Could Bears be suitor for potential ‘surprise' top-10 NFL draft pick?

Could Bears be suitor for potential ‘surprise' top-10 NFL draft pick? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Everyone knows what the Bears will do with the No. 1 overall pick in next week's 2024 NFL Draft.

Caleb Williams will be the pick. The USC star has been atop the Bears' board for months, and they have never wavered in their desire to make him their next franchise quarterback.

But the intrigue begins with the Bears' second first-round pick, the No. 9 overall selection.

The Bears will have several different options at No. 9. They could trade up and secure an elite wide receiver or left tackle who has caught their eye. They could move down and look to add to a draft war chest that has only two selections after No. 9. They could stick at No. 9 and hope either Rome Odunze, Malik Nabers, or Joe Alt falls into their lap. They may fill their edge-rushing need with Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, or Laiatu Latu.

As far as the top 10 goes, we know several of the names that will be called: Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, Marvin Harrison Jr., Alt, Nabers, and Odunze are all likely top-10 picks. Add in Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and Turner, and the entire top 10 is almost spoken for.

But there's always a surprise pick in the top 10, and NFL Media draft guru Daniel Jeremiah believes he has a good idea of who this year's year's might be.

"If you asked me who the surprise top ten pick is or somebody we just didn't see coming, to me, that's Byron Murphy," Jeremiah said Wednesday on a conference call. "He's a defensive tackle from Texas. It's a league that's placed an evermore premium on defensive tackles. I was talking to a general manager this morning, and I said, 'When you look around the league and we ask, who are the true impact dominant defensive tackles?' Maybe seven or eight of them. Edge rushers, it goes a lot deeper than that.

"And when you look at the draft, to me, there's some other interesting names you could go after outside the first round at the edge rusher position. It falls off pretty quick at defensive tackle."

Jeremiah's answer was to a question about what the Atlanta Falcons, who need an edge rusher, could do at No. 8, but he very well could have been talking about the Bears at No. 9.

Head coach Matt Eberflus has emphasized the need for a true disruptive three-technique to be the "engine" of his"defense.

The Bears drafted defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens last year and have a hole at edge rusher opposite Montez Sweat. But that won't necessarily stop them from using another high pick on a defensive tackle, especially someone with Murphy's talent and ceiling.

"It’s important that we get that piece because you have to have the one, two punch, and it can be inside as well," Eberflus said at the annual league meetings in Orlando. "You look at who affects the quarterback the most, I would also argue that the inside piece is also something that we should be looking at, and it’s important that we do that. Direct line to the quarterback. When they max protect, it’s a soft spot in the protection. We’re looking at all pass rushers. It can be inside, outside, all along the line. We’re having an open mind in that regard."

Murphy is an explosive, twitchy defensive tackle who reminds some scouts of Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver. He is a versatile defender who is great against the run and pressuring the quarterback.

According to Pro Football Focus, Murphy notched six sacks and 45 pressures for Texas last season. His 27 percent career pass rush win rate is almost six percent better than the 21.6 percent Jalen Carter posted at Georgia.

While Odunze and Alt are labeled as the Bears' most likely targets at No. 9, Murphy and Alabama offensive tackle JC Latham should also be part of the conversation. While Murphy and Latham fit the "trade down" mold, general manager Ryan Poles won't want to risk moving down too far and missing out on his desired target.

The Bears had an opportunity to trade down last year and elected only to move down one spot—a swap with an Eagles team they knew wanted Carter—because they didn't want to get leapfrogged by another tackle-needy team that wanted Darnell Wright.

The Bears should use their second-round pick to support Williams further, whether on the offensive line or with an additional playmaker. But their need for a dominant, game-wrecking defensive tackle has been well-documented. While there is belief inside Halas Hall that Dexter will take a leap in Year 2, that might not be enough to pass up on the only elite defensive tackle in a thin class.

Murphy's stock has been steadily rising during the pre-draft process, and it won't be a surprise if he and the Bears are a fit, be it at No. 9 or after a small move down.

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