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Schrock's Bears NFL mock draft 5.0: Ryan Poles makes flurry of trades to support Caleb Williams

It’s no secret what the Bears will do when they officially go on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on April 25.

Barring an unforeseen red flag, USC star quarterback Caleb Williams will be the new face of the franchise and first overall selection. That was abundantly clear at the NFL league meetings in Orlando as Bears’ decision-makers tried and failed to show their best poker faces.

That the Bears’ brass flew from Orlando to LSU’s pro day and opted not to meet with star quarterback Jayden Daniels tells you everything you need to know about the direction general manager Ryan Poles is heading at No. 1.

But what comes after is much of an unknown.

The Bears currently have just three more picks in the 2024 draft — Nos. 9, 75, and 122 — to patch up the remaining roster holes.

Poles will unlikely be able to address everything, but his best chance is trading down from No. 9 and acquiring more picks. The Bears also have two second-round picks in 2025 to utilize if they want to borrow from future draft capital.

Poles said the strategy for what the Bears do at No. 9 will depend on several factors. During the final lead-up to the draft, the Bears’ scouts and personnel people will split into three teams and debate the merits of drafting a wide receiver, edge rusher, or offensive tackle with their second first-round pick.

As they have done since Poles arrived, the Bears will put all prospects into different value buckets and then see if one of the “blue” players falls to them at nine before making a decision on a trade down. Internally, the Bears would prefer if one of Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze, LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers, or Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt slid to them. If that doesn’t happen, trading down will become more appealing for Poles.

With the calendar officially flipped to April, here’s the latest trade-happy insider mock draft, with the final one slated to arrive during the week of the draft.

Round 1 (No. 1 overall): Caleb Williams, QB, USC

Williams has been the pick since the first mock, and there’s zero reason to believe the Bears will go anywhere else at No. 1.

The Bears love Wiliams’ tape and have had two productive meetings with the USC star at the NFL Scouting Combine and during a three-day excursion to Los Angeles for his pro day. It was during that trip to LA that the Bears got an even clearer picture of who Williams is as a person and got to see the ball come out of hand live.

The tape and eye test matched. That was important, but the biggest boxes Williams’ checked came during his dinner with the Bears’ brass and his teammates two days before his pro day.

“When you talk to his teammates, they don’t like him, they love him,” Poles said of Williams at the league meetings. “His leadership, how he brings people together. He’s intentional with his leadership. Same goes with the staff. I’m having a hard time finding a person that doesn’t like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits.”

Accuracy, arm talent, vision, improvisational playmaking, touch, feel. You name it, Williams has it.

Over the past two seasons at USC, Williams has thrown 72 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions. The lack of talent on the 2023 Trojans forced Williams to try to play hero most of the time. The Bears have to be comfortable with Williams putting on the cape and making “no, no, no, yes” plays while also working to harness that unique playmaking ability.

Williams went 12-0 during his career when the Trojans allowed fewer than 34 points. He’s very good within structure, but the lack of protection and poor defense forced him to play outside it for most of 2023. The 2022 film, when Williams had more talent around him, is a better indicator of what the Bears are getting at No. 1.

Even Williams’ worst game as a college quarterback — a three-interception affair in a loss to Notre Dame — was viewed as a positive by those inside Halas Hall.

The Bears were at the game in South Bend and watched Notre Dame trot out a completely different defensive game plan than they had shown in any previous game that season. That’s a sign of Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman and his staff’s respect for Williams’ game-changing ability. Even as Williams struggled against a new look, his body language remained good, and the Bears watched him carefully as he went to the sideline after each turnover and tried to rally his teammates.

It was another vital touchpoint that showed the Bears how Williams can handle the adversity that will surely come his way in the NFL.

“There have been quarterbacks in the past where they are undefeated for three years, they have a bunch of first round picks surrounding them at all times, so it’s a projection of how they handle discomfort, how they handle pressure,” Poles told NBC Sports Chicago during a sit-down in Orlando. “So seeing some of these guys go through hard times is important because now you can actually talk about it and listen to them kind of go back and, ‘OK, what can I kind of do to get better? How could I handle certain situations better?’ There are so many learning lessons from that. It just makes you feel comfortable where, if you’re in a situation like that, the kid is going to come out on the other side because if not they can crumble easily.”

Williams will be the pick at No. 1 as long as his medicals check out during his visit to Halas Hall. There’s no reason for him not to be.

“He’s a franchise-changing prospect,” one NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago at the combine. “Guys like Caleb Williams don’t often come around. They’d be foolish to pass on him. I don’t know if he’s generational, but he’s definitely the best quarterback prospect to come out since [Andrew] Luck.”

