LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles slept at Halas Hall on Friday night as he navigated his way through his first draft weekend.
Before beginning Saturday’s Day 3 marathon, which featured Rounds 4-7, Poles asked each of his scouts to walk in front of the board with a notepad and write down three players they were most intent on drafting. A star then went next to each name. When it came time to make decisions -- twice in the fifth round and three times each in the sixth and seventh -- Chicago came away with most of the players on that wish list.
By the end of Saturday, Poles had flipped three draft picks into eight via four trades, giving the Bears their biggest haul -- 11 players -- since 2008: Four defenders, six offensive players and one punter. Poles’ aggressive approach with trades aligned with what the 36-year-old said during the pre-draft process -- he wanted to give the Bears more chances to find talent that would stick.
When it came to selecting players, Poles practiced the discipline and patience he emphasized pre-draft. Though it might have been tempting to land a wide receiver on Day 1 to help second-year quarterback Justin Fields, Poles didn’t allow a run of wide receiver picks to sway him back into the first round. The Bears traded their first-round pick to the New York Giants in order to move up and draft Fields at No. 11 in 2021.
Poles didn’t pick up the phone to work a trade on Thursday. He said he didn’t field any calls, either.
And when a host of receivers and offensive linemen were available in the second round, Poles didn’t waiver in his approach. Particularly with the offensive line, the GM lauded the depth at the position pre-draft and believed he would find the right place to address it.
Sticking to the draft board, where the Bears had players valued highest, led Chicago to Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 and Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48.
Poles and his staff ran countless simulations to see what their draft might yield. Sometimes doubling down on defense in the second round was the result, but never did the general manager think Gordon, a player who did not allow a touchdown in 696 coverage snaps during his college career, would be available.
“There’s actually one time we ran it through and he was there, and we said just ignore him, just act like it’s not there,” Poles said, reflecting a belief Gordon would be drafted by the time the Bears picked. “So when it actually happened, it was a really cool moment, and we’re excited about adding a guy that I believe is going to be a starting-caliber corner.”
The same goes for Brisker, viewed by the Bears as a likely starter opposite Eddie Jackson.
Though building out the supporting cast around Fields remains an incomplete task and a priority, aiding Chicago’s secondary was as important for a team executing a multi-faceted rebuild.
“I’m an offensive line guy,” said Poles, who played the position at Boston College. “Obviously, I would fire away at all of them if I could, but it really comes down to the preparation. It comes down to the board and where guys are valued. And where we sat, there were two good starting-level defensive players, and I would have made a huge mistake for this organization to say, ‘Let’s leave them there, let someone else take them, and we’re going to go offense where they’re not on the same level,’ and you’re kicking yourself a year or two later when that guy’s an All-Pro.
“I just did what I needed at the time, so again it comes back to discipline and doing things the right [way], and I felt like that’s going to be a decision that we’re all happy with.”
Chicago added three defensive backs, including seventh-round Cal safety Elijah Hicks, to a defense that ranked 27th in opponents’ yards per attempt and was dead last in passer rating allowed last season. The 31 passing touchdowns the Bears allowed in 2021 were tied for the second-most in franchise history, with a cornerback the nearest defender on 27 of those 31 TDs (the most in the NFL), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
The Bears finally hit on the offensive line on Day 3 and came away with four prospects.
While fifth-to-seventh-round offensive linemen usually begin their NFL careers with a considerable learning curve, the Bears hope the experience these players have will accelerate their development: offensive tackle Braxton Jones started all 11 games at Southern Utah last fall; San Diego State’s Zach Thomas has 32 career starts between left tackle, right tackle and right guard; Illinois’ Doug Kramer had 45 career starts at center and Ja'Tyre Carter was a four-year starter at Southern.
Third-round receiver Velus Jones Jr. had limited offensive production throughout his six-year college career, which included stints at USC and Tennessee, but Chicago fell in love with his 4.3 speed in hopes of lining him up outside, in the slot, in the backfield and using him in the return game.
The same goes for Dominique Robinson, a former wide receiver-turned-defensive end who candidly described himself as “really raw” while still in the early stages of learning how to rush the passer.
“I think there’s only upside with this kid, which is what we’re betting on and what we invested in,” Bears area scout Brendan Rehor said.
In scouting, Poles said a three-year timetable usually applies in determining whether draft picks, especially those drafted in the later rounds, will pan out. The general manager joked that he’d like to know “tomorrow” if the Bears’ hit rate was as successful as he hoped for but knows that isn’t realistic.
The Bears now must address the needs that weren’t met during the draft. Having only come away with one receiver during the draft (and a running back in Trestan Ebner, who could earn some slot reps), Poles wouldn’t rule out signing a veteran receiver to aid the offense.
“If that’s the route we need to go, then we will,” Poles said. “If we feel comfortable with our group, then we’re still going to look for talent. We always do.”
The Bears hope the talent that they found during the draft and in subsequent college free agency will help them put together a roster that fits their long-term vision for turning around the franchise. For now, it’s a start and step in the right direction.
“What I told our group and everyone in this organization, we’re just going to keep pounding and pounding and pounding, knowing that we can’t fix everything in one year, but we can sure just keep chipping away and improving,” Poles said.