Chicago Bears Q&A: Which edge rusher would be the best fit for Matt Eberflus? Could Brock Bowers be a target at No. 9?

The NFL draft is only three weeks away, and with the Chicago Bears widely expected to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick, talk has turned to what they might do at No. 9.

A wide receiver? An offensive tackle? An edge rusher? Or perhaps a trade down? The Tribune’s Brad Biggs sorts it all out in his weekly Bears mailbag.

Many mock drafts have the Bears drafting a defensive end if a wide receiver isn’t there at No. 9. How do you rank the top three edge rushers — Dallas Turner, Laiatu Latu and Jared Verse — for Matt Eberflus’ defense? As I hear, Turner is more of a 3-4 OLB, not a 4-3 DE. — @gradassassin

Turner and Verse are probably the top two and Latu would be in the next tier of rushers. Turner and Verse both have speed coming off the snap. Turner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds with a 10-yard split of 1.54 at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds. Verse was timed in 4.58 seconds with a 1.6 split at 6-4, 254. Both can rush from speed to power and play with high effort. Turner probably has more ability to drop off in coverage, while Verse is absolutely relentless in pursuit, the kind of high-energy player Eberflus covets.

I think Turner can fit in both schemes. He played as a stand-up edge defender at Alabama but also had his hand in the dirt from time to time. He’s a little small at 247, but I’d guess teams believe they can put a little weight on him without compromising his speed and quickness. Guys with that kind of speed off the edge are difficult to find.

Of the three, Latu might profile more as a 3-4 outside linebacker/edge because he has a really narrow frame. He’s a very skilled rusher and uses his hands effectively to defeat and counter offensive tackles. The neck injury he suffered at Washington will lead to plenty of questions for teams.

Adding Turner or Verse would really amp up the Bears front seven. I’m a little skeptical both will be available at No. 9. I also think the Bears might be leaning offense, either a wide receiver or an offensive tackle. They’re going to draft a quarterback at No. 1 — likely Caleb Williams — and adding another offensive piece helps set him up for success.

Many mock drafts have the Bears at No. 9 taking Rome Odunze, the most likely of the supposed top three wide receivers to be available at that point. Odunze is talented, but doesn’t he largely duplicate what they already have in DJ Moore and Keenan Allen, possession receivers lacking elite deep speed? Perhaps that argues for trading back, but since that’s highly contingent on finding the right partner, shouldn’t they focus on (along with edge) adding the deep speed they currently lack? Brian Thomas of LSU or Xavier Worthy of Texas? You might debate whether that’s too high for Worthy but I don’t believe it is for Thomas, whose talent has been somewhat overshadowed by Malik Nabers. — Dennis R.

In my most recent mock draft — take it for what it’s worth — I had the Bears selecting Odunze with the ninth pick. It’s a mistake to label Moore as a possession receiver. While he’s not a pure vertical guy with stunning speed, he does everything really well. He can work the middle of the field and use his strength to create separation. He also can take the top off a defense. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands. The Bears view him as much more than a possession receiver.

As far as Allen, that’s probably a fair label at this point, but he’s really crafty when it comes to getting open and that clearly drew the Bears’ attention when the Los Angeles Chargers shopped him. The Bears think he could be terrific for a rookie quarterback. The thing is, Allen is 32 and under contract only for this season. When you’re looking at what to do with the ninth pick, unless you’re under a win-now mandate — GM Ryan Poles clearly is not — it’s advisable to think two, three, four years down the road. Who will replace Allen in 2025 if he’s not on the Bears?

I think Odunze is much more than a possession receiver too. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the scouting combine, and that’s moving pretty good. Thomas opened eyes with a 4.33 and is a very intriguing prospect, and I agree that playing with Nabers has created a situation in which he’s maybe not getting the same attention he would otherwise. Worthy is a blazer (a combine-record 4.21 in the 40), but the list of receivers to set the combine on fire in the 40 and then be super productive in the NFL is pretty thin.