Trade!

Bears receive: No. 21, No. 51, 2025 third-round pick
Steelers receive: No. 9, 2025 fifth-round pick

At the moment, I don’t see any of the “big three” of Odunze, Alt, or Nabers sliding to nine. Odunze is the most likely to still be there, and if he is, the Bears should run to turn the card in for an elite Washington receiver.

But with those three gone, Poles fields some offers and winds up making another deal with Steelers general manager Omar Khan, who leaps up to grab Penn State offensive tackle Olu Fashanu.

The Bears move down 12 spots but pick up a vital second-round pick in the process.

Round 1 (No. 21 overall via Pittsburgh): Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

Thomas is the perfect combination of size, speed, length, and explosiveness.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound receiver ran a 4.33 at the combine while positing a 38.5-inch vertical.

Thomas is great at uncovering on quick routes underneath and excels at separating vertically. He’s still raw as a route-runner but has the inside-outside versatility to pair with DJ Moore and Keenan Allen.

He’s not Odunze, Nabers, or Marvin Harrison Jr., but he’s a pretty good consolation prize.

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Day 2 trade up

Bears receive: No. 52 overall, No. 83 overall
Rams receive: No. 75 overall, 2025 second-round pick (Chicago), 2025 fourth-round pick

After Round 1 concludes, Poles gets on the phone in search of another second-round pick. With two seconds in 2025 to play with, Poles borrows from the future and sends the Bears’ own second in 2025, along with a 2024 third-round pick and a 2025 fourth, to the Los Angeles Rams for picks No. 52 and No.83. The Rams get to move up in the third round and add a valuable second-round pick next season while the Bears now have back-to-back picks in the second round.

Second round (No. 51 overall via Pittsburgh): Marshawn Kneeland, DE, Western Michigan

The Bears’ pass rush finally got some teeth when Poles acquired Montez Sweat at the trade deadline last October. But they still need to add to a defensive line that lost Justin Jones and likely Yannick Ngakoue in free agency.

Kneeland has the size, speed, and power the Bears look for in defensive ends.

The Western Michigan product ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and posted a 35-inch vertical at the combine while measuring 6-foot-3 and 267 pounds. He’ll be a nice cog opposite Sweat and fills a hole that is vacated by Ngakoue, who is still a free agent.

Second round (No. 52 via Los Angeles Rams): Brandon Dorlus, DT, Oregon

With Jones getting a nice pay from the Arizona Cardinals, the Bears need to add another rotational interior defensive lineman behind Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens, and Andrew Billings.

Dorlus is an athletic defensive lineman who can line up on the edge or play three technique. He’ll need to put on a little bit of weight to play inside consistently, but he has excellent hands and quick feet and posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.08 out of 10 due to a 4.85 40-yard dash and a 9-foot-3-inch broad jump.

Dorlus has the physicality to set the edge against the run and the quickness to penetrate from the interior. He could be a unique defensive chess piece for head coach Matt Eberflus.

Trade

Bears receive: No. 71
Cardinals receive: No. 83, No. 122 overall, 2025 sixth-round pick

Poles finishes off his draft by packaging his two remaining picks together to move up 12 spots and get a necessary target.

The Cardinals have two third-round picks — this one comes from the Tennessee Titans — so they have no problem sliding down 12 spots for an extra fourth-round pick.

Round 3 (No. 71 via Arizona/Tennessee): Javon Baker, WR, UCF

The Bears still need reliable depth at wide receiver behind Moore, Allen, and first-round pick Thomas.

There’s hope for 2023 fourth-round pick Tyler Scott to develop further in Year 2, but more is needed.

Baker is a 6-foot-1, 203-pound big-play receiver who can play in the slot or out wide. He is a clean route runner with good hands and excellent ball-tracking skills.

Last season at UCF, Baker posted 3.21 yards per route run, a stat used to measure how good a receiver is at turning his on-field opportunities into production. That number ranked eighth among receivers with at least 80 targets, per Pro Football Focus. Nabers, Harrison Jr., Troy Franklin, and Missouri sophomore star Luther Burden III were among the names Baker trailed.

Baker also posted a better than 50 percent contested catch rate in each of his collegiate seasons and posted 7.2 yards after the catch per reception last season.

He’s got the size, hands, body control, and big-play ability to help Williams create splash plays.

Drafting Baker and Thomas gives the Bears some insurance should things not work out with Allen long-term when they get to the negotiating table.

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