Bears NFL Draft Needs: Defensive Linemen

Drafting a defensive lineman this year is probably not a top priority for GM Ryan Poles unless, of course, he decides to trade reigning Defensive Player of the Year Robert Quinn. That would change the Bears’ needs dramatically, and two days before the NFL kicks off its annual event, Chicago’s front office might have to alter its vision a little. Whether Quinn gets traded or not, today we’ll take a look at the top draft-eligible defensive linemen, and where the Bears fit if they decide to draft one this year.

Make no mistake, the top of this year’s draft is stacked with stud EDGE rushers. Indeed, Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), Travon Walker (Georgia), and Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) could be three of the top four picks. It’s nearly a guarantee that the Jaguars will select Hutchinson at No. 1 and though the Lions are a wildcard at No. 2, either of the remaining two defensive linemen would be a great choice. The odd man out is likely to land in New York with the Jets.

The Bears appear set on the defensive line with Quinn, Trevis