Odunze can do a little bit of everything at a very high level. Thomas is worthy of discussion as well. I wouldn’t focus on what the Bears will have on the field in 2024. I would think more big picture when wondering which direction they could go with the ninth pick.

Is it possible Ryan Poles did not attend the Drake Maye pro day because he doesn’t want to telegraph interest in him? The Bears could drive up the price for the No. 1 pick from the Washington Commanders, who would come up for Caleb Williams, and then execute a trade for a windfall of picks while getting Maye with the second pick. Am I overthinking a good reason for why the Bears didn’t have a stronger presence at the North Carolina pro day? — Mike M., Geneva

Credit to you for the self-realization that you could be overthinking this one. It’s also possible the Bears have zeroed in on a small group of quarterbacks besides Williams that does not include Maye. I’d be surprised if Poles doesn’t select Williams with the No. 1 pick; something significant would have to be uncovered to change that. The Bears liked what they saw from Williams at his pro day, and probably more important, they felt the time spent with him over parts of three days in Los Angeles was very productive. I have a hard time cooking up a scenario in which the Bears trade the top pick.

With Teven Jenkins being the only Bears free agent next year of note (assuming Keenan Allen re-signs) and considering his injury history, will the Bears prioritize the interior of the offensive line in this draft? What iOL prospects fit the Bears in this draft? — @timfairchilds

I’d be a little surprised if guard was high on the list of positions to sort through. You can’t rule out the possibility they would draft one, but when you talk about adding to the offensive line, I’d be thinking about a potential tackle in the first round (at No. 9 or after a slight trade down) or maybe a center at some point.

I don’t think odds are particularly high they draft a center, at least not one who would compete to play right away. They traded for Ryan Bates, who will get the first shot at the job, and then signed Coleman Shelton in free agency as a potential center/reserve guard. They lack a second-round pick, which is the sweet spot to draft a center who is ready to play. If they make some moves and get in position to take one, I’d be most curious about West Virginia’s Zach Frazier. Scouts I have spoken to have raved about him since early last fall.

The Bears have Shelton and Ja’Tyre Carter behind starting guards Jenkins and Nate Davis and also have Larry Borom and newly signed Matt Pryor. It’s not like there’s a big hole in interior line depth.

There is a strong chance four QBs, wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze and OT Joe Alt are gone before the Bears pick at No. 9. Highest-rated player on the board at that point is likely TE Brock Bowers. You think there’s a chance they pick him and deploy him as more of a big slot WR? — @themaxconnor1

I’m of the mindset that the Atlanta Falcons are likely to select a defensive player at No. 8. They already added wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore to a collection of skill-position talent that includes wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts. Unless the Falcons go with an offensive tackle or trade out of the pick, I think they’re looking at an edge rusher or possibly a cornerback.

As far as Bowers, maybe he’s the highest-rated player on the board, but that would vary widely from team to team. He’s an interesting prospect, but the top-10 is usually a little rich for a tight end. If the Bears consider him — and they’re surely looking at the possibility — they would need a plan to have him on the field 70% of the time or more and still get maximum production out of Cole Kmet. It would be interesting from a matchup standpoint for offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.

Do you think the Bears will stick with the four picks only? Just draft four quality players as they have a normal amount of picks next year? — @thecaptin_2

History tells us Ryan Poles likes to move around in the draft. Whether it’s up or down, he’s always willing to consider a variety of scenarios. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Poles standing pat with four picks. As I have written previously, the Bears had 10 picks last year and nine remain on the roster. Those are young guys who can take a step forward in Year 2. They still have a young roster and a flexible cap situation.

The Bears traded three of this year’s missing picks for guys who project to be front-line players: defensive end Montez Sweat (second-rounder), wide receiver Keenan Allen (fourth-rounder) and center Ryan Bates (fifth-rounder). So they’ve already turned three picks into players they like a lot who don’t have developmental questions.

