Ah, the NFL offseason. A time to reflect, to hope, to project and prognosticate. And of course, a time to second guess all of last season’s decisions.
As we all wait for the Super Bowl, and free agency which follows, ESPN took the time to “redraft” the 2022 draft class. It’s a fun exercise to see how things would have gone if GMs got a chance to go back in time with the info we have now. For the Bears, some things would stay the same and some things would be different.
ESPN’s changes for the Bears start with Ryan Poles not drafting Braxton Jones. It’s not because the Bears decide to do something else, though. It’s because Jones is off the board before Poles and the Bears are ever on the clock. In this alternate reality, Jones goes to the Giants with the No. 36 overall pick, which is a huge leap from No. 168 where the Bears selected him IRL.
“The way this re-draft worked out, the Giants didn't get an offensive tackle with either of their picks in the top seven,” Jordan Raanan wrote. “Jones played better than Evan Neal this season, anyway. In fact, Jones -- whom the Bears drafted in the fifth round -- had the best pass block win rate of any rookie tackle (92.8%) and was second in run block win rate (78.7%).”
Jones drew the ire of Bears fans early, when he struggled as a Day 1 starter at left tackle. But he steadily improved throughout the year and showed he has what it takes to be a reliable NFL tackle. According to PFF, Jones averaged 2.4 pressures allowed per game in true pass sets over the first half of the season. In the second half that number dropped to 1.0 per game.
The Bears got a familiar name with their first pick in ESPN’s redraft, but at a different spot. In this exercise the Bears take Jaquan Brisker with the No. 39 pick, instead of No. 48 where they drafted him in reality.
“Brisker stood out on a defense that struggled, particularly with its pass rush,” wrote Courtney Cronin. “He led the Bears with four sacks, becoming only the second defensive back in the past 10 seasons to do so, and was second in team tackles (104). Perhaps Brisker's biggest contribution came via the resurgence of Eddie Jackson in his move back to free safety while the rookie played up in the box, in the slot and was called on to blitz.”
Ryan Poles' real first pick as Bears GM was cornerback Kyler Gordon, but in the redraft Poles not only passed on Gordon at No. 39, but he passed on him at No. 48 too. Ultimately, ESPN had Gordon going to the Eagles just a few picks later at No. 51.
“Gordon had three interceptions, six passes defended and 71 tackles for the Bears this season,” wrote Tim McManus. “He would be a good option if the Eagles lost James Bradberry in free agency this offseason.”
Instead of Gordon, ESPN suggests the Bears should have drafted a wide receiver. It’s not George Pickens, who many fans clamored for when the Bears were on the clock at No. 48 last year. He went to the Ravens in the first round of ESPN’s redraft. Instead, the Bears land Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore.
“The receiving corps around quarterback Justin Fields lacked considerably in 2022,” wrote Cronin. “An ankle injury forced Darnell Mooney to miss the final five games and he finished as the leading receiver, with 493 yards and two touchdowns. Moore was far down the depth chart in Kansas City due to an abundance of playmakers around Patrick Mahomes, but he still had more catches (22) than six Bears receivers. His 250 receiving yards would have ranked third in Chicago. Addressing the wide receiver position in the draft could have saved the Bears from sending their own second-round pick to Pittsburgh for Chase Claypool at the deadline.”
Of course there are no do-overs in the NFL. Every GM is going to have picks he wishes he had back, every year. But Poles is probably happy with the contributions he got from rookies like Jones, Gordon and Brisker.