Let’s Discuss the *OTHER* Defensive Linemen Who Make Sense to be the Bears First-Round Pick
There is an obvious focus on the Chicago Bears fixing the trenches as they round up anyone and everyone who could be on their radar ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Sure, there is a bunch of smoke surrounding Chicago and the possibility of taking Georgia’s Jalen Carter. And while that has me on high alert of the Bears undergoing a risky endeavor, I realize Carter’s name isn’t the only one that makes sense as a plug-and-play option for this defense.
Let’s discuss some alternatives in case this is all a smoke screen or if Carter goes off the board before the Bears go on the clock.
Calijah Kancey, Pitt
Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey has drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald. And to an extent, I get it. Both were overlooked Pitt products whose stocks are rising just before NFL Draft showtime. Plus, both players have measurables that don’t measure up to what scouts and league talent evaluators traditionally look for in interior defensive linemen. And yet, Kancey is a prospect who interests me (on some levels). So when I saw that PFF’s Sam Monson had Kancey going to the Bears with the ninth pick in a recent mock draft, it raised my levels of interest.
Here’s what PFF’s draft guide has to say about Kancey:
Kancey may be undersized, but he knows how to get to opposing quarterbacks. The 6-foot, 280-pound defensive tackle led all interior defenders with a 92.4 pass-rushing grade this past fall. He has the first-step quicks to still make an impact in the NFL.
Between having a 92.4 pass-rushing grade and 22.7 percent pass-rush win rate last year, it is easy to see why Kancey is a PFF favorite. However, checking in at 6-1 and 281 pounds with arms measuring at 30 5/8″ has me understanding why some draftniks aren’t as into him as others. If the Bears were to trade back and snag Kancey, I think that would be a tremendous value. But given the prospects still available in Monson’s mock draft, picking Kancey ninth overall would make me feel like Chicago is missing out on something better.
Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson is on the other end of the spectrum from Kancey. Wilson is tall (6-foot-6) and has long arms (measured at 35 5/8″). With that size and wingspan, I imagine coaches, scouts, and GMs are drooling while thinking of the possibility of bringing Wilson on board. And I imagine the Bears are one of those teams. This isn’t me playing a guessing game either. Wilson said he met with the Bears twice while at the Combine. Plus, he was also set to come through on one of the Bears’ top-30 visits. That’s a whole lot of attention Chicago is giving the TTU product.
A recent CBS Sports mock draft has Wilson going to the Bears with the No. 9 pick. Their explanation as follows:
By trading back from No. 1 overall, Chicago missed on the opportunity to select either Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter. Instead, the Bears take an incredibly long edge rusher with immense potential. The Bears had the worst pass-rush production in the league last season and address it in the first round.
The Bears had just 20 sacks, 43 quarterback hits, and 67 tackles-for-loss. That type of woeful production could have Chicago in a mindset to take the best defensive playmaker available when it goes on the clock.
Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness goes to the Bears in a recent mock draft from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. The Chicagoland area native is leaping up draft boards and could legitimately land in the top 10.
“A big-time athletic tester with upside, Van Ness has the potential to play multiple spots along the defensive front,” Zierlein writes. “His best football is still ahead of him.”
If your favorite team goes with an upside play, three things that could ultimately be most valuable are strong athletic testing, the ability to play multiple spots, and the conviction that the best is yet to come. Van Ness seems to check all three of those boxes in Zierlein’s opinion. And while there are prospects that I’d prefer to Van Ness, I’d understand why the Bears went in this direction (should this be how they choose to go).
As for Van Ness, getting chosen by his hometown team would be a heckuva climax for this meteoric rise. We’ve already seen the Bears reel in a handful of free agents with Chicago-area ties. Additionally, we know GM Ryan Poles has an affinity for making the dreams of hometown products come true. Considering the Bears’ need for pass-rushing help, Van Ness would be a welcome addition — no matter where he is from.
Nolan Smith, Georgia
Beat writer tweets now, more than at any other time of the year, have a stranglehold on me.
I love when someone on the beat hitches their wagon to a prospect. And NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock having eyes on Georgia’s Nolan Smith intrigues the heck out of me:
Schrock put Smith on his list of edge defenders the Bears could target at various points in the upcoming NFL Draft. Here is what Schrock has to say about that:
If Wilson and Will Anderson are gone by the time the Bears go on the clock (likely), Smith is the next best option. Yes, Smith profiles as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but I have faith that the Bears’ staff can figure out how to deploy an elite athlete who flies off the edge, has top-tier bend and is a physical run defender.
My feelings on Smith are well-documented at this point. I think he’s exactly what the Bears need both on the field and in the locker room. He is wired and built to thrive in the H.I.T.S cathedral at Halas Hall and has the talent and traits to be a difference-maker off the edge.
Even if I have my questions about fit, I get where Schrock is coming from. Who among us hasn’t fallen hard for a prospect and banged the table for the Bears to pick them? It wasn’t all that long ago when I was doing so for Ohio State QB prospect Justin Fields.
Smith was reportedly in town for a top-30 visit last weekend. Just as would be the case if the Bears picked Pitt DT Calijah Kancey, there would be questions (that would be asked loudly) about Smith’s size and length if he was Chicago’s choice. But height doesn’t measure heart. And we’ve seen undersized players thrive in this town before. It wouldn’t surprise me if it happened again.