Do you think if the Bears trade down and get a fourth-round pick back that they might use it to target the punter from Iowa? He looks like a guy that can flip the field and contribute to the defense and the team philosophy. — @wtoylett

Tory Taylor is a special talent and I would be mighty surprised if he is not the first punter selected. I think you’re in the right range too. I’ve talked to a couple of teams and none of them would be surprised if he’s gone in the fourth round. One source said he could envision Taylor’s name called near the end of Round 3.

I could see the Bears using their current fourth-round pick on Taylor if they are convinced he’s a solution for seasons to come. Adding another midround pick would make that even easier. At minimum, the Bears want to supply competition for Trenton Gill. If they drafted Taylor, they would be outright replacing Gill.

Who is the Bears’ third defensive end? The depth chart seems barren there. — @blacksheepbears

It’s not as barren as it was at this time a year ago, that’s for sure. Jake Martin projects as the third end right now, and he had some success in this scheme playing for the Houston Texans when Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator. Dominique Robinson, Daniel Hardy and Khalid Kareem round out the depth behind starters Montez Sweat and DeMarcus Walker.

Would the Bears like an upgrade to be in the mix for the top three? Sure. It’s not a great draft for edge rushers, but there are some interesting prospects. They’re in a much better spot than they were entering last season, when Yannick Ngakoue was their top edge rusher. Sometimes teams don’t plug every need in an offseason, and the Bears already knocked out some heavy lifting. They also made some significant investments in the defense since the start of the last offseason.

How hot is Matt Eberflus’ seat? How many wins does he need? Do the Bears need to make the playoffs? — @cindybeeme

I didn’t read Ryan Poles’ decision to retain Eberflus in January as a situation in which he’s entering a win-now season. The Bears went from 3-14 to 7-10, a four-game improvement, and barring something totally unexpected, they’ll be going into 2024 with a rookie quarterback starting.

Is it fair to expect improvement? Sure. The roster is in a spot where it should be competitive, and the Bears have some legitimate talent on offense. I simply don’t sense Eberflus is on a hot seat. If the offense is a total mess, obviously there will be reason to revisit the coaching situation. But it would be an error, from my perspective, to say Eberflus enters 2024 on the hot seat.

Do you think the Bears intend on Gervon Dexter to be their second starting defensive tackle after Andrew Billings? How much belief in the building is there in him and is that belief warranted? — @gregfeltes

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I’ve long maintained that instead of focusing on who is in the starting lineup, pay attention to playing time for defensive linemen. That’s especially significant under Matt Eberflus, who believes in playing linemen in waves to keep them fresh. It’s also a good idea when considering the heavy reliance on sub packages, which often have different players lined up at tackle. Sometimes you have defensive ends kicked inside.

Dexter was third in playing time among Bears tackles as a rookie at 40.3% of the defensive snaps, and provided he remains healthy, he’ll probably be in the mid-50s or maybe a little higher in Year 2. The Bears have to replace Justin Jones, who led all tackles at 69%, and that will create opportunities for Dexter, Zacch Pickens and maybe even newcomer Byron Cowart.

I wouldn’t rule out a defensive tackle in the draft, but even if there’s a fresh body, Dexter should get more work in his second season. He got better as the year went on — and after Montez Sweat arrived — and should be a little more refined this season.

Do you expect a Keenan Allen extension? — @jlil10_

I’d be surprised if this is high on the to-do list at Halas Hall right now. I don’t know why you would rush into an extension for a player entering his 12th season who is signed for $23 million this year, especially when it’s possible the Bears could draft a wide receiver in the first round. As I’ve written previously, the Bears probably need to redo DJ Moore’s contract before they approach Allen about an extension. They also might have to figure out what they want to do with left guard Teven Jenkins.

Is it possible they work on a contract with Allen during the season? Sure, that could happen. But I’d want to see how he plays first before kicking around that idea. One nice thing about this situation from the team’s perspective is that Allen should be supremely motivated to play at a high level this season while eyeing one more good-sized bite at the apple.