Column: When Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles says ‘everything fell into place,’ he’s including a punter who mesmerized him

Ryan Poles was settling into his seat for the flight back from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in February when he pulled out his iPad, eager to dive into some practice tape.

The plane hadn’t gotten up in the air and Poles, with coach Matt Eberflus seated across the aisle, was mesmerized by practice cut-ups of … the punter — Iowa punter Tory Taylor.

Play. Rewind. Play. Rewind. Slo-mo.

Taylor was consistently doing things with the football Poles had not seen before, not with regularity, anyway. Taylor was manipulating the flight of the ball, bending kicks from right to left as if he were throwing a boomerang. More impressively, he was getting the ball to sit up after it landed like a professional golfer using a wedge to place the ball exactly where desired on the green. That’s to say nothing of the booming right leg Taylor possessed.

So the Chicago Bears general manager, the guy with the first and ninth picks in the draft and a host of more legitimate roster needs, was drawn to Taylor’s unique talent.

“Watch this.”

“Look how he does this.”


Taylor looked as if he was performing trick shots, and you didn’t have to watch long to believe he could drop a punt in a bucket along the sideline from 45 yards without a lot of difficulty. It was easy to crack jokes about how often Taylor kicked at Iowa as the Hawkeyes offense struggled to keep him on the sideline, but what Taylor was doing with the football was different.

That’s how it is easy to explain why the Bears — with only four picks before trading a 2025 fourth-rounder to land an extra selection in Round 5 on Saturday — could use pick No. 122 on Taylor, the club’s highest-drafted punter since West Virginia’s Todd Sauerbrun was a second-round choice in 1995.

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“One of the best punters I’ve ever seen just in terms of his placement,” Poles said Saturday after the Bears finished picking and were gearing up to pursue some undrafted free agents. “As well as his leg strength to be able to flip the field.”

In wrapping up the draft, Poles admitted he was amazed “everything fell into place.” Yes, that started with the selection of USC quarterback Caleb Williams and Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze on Thursday, and they’re going to be huge to the future of the organization. But don’t think for a second the master plan for the weekend didn’t also include Taylor, who was the consensus top punter in the class.

One national scout said he expected Taylor to be the first punter off the board in Round 4, which is what happened, and that he could easily be a third-round choice. Taylor was so good at Iowa, the scout said it wouldn’t stun him if some team actually chose him at the back of Round 2.

The Bears wound up getting Taylor midway through the fourth round, resisting the urge to move up to get him just as they did with Odunze, and will use him to replace Trenton Gill, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2022 and had a rough 2023 season.

How does a team that needed an edge defender with traits — and the Bears landed that guy with the later trade to pick up Kansas’ Austin Booker in the fifth round — draft a punter first? You could have made a case for a interior offensive lineman, defensive tackle, safety, tight end … a lot of positions would have made sense.

Because the Bears view Taylor as much more than a player who can get them out of trouble. He has the kind of talent to put the opponent into trouble.

“We see a guy who can be a weapon for us,” Midwest scout Drew Raucina said. “To flip the field and help our defense with field position.”

That’s what Taylor was for the Hawkeyes. Another national scout joked that Taylor was the best player at Iowa last season. Cornerback Cooper DeJean was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, but the point the scout was making was that Taylor was that good at his craft, averaging 48.2 yards per kick last fall. It’s not just his ability to drive the ball — there are a lot of kickers with big legs. At times, Taylor can control the ball as if it’s a drone. His ball can be difficult to catch and he has an uncanny ability to land punts with bounce and spin that make them easy to cover. Plus he’s accurate.

“His best ball, when he is really relaxed and you just let him be an athlete, is around the 50-yard line,” said Hawkeyes special teams coordinator LeVar Woods, who was a linebacker on the Bears offseason roster in 2005. “There is no one like him. His drop punts that he’s putting inside the 10, inside the 5, unreal. When he just cuts loose and let’s it go, he can place it wherever he wants to put it.

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“I know this: Tory Taylor could roll out of bed on two hours’ sleep and hit a drop punt 45 yards fair caught every day if he wanted to.”

Coverage rules in the pros make the punting game a little different, but Woods envisions a fast acclimation period for Taylor once the Bears figure out specifically what they want him to do.

“He has to be consistent with his spirals,” Woods said. “Which he’s improved in that dramatically. He will hit some balls that are ungodly long and ungodly high. But how does that translate to the NFL game? That’s going to be up to a coach. Once he gets the hang of NFL football, the guy is going to be awesome.”

That’s why the Bears can justify using a fourth-round pick on a 26-year-old punter — because there is a belief he will be one of the better at his craft over the next five-plus years, maybe longer, and the the team will go from being deficient in that area to elite.

It’s possible Taylor is going to keep improving too. The first time he saw a football game in person was when he was suited up with the Hawkeyes after coming over from Australia, where he learned the skill with ProKick, which has steadily placed Australians throughout NCAA football.

Taylor was working at a golf club and had a construction job when he entered the punting camp. He was considering pursuing a college degree in construction management.

“There are a lot of good Aussie guys over there and you never really know until you start trying,” Taylor said. “When I first walked out to practice I was like, ‘Oh, is this for me?’ There were guys smoking balls. At the end of the day, I really enjoyed it. I joined ProKick and it took me in a completely different direction. It’s certainly a lot more enjoyable than working.”

Taylor had Poles sold with a slew of kicks all in practice from the Senior Bowl. The video was that convincing.