Bears NFL Draft takeaways, Part 2: Ryan Poles seeks starting linemen late

Two days before the NFL Draft, bears general manager Ryan Poles was asked which positions were deep in the draft. His list of him began with the offensive line.

I wasn’t lying.

Poles approached the draft that way, trading down and taking four offensive linemen on Day 3. He also acknowledged as much afterward.

“I won’t put limitations on where they’re going to fit,” Poles said. “Maybe (it’s) a process where you start as depth and work your way into a starter. It may work that way. There’s going to be some surprises. We see that across the league all the time where guys shoot to the top quickly and earn that trust and they make plays and they’re rolling.

“Obviously, you hope for the best, but there might be a process. It takes time. This league’s extremely hard and tough. There’s a lot thrown at these guys, but that’s why we really emphasize the makeup that they have inside of them, because they’re willing to go through the hard times, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to put their pride away and start from the bottom and work up.”

This is where my five takeaways column begins. (You can find Part 1 here.)

Finding starters late

Don’t tell Poles that starters for the Bears offensive line can’t be found late in the draft. the chiefshis former team, did so just last year, selecting Trey Smith in the sixth round. Smith started all 17 games as a rookie at right tackle for Kansas City.

Poles played a part in the evaluation of Smith. It was different, too. A history of blood clots factored into it. Smith was a decorated lineman at Tennessee and slid because of his medical issue about him.

But, again, don’t tell Poles starters can’t be found late in the draft. The Chiefs also did it in 2014 when Poles was their college scouting coordinator. Kansas City drafted guard Zach Fulton and tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round that year. Both started as rookies and became fixtures up front for years.

A look at the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of recent drafts shows teams have continuously found linemen who can fill in and start if needed.

The Chiefs also did it in 2019, drafting guard Nick Allegretti with the 216th pick. He started nine games in the regular season and three in the playoffs during the 2020 season. Allegretti isn’t a starter for the Chiefs but remains a key reserve.

the vikings drafted Oli Udoh in the sixth round at No. 193 in the same year. He started 16 games last season at right guard, though he’s projected to move back to tackle this season.

In some cases, linemen leave their original teams and take off elsewhere. Wyatt Tellerfor example, is a Pro Bowl guard for the Brown’s who was drafted by the Bills in the fifth round in 2018, the same year they selected quarterback Josh Allen. After Teller’s rookie season, he was traded to the Browns.

With the Bears drafting four offensive linemen in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds this year — tackle Braxton-Jones (No. 168), guard Zach Thomas (No. 186), center Doug Kramer (No. 207) and guard/tackle Ja’Tyre Carter (No. 226) — a look back was necessary. According to depth charts provided by beat writers from The Athletic10 current projected starters were drafted in Rounds 5-7 from the previous five drafts:

Player

Team

DraftYear

Round Pick

position

current team

commanders

2017

6-199

C

commanders

Bills

2018

5-166

RG

Brown’s

eagles

2018

6-206

LT

Colts

ravens

2018

6-215

C

panthers

eagles

2018

7-233

LT

eagles

rams

2019

5-169

LG

rams

giants

2020

5-150

LG

giants

patriots

2020

6-182

LG

patriots

packers

2020

6-192

LG

packers

chiefs

2021

6-226

RT

chiefs

Looking for athletes

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Poles explained how he would like to change the physical makeup of his offensive line.

“We’ve got to get lighter,” he said then. “We’ve got to get quicker.”

Again, Poles wasn’t lying. He did that in the draft. It quickly became apparent that Poles was looking for better athletes up front. Jones, Thomas and Kramer all graded out well in terms of athleticism, according to Relative Athletic Score. Carter fared well, too.

Poles drafted linemen who can move. It’s always good to bet on traits late in the draft. The athleticism of the Bears’ draft picks could help them fit into the outside zone scheme and play-action plays offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is expected to implement.

Targeting those receivers

My one complaint about the Bears’ draft is that they took only one receiver in 11 picks with Velus Jones Jr. at No. 71. But Poles never wavered from the Bears’ draft board and grades. He didn’t force the selection of a receiver, regardless of how much his team needs one.

That’s a positive.

As Poles said, the Bears aren’t in a place to pass on better-graded players to target others in positions that also are considered needs. They simply have too many roster holes.

The Bears weren’t alone in their concerns about the receivers in the draft, either. There was a drop in receivers selected in Rounds 4-7 compared with previous years.

2022: 11 receivers
2021: 20 receivers
2020: 19 receivers
2019: 15 receivers
2018: 24 receivers
2017: 18 receivers

Cornering the market

In selecting cornerback Kyler Gordon, the Bears tapped into the Washington tree for defensive backs. Teammates Trent McDuffie (21st, Chiefs) and Gordon became the ninth and 10th defensive backs drafted out of Washington since 2013.

It’s a pipeline that includes five current starters (shaded in green in the chart below) and potentially two more who’ll start on Day 1 in McDuffie and Gordon. Safety Buddha Baker and cornerback Marcus Peters turned into All-Pros and Pro Bowlers. Desmond Trufantwho had a brief stint with the Bears last season, was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2015, his only appearance.

Player

Team

DraftYear

Round Pick

current team

chiefs

2022

1-21

chiefs

bears

2022

2-39

bears

titans

2021

3-100

titans

panthers

2021

5-166

panthers

Cardinals

2019

2-33

Cardinals

packers

2017

2-33

UFA

Cardinals

2017

2-26

Cardinals

eagles

2017

2-43

Seahawks

chiefs

2015

1-18

ravens

falcons

2013

1-22

UFA

Gordon didn’t become a full-time starter until last season for the Huskies. They played only four games in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Elijah Molden, Keith Taylor and McDuffie on the roster in 2019, Gordon played plenty on special teams, though he did appear on defense. The Bears still liked what they saw. Gordon was named Washington’s most outstanding special teams player in 2019 and 2020.

“Because most players, when you are a backup, how are you going to contribute to the team?” Bears national scout Francis Saint Paul said. “What he did on special teams showed me that this guy is ready to play. Physical, competitiveness, and he cares.”

Some crazy stats

In “The Beast,” Dane Brugler had this note for Gordon: “Wasn’t responsible for any penalties the last two seasons.” And then he had this to say about safety Jack Briskerthe 48th pick: “Committed zero penalties over the last two seasons, which speaks to his timing and discipline.”

Drafting one player who didn’t commit any penalties felt significant for the Bears’ maligned secondary. And the Bears got two.

For Gordon, it’s particularly impressive because he became a full-time starter last season. He also didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage.

“He didn’t have a lot of targets because the receivers are not open,” Saint Paul said.

When Gordon was targeted, the Bears liked his hands. I have led Washington in pass breakups and interceptions. How did he stand out?

“You don’t want a grabby corner,” Saint Paul said. “Grabby corners in college are going to be super grabby in the NFL. For him, that means his feet are better than his hands, which is great. That’s what we look for in cornerbacks.”

(Photo by Zach Thomas: Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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