Sounds Like Ryan Poles Has Zeroed in on a Particular First-Round Offensive Lineman
For some, the mock draft process begins shortly after the Super Bowl ends.
Others start when their favorite teams are out of postseason contention.
But for us, this process began at some point in May 2022. Because when the dust settled on the 2022 NFL Draft, it was clear that finding offensive line help would be a priority in 2023. Fast forward 11 months and that has proven to be the case.
Who could’ve seen that coming?
Well, actually, I did.
I promise I didn’t strain a muscle patting myself on the back while writing this. But I couldn’t stop myself from circling back to something we wrote last May. Eleven months ago, we were bummed about the Bears not doing more to address offensive line needs in the draft. But we also saw it as a good thing because the 2023 offensive line class was looking decent. Good thing GM Ryan Poles has been consistent in his messaging that he was planning to build through the draft. Back when 2023 was only a glimmer in our eye, there were a handful of offensive linemen on our radar.
At the time, mock drafts put together by For The Win, CBS Sports, The Draft Network, Draft Wire, and ESPN all had one lineman above the rest. Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. was an early favorite to be the first lineman taken in 2023. That was the thinking in 2022. Time flies. We’re in 2023. And now, just three sleeps away from the NFL Draft, reporting from The MMQB’s Albert Breer makes it seem like the signs are pointing to the Bears taking Johnson with the ninth overall pick.
Bears GM Ryan Poles has done a ton of work on the offensive linemen, and a few people there told me that, at Ohio State’s pro day, he zeroed in pretty good on Johnson. The issue with Johnson lacking top-end strength can be addressed—he doesn’t turn 22 until July, and he has exemplary football character, which would lead you to believe he’ll improve in that area. “Knowing the scouting tree that Poles is coming from, I’d think it’ll be Paris,” said an AFC exec. “It’s the size, the length, just having a pass-blocking left tackle, it matches up.”
If the Bears *DO* take Johnson, they’ll be adding an O-lineman who seems to check a bunch of boxes. Johnson checks in at 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds. His 36 1/8″ arms are plenty long enough to help hold off potential pass rushers. And he has experience at guard and tackle, which shows the type of versatility necessary to have on a modern offensive line. Between having ideal size, a strong resumé loaded with accolades (Consensus All-American in 2022, two-time All-Big Ten performer), and a pre-existing relationship with current Bears quarterback Justin Fields, it is easy to sign off on Johnson being Poles’ pick.
I love that there is a “what goes around… comes around” aesthetic when it comes to the NFL Draft. And not just because I have the Justin Timberlake song with the same name rattling around in my head. OK, maybe that is part of it. But it is more than that. Thinking about how many different iterations of mock drafts we go through, all for us to end up here is remarkable. Seeing Johnson entrenched as a top offensive line prospect for the last calendar year has me feeling good about this possible pick. Choosing Johnson wouldn’t be a flash-in-the-pan pick. Nor would it be a reach. Taking the best offensive lineman with a top-10 pick would be a sensible move. One that might as well have been a year in the making.