Bears offensive research: Which of the NFL’s top draft prospects is the best?

It’s time for the Bears to use an excellent draft pick on an offensive tackle.

Maybe it’s past time. Former general manager Ryan Pace used a second-round pick in 2021 over Tevin Jenkins, who started his career at left tackle but is now a guard.

In 2013, Phil Emery led Kyle Long in the first round. Long was a professional player at guard, and in 2015 he was right tackle, but his home was on the inside.

Last time the Bears drafted a true tackle in the first round? Gabi Karimi in 2011.

Every time midfielder Justin Fields had to scramble on the spot and avoid pressure from the edge last season was a reminder that a long-term answer was needed in one of football’s most important positions.

With general manager in Ryan Poles and assistant GM in Ian Cunningham both playing offensive roles in college and a wave of free agency that didn’t result in the Bears starting tackle, everything points to the opportunity later this month to pick one up in the NFL Draft. American.

Last week at the owners’ meetings in Phoenix, the Poles were asked about the right tackle specifically and whether the Bears can still find a start in free agency.

“When you get to that point of free agency, it backtracks,” he said. “Salaries go down, talent, experience goes down. You really have a wave of players offensively and defensively that will go through the draft because they kind of want to see how everything settles down. So we’ll keep an eye on those guys.”

“But for now, to improve our team, I think we have to look at the draft.”

When the Poles traded first place with the Panthers to move up to the ninth, he put the Bears in a better draft position to take one of the top tackle prospects. With three picks from No. 54 through No. 64, he also has the flexibility to move on a Thursday or Friday night out of the draft to find the starting tackle.

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The Bears can go forward with Braxton Jones as a left tackle and draft a starting right tackle. They could also flip Jones to right side and go with rookie left tackle for the second year in a row. The Poles were adamant about positional flexibility and the start of the top five workers.

Using Dane Brugler’s Top 100 Players, there are four offensive tackle prospects in the top 24. Fellows Nick Baumgardner and Diantee Lee provided their insight, along with two NFL scouts, as we take a closer look at the tackles the Bears could consider to strengthen their offensive line.

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Peter Skowronski, Northwestern (No. 6)

It seemed so ideal for the Maine South and Northwestern product to enter the draft as the best offensive lineman when the hometown Bears needed him.

Then again, Skoronski is a Packers fan, thanks to being the grandson of Bob Skoronski, a former Packers center.

“There aren’t a lot of controllable weaknesses in his game because he’s the best overall prospect in this category,” Baumgardner said.

Said Lee, “Skoronski is the cleanest rated tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft.”

When asked to highlight strengths, Baumgarder pointed to Skowronski’s feet, which “are fantastic and not only help him with pass combinations and general reflexiveness but his agility and general body control really make him an effective level two run blocker”.

And then there’s Skowronski’s intelligence.

“Wise of wit,” said Baumgardner, “he’s a very sound lineman who knows how to use his hands while maintaining a depth of voice on protection.”

Skowronski replaced first-round draft pick Rashaun Slater as a true freshman in 2020 and instantly became a star, protecting the blind side for the Big Ten West champions. It continued to climb over the next two years, even as Northwestern’s offense faltered. Everyone could see that it was technical. Then in combination, he showed that he was also athletic.

This is where the “ideal” narrative breaks down. Skoronski’s arms are short at tackles, three inches shorter than the Bears’ current starting left tackle.

One scout noted that Skoronski is “as safe as it gets” among first-round prospects but the best “maybe a guard” at the next level.

“His arm length is a legitimate concern,” he told me, “and he’s not a strong contraindicator.”

Baumgardner also brought up Skowronski’s lack of height and how his power play would stand up to the “force edges” of the game.

Still, he selected Baumgardner as the Bears’ best fit.

“He’s an exceptional athlete and his height can be measured,” Baumgardner said. “He would be a great foundation piece with Justin Fields in Chicago.”

Arranging the tackles, another scout said he would take Skoronski on Broderick Jones, but if the Bears wanted to find a left (or right) tackle for the receiver, Skoronski would take second behind Paris Johnson.

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Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State (No. 12)

Right guard in 2021, Johnson moved to tackle last season and was a first-team All-American. Johnson was also a two-time OSU Scholar-Math.

Instantly, the hit on Skowronski becomes Johnson’s strength — his size.

“He’s a huge human who moves like a tight end at 6-6, 313,” Baumgardner said. “His height and general athleticism are both elite, as is his general agility both on pass protection and in the running game. Physically, Johnson’s game is no questions asked—his cap may be the highest in this group.”

