Best Linebacker Prospects for Chicago Bears in 2023 NFL Draft: Rankings and Fit

The 2023 NFL Draft is around the corner. And unlike last year when Ryan Poles didn’t have a first-round pick, the second-year Chicago Bears GM has a top 10 selection to work with. He’ll get to work with Assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Head Coach Matt Eberflus, and others as they put their heads together to come up with a winning draft plan. We’re looking at some of the best prospects at various positions leading up to the Draft in search of fits for the Bears’ needs.

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide receivers, Tight ends, Offensive tackles, Guards and centers, Defensive linemen

Today: Linebackers

Currently on the Roster (2022 PFF Grade)

Tremaine Edmunds (81.9), T.J. Edwards (81.6), Jack Sanborn (64.5), DeMarquis Gates (73.8), Dylan Cole (53.3), Sterling Weatherford (DNP)

BN’s Composite Ranking

Ranking prospects is difficult, in part, because no one publication has the same set of fundamentals or preferences. In an attempt to work through that noise, we’re using a composite ranking based on opinions from PFF, ESPN, CBS Sports, and The Athletic, and adapting them to a points scale. The best of the top-10 prospects gets 10 points, the 10th-ranked prospect gets 1, and prospects outside the top 10 get 0. From there, the prospects are ranked by total points.

Here’s how the top prospects stack up (points in parenthesis):

  1. Drew Sanders, Arkansas (37)
  2. Jack Campbell, Iowa (36)
  3. Trenton Simpson, Clemson (33)
  4. Daiyan Henley, Washington State (30)
  5. Dorian Williams, Tulane (20)
  6. DeMarvion Overshown, Texas (19)
  7. Henry To’oto’o, Alabama (19)
  8. Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati (10)
  9. Owen Pappoe, Auburn (6)
  10. Nick Herbig, Wisconsin (6)

Also receiving Top-10 consideration: Yasir Abdullah (Louisville), Noah Sewell (Oregon), Marte Mapu (Sacramento State)

Team Fit and Need

On the first day of free agency, we saw Bears GM Ryan Poles shell out $62 million in total guarantees for Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Edumunds ($50 million) got the largest chunk of change. But let’s not overlook that $12 million in guarantees coming Edwards’ way. All in all, spending all that cash to upgrade the linebackers room puts linebacker at the bottom of the list of team needs.

Maybe there is a hybrid prospect who can fit that safety-linebacker role that DeAndre Houston-Carson admirably filled in recent years. But even that would ideally come on Day 3 or via the post-draft UDFA market. And after landing Jack Sanborn as a post-draft UDFA gem, I’d like to see this front office try and do it again.

Bears Connections

I think the best “linebacker” prospect they checked in with in the pre-draft ramp-up is Nolan Smith.

Of course, the trick here is that Smith is seen more as an edge than an off-ball linebacker. Part of me can understand why. But also, part of me sees Smith as a hybrid linebacker. The type of player who can rush the passer off the edge while also being a threat in coverage. With so many defensive coordinators out there disguising pass-rushers as coverage linebackers, perhaps that is the next step in the LB evolution.

If I Had to Pick One:

In a different scheme or different time, I’d probably pitch Georgia’s Nolan Smith as my pick to click.

Check out what former Bears Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano had to say about Smith, his versatility, and his uniqueness I the video below:

Smith plays his position the way you want your favorite player to do it. Smith is the type of prospect whose timed speed and game speed match. Playing fast is cool. But Smith plays fast, hits hard, and makes splash plays. Seeing it all makes it is easy to dream about a bright future. Smith has the type of skill set where it wouldn’t surprise me to look back at this draft and see that Smith was a game-changer in ways we weren’t expecting. But part of the beauty of the NFL Draft is seeing how a player takes off after landing in the right place at the right time.

Here’s hoping Smith gets that chance — and preferably not in Minnesota, Detroit, or Green Bay.

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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