter, Pickens is big, strong and athletic. And similar to Dexter, Pickens didn’t have eye-popping numbers in college: he racked up 7.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL and no forced fumbles dating back to the 2020 season. But does things to stop the run that don’t always show up in the box score and he has the athleticism to be a serious disruptor if the Bears make some tweaks to his technique and how he’s deployed.
NO. 115: ROSCHON JOHNSON - RUNNING BACK - TEXAS
The Bears seemed disappointed that they weren’t able to bring David Montgomery back in free agency, so they picked a player who can bring a similar skillset to the run game. Johnson doesn’t necessarily have top end speed, but he’s elusive and strong, which makes him hard to bring down. His stats don’t pop off the page, but that’s largely because he was running behind Bijan Robinson, a player who many believe is the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley. But the deeper analytics show an impressive rusher. According to PFF, Johnson’s 45% forced missed tackle rate over the last two years leads all running backs in the country with at least 190 attempts. He should be the perfect complement to Khalil Herbert’s “one cut and go” style, too.
NO. 133: TYLER SCOTT - WIDE RECEIVER - CINCINNATI
Scott is a burner who can take the top off of a defense as a deep threat, and scouts praise his agility and ability to feint on double moves to get open. Between the 2021 and 2022 seasons at Cincinnati, Scott caught 84 passes for 1,419 yards and 14 touchdowns. Even more impressive is that Scott was able to accomplish that while learning the position. Scott played running back in high school, and just started to learn wide receiver in 2020, his first year in college. Based on his traits and his ability to grow as he continues to develop as a WR, his upside is through the roof.
NO. 148: NOAH SEWELL - LINEBACKER - OREGON
Sewell continued the trend of players with impressive traits coming to Chicago. He’s got 4.64 speed and hits with authority. Sewell’s best season was 2021 when he led the Ducks with 114 tackles and added 8.5 TFL. His production took a step back last year however, and he finished the year with just 56 tackles and 5.5 TFL. One could say Sewell’s best trait is his ability to affect the QB in the pass rush. His highlight tapes are filled with effective blitzes, and he finished his college career with 7.5 sacks in 33 games. The knock on Sewell from scouts is that he can be a little shaky in pass coverage. The grade also gets a ding because the Bears have already invested heavily in the position with Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, and could’ve used extra help elsewhere on the roster.
NO. 165: TERELL SMITH - CORNERBACK - MINNESOTA
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Smith is big, long, strong and speedy. Typically when one sees traits like that, one thinks of a prototypical press-man corner. But Bears scouts believe Smith has the smarts and the instincts to succeed in off-ball coverage, which the Bears like to deploy in their secondary. Smith was a five-year player in college and started for the Golden Gophers as a freshman in 2018. But he was relegated to a backup role in 2019 and 2020 before regaining a starting spot in 2021. He retained that starter role in 2022. The Bears appreciate Smith’s ability to battle through that adversity and believe he’s still an ascending player. From a production standpoint, Smith’s 2022 season was his best. He notched 38 tackles, including 4.5 TFL and two sacks. In the ball skills department, Smith had two interceptions, seven PBUs and one forced fumble.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
The Bears hit a home run with their most important pick by bringing Wright to help protect Fields. Johnson and Scott should elevate the offense as a whole, too. Poles also addressed a huge need by drafting two defensive tackles with high-end picks. It remains to be seen whether those picks will be able to turn their athleticism and upside into production on the field, and if so, how long it will take them to realize that potential. Other picks like Smith and Sewell didn’t fill major needs, but they have traits that make them intriguing. Bottom line: the Bears did well to help Fields and the offense. On defense they added many prospects with physical tools no one can teach, and they’ll hope their coaches can hone their skills.
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