Lee described Johnson as “the sporting prototype in this class”. While he didn’t run a 40 or do the three-cone drop, he did the wide jump on his pro day.

“He can be a scorer in dual teams, get off top defenders as a penalty block, and can handle all the ways of quick passing with his height and agility,” Lee said.

One of the reasons why someone with Johnson’s build and skills isn’t a surefire top-10 pick is because of his level of experience, or lack thereof.

“Just one year of high-ball competition at tackle,” Baumgardner said. “He was once a guard, which speaks well of his versatility, but he won’t get paid to play inside. Technically, there are still a lot of hiccups in his game – especially his footwork.

Lee said, “It may not be an instant hit, though—Johnson still needs some improvement with his feet and the angles he gives to passing rushers. His physical talents allow him to recover, but the margins will be much smaller for him at the next level.”

Of the four offensive tackles, Lee named Johnson the best fit for the Bears’ scheme, with the athletic personality to complement Jones on the other side.

“Johnson can always be gifted into the Pro Bowl (or better), and with the way Chicago builds the offense, he won’t be left on an island in traffic protection more than 40 times a game, which will help him develop properly,” he said.

A scout agreed, saying he would choose Johnson from this group because he is “the better athlete.”

Broderick Jones of Georgia is known as a “thug ball,” which could make him an interesting target for the Bears. (Gordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Broderick Jones, Georgia (No. 15)

On Braxton Jones’ Mock Draftable page, his number one, offensive tackle with the most similar traits, is Broderick Jones.

In addition to having the athletic profile, Jones also appears to be the type of player who will excel in Matt Eberflus’ “HITS” program (hustle, intensity, fast food, play smart) and bring some “bad” to his game, something that Poles values ​​in his offensive linemen.

“Jones is a tackle you choose to send a message about playing style—bully ball is the seal in his game,” he told me.

Lee went on to call Jones a “punisher” who “looks to bury pass forwards when he gets locked”. For the coaching staff focused on finishing plays, they should sign up right away.

Then there is sports.

Three of the four offensive linemen who penned the 10-yard split last year were 1.70 seconds or faster. Jones has the fastest 10-yard split of this foursome. He also would have been the fastest of any offensive lineman in the combination.

“He’s an outstanding athlete on his own and probably doesn’t get enough credit for it, but his strength—and how he plays the running game, with a downhill edge—is his main event,” said Baumgardner. “He can be penalized on the line of scrimmage or in space.”

One scout said that Jones “has good feet, height and pace. He needs technique to work with his hands and his base.”

Lee said Jones needs to work on his finesse to win his matches against top edge rushers, which could limit his cap.

Baumgardner said, “He’s no match for his pass protection or his general finishing. It could look great, or it could be a whiff. He could get a lot better by putting his hand in. A guy that strong should have a better plan with his own hands.”

Another scout called Jones an “outstanding athlete” who still has “a long way to go but a lot of upside.”

Go deeper

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Darnell Wright, Tennessee (No. 24)

Only three offensive tackles in this draft class have been mathematically better than Broderick Jones. Just above it I saw.

The Bears would not take Wright into the ninth. He’s probably best at right tackle, which could make him a good fit if they want to keep Braxton Jones on the left side.

“More right tackle than left,” said one scout. “Physical kid, good feet. I think (No.) 9 would be rich for him.”

The scout also noted Wright’s weight, which is slightly heavier than the Bears’ profile, and wondered if he would fit better in the gap chart rather than the Chicago outer area.

Wright would be a more realistic choice if the Poles traded down from #9, or if he traded up and down the bottom of the first round.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen him play his best yet, and if he ends up getting there – he could be the best extra player this season,” Baumgardner said. “He was a five-star prospect who needed a bit of strength development for his structure in college. He was a slow builder for Wright at Tennessee, but he is a great, tough athlete who has grown into a great right tackle prospect.”

In the Senior Bowl, Wright took two representatives on the left side that didn’t look promising. One could see a team looking at their athletic abilities and trying to make them work there, but that can be difficult.

“If he goes somewhere and is asked to be a blind protector, it can be an adventure,” Baumgardner said.

That could do very well for the Bears, be it Wright or even Skoronski, if they find the right long-term tackle to pair with Braxton Jones. It’s all about how the Poles weigh value as we approach the draft.

(Top photo of Paris Johnson Jr.: Michael Reeves/Getty Images)

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