Chicago did address its defense but swooped up three defensive tackles, starting with Gervon Dexter, and spent none of its picks on edge rushers. Does this point to the Bears having that much faith in their current EDGE room of Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, or even undrafted free agents D’Anthony Jones and Jalen Harris?
Bears General Manager Addressed State of EDGE Room
General manager Ryan Poles had a unit that, per ESPN Stats & Info, only brought pressure on 22% of opposing quarterback dropbacks, which made them the second-worst unit in the league.
Poles acknowledged after the draft to reporters that this is a situation where the want becomes fixing everything right away. However, he added, “It’s got to work the right way. The right players have to be there that fit our scheme. We can’t fix everything at a high level in one swoop.”
This points to Poles and the Bears rolling the dice and keeping their current EDGE room as of today.
“We’re going to be opportunistic,” the GM said. “If that opportunity doesn’t open up, then we’ll just continue to do what we’re doing, but there’s also drafts next year, and we’ve set ourselves up nicely for that, too (with two first-round picks).”
A Dive Into Bears’ Philosophy and Explanation on EDGE Depth
If the Bears saught to get younger, faster, and more athletic on defense, it began with the interior.
Poles and the Bears began their defensive reclamation project on the inside. Dexter brings a 4.88 40-yard dash and an imposing 6’6″, 310-pounds in tow. The 6’3″, 300-pound Zacch Pickens, their next DT selection in the third round, comes equipped with a cat-quick get-off. Even 6’0″, 310-pound seventh-rounder Travis Bell features lateral quickness.
Head coach Matt Eberflus, whose area of expertise is defense, believes that QBs have changed size-wise to the point where they’re not as towering as they once were. But that points to the reasoning behind loading up on IDLs over edge rushers.
“I really believe when you have a guy who can dent the pocket from the inside, I really think that pressure is felt right away because they’re closer to the quarterback. And I think it frees up the guys, gives them one-on-ones on the outside when you have two guys in there that can really do that,” the second-year coach said after the draft.
Plus, in tracing back to his defensive structure with the Indianapolis Colts, half was built with a towering and quick inside rusher in DeForest Buckner, then having either an undersized nose next to him in Taylor Stallworth or sliding Denico Autry next to Buckner to spark the pressure. This draft points to the Bears aiming to recreate that.
Still, there will be questions filling the Windy City breeze on who can apply the pressure on the edges. There could be one surprise from this unit.
Who Must Step Up, and Who Could Break Out?
Gipson is the one on the hot seat. He’s entering a contract year, and his sack production fell from seven in 2021 to just three in Eberflus’ scheme.
The addition of Dexter could be what Gipson needs. The Florida Gator is also skilled in shooting out his hands quickly and winning off arm extension against blockers, giving Gipson enough space to feast in the trenches. This could be the new Buckner and Kwity Paye collaboration for Eberflus.
Robinson, though, is another who must build on his 1.5 sacks in ’22. Perhaps he and Pickens can form the quick side of the defensive line, with Pickens bringing 4.89 speed in the 40 and Robinson once blazing it in 4.72 seconds.
But if there’s a breakout candidate, it’s got to be Jones out of the University of Houston. While he has a smaller frame at 6’0″, 276 pounds, and ran a reported 5.15 40 time, he looks quicker on film. He intertwines his low pad level with a revving motor that hits the accelerator pedal the moment the ball is snapped. He not only snatched eight sacks for the Cougars but produced 13.5 tackles for a loss and forced an FBS-high five fumbles.
Should Bears Look to Free Agency?
Chicago did address depth at EDGE through six-year veteran DeMarcus Walker and 25-year-old Rasheem Green. The former is coming off a career-best seven sacks with the Tennessee Titans, while the latter has 17 career sacks, including 6.5 as the left outside linebacker in 2021 with the Seattle Seahawks.
But there are notable free agent names still out there who could ignite this unit — one narrowly missing out on playing in Eberflus’ defense in Yannick Ngakoue. The journeyman pass rusher produced nine sacks with the Colts in 2022. The eight-year veteran has never fallen below eight sacks in a season. He would give Eberflus a “wide 9” technique situational rusher if added.
Jadeveon Clowney is also still available. Injuries have hampered the former No. 1 overall pick, but at this stage, he can come in to bring depth and experience in attacking the passer with 43 career sacks.
A wild card is Kemoko Turay, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Turay, though, delivered his best sack and TFL season in 2021 with Eberflus as his defensive coordinator in Indy.
This is an EDGE room filled with, arguably, the most question marks in the NFC North. Yet, the Bears are appearing to truly address the outsides by going inside of the defense — in an effort to bolster the edges by adding some interior muscle.