While losses pile up, Bears trending toward perfect draft position originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
If you gave Bears general manager Ryan Poles some truth serum, he'd probably tell you the 2022 season has gone about as well as he could have hoped as it pertains to the direction of the rebuild.
Yes, the Bears are 3-9 and losers of five games in a row. But quarterback Justin Fields has taken a big enough Year 2 leap to show he's the guy Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus should build their roster around.
Fields looks like a quarterback who could blossom into a star in 2023. But while he has electrified Bears fans over the past month, the losses have continued to pile up, and, as a result, Chicago's position in the 2023 NFL Draft couldn't be more perfect.
After their Week 12 loss to the New York Jets, the Bears would own the No. 2 pick in the draft if the season ended at the conclusion of November.
Should the Bears find themselves owning the No. 2 pick when time runs out in their regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, Poles will be in arguably the best possible position come draft time.
With the No. 2 pick, the Bears' phone should be ringing off the hook with offers from teams looking to move up to take the second quarterback in a two-quarterback class (don't talk to me about Will Levis).
Using recent history as our guide, teams who trade up into the top five to take a quarterback almost always have to surrender at least one extra first-round pick to do so.
The San Francisco 49ers gave up two extra first-round picks in 2021 to move up from No. 12 to No. 3 to take Trey Lance. The Miami Dolphins used those three picks to draft Jaylen Waddle and trade for Tyreek Hill and Bradley Chubb. In 2012, Washington traded the No. 6 overall pick in 2012 and first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 to move up four spots to take Robert Griffin III.
Assuming at least three teams -- Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, and Indianapolis Colts -- will be looking for a franchise quarterback, the Bears should be able to hold a bidding war for the No. 2 overall pick.
A trade like that should enable the Bears to move down a few slots, add much-needed high-end draft capital, and still take one of the two players that should be at the top of their board. Two players who would make an immediate impact on the side of the ball that needs a massive facelift.
Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and Alabama defensive end Will Anderson are widely regarded as the two best defensive players in this draft class. Either would give the Bears a much-needed blue-chip talent on a defensive line that has struggled to get to the quarterback or stop the run.
Carter is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle with deceptive athleticism and great speed and quickness for a player of his size. During his junior season at Georgia, Carter created pressure on 13 percent of his defensive snaps, per TruMedia. He registered a tackle on 17.1 percent of defensive snaps against the run.
The three-technique is a vital position in Eberflus' defense. Veteran Justin Jones has done an adequate job as the Bears' Plan B after the Larry Ogunjobi signing fell through. But Jones hasn't been able to consistently split gaps and dictate action in a way Carter can. If you can't stop the run, you won't field a functional defense.
Carter is a force against the run and a load to handle in pass protection.
Before Armon Watts' sack against the New York Jets last Sunday, the Bears' defensive line hadn't recorded a sack since Week 6. Carter can change the dynamics of the defensive front in Chicago.
Then there's Anderson.
Hailed by draft experts as a generational edge rushing talent in the mold of Von Miller, Anderson likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft had he been eligible.
Last season, Anderson won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. The Alabama star led the country in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (34.5).
Anderson has all the traits to be a dominant edge rusher in the NFL. He holds his ground well against the run and has the speed to beat tackles consistently off the edge. When he doesn't get home, he has the awareness to get his hands up and in the passing lanes.
After trading Robert Quinn, the Bears have struggled to pressure the quarterback with their front four. Poles wanted to see what Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson could do with more playing time. While Robinson still is young in pass-rush life, all signs point to both being rotational rushers and not game-changers.
To win in the modern NFL, you have to be able to protect and affect the quarterback. Getting a blue-chip, mega-talent like Anderson on the edge would be an excellent building block for what is sure to be a reshaped front seven in Chicago.
If the Bears land at No. 2, they should be able to hold a bidding war and extract maximum value from a quarterback-needy team.
But even if such a deal doesn't materialize, the Bears can choose between Anderson and Carter, the two best defensive players in the draft, and add in young, elite talent to build their defense around.
There are six weeks left in the season, but everything is trending toward the Bears being in the ideal draft spot when the season concludes.
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