Mel Kiper has spoken for the first time since the Bears traded away the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. On Tuesday, the draft guru released his third mock draft of the offseason, and inside had his first prediction for who the Bears would take with the No. 9 they received from the Panthers.
In Kiper’s mock, the Bears would have the opportunity to take the first offensive tackle off the board, or the third defensive lineman一 he had Will Anderson going to the Cardinals and Jalen Carter joining the Lions before the Bears were on the clock. That left options like Ohio State’s Paris Johnson, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, and in Kiper’s world Ryan Poles lands on the freakishly long left tackle, Johnson.
“I see offensive tackle as their biggest hole after their moves in free agency,” Kiper wrote in his mock draft. “They added guard Nate Davis to start on the right side, but are they really trusting Teven Jenkins to lock in the right tackle job? They could have their choice of the class' tackles here. Johnson played both tackle spots and right guard for the Buckeyes, and he already has blocked for quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago needs to keep supporting Fields and get him a stellar lineman with this pick, and it could still address the defense with its two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 61) and early third-rounder (No. 64).”
Many have debated if Skoronski (more experience at left tackle) or Johnson (better measurables) is the better offensive line prospect this season, but buzz around Johnson has swelled since his arm length was measured at 36 ⅛” at the combine. Skoronski only came in at 32 ¼”. Scouts like offensive tackles with long arms, because the length allows them to hit incoming pass rushers before the pass rushers can hit them.
Adding another offensive lineman should help the entire Bears offense, not just the offensive line. If Johnson is in fact the man for the Bears, he would likely slot into the starting left tackle role. That would give the Bears additional flexibility to move around their other players. For instance, Braxton Jones could move to right tackle. With Nate Davis taking over right guard, that would leave only left guard and center open to competition among Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins and Lucas Patrick. With more positions bolstered, protection for Fields should be better. And if protection for Fields is better, then he should have more time to deliver accurate passes to his playmakers like D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet.
The first round of the NFL Draft begins on Apr. 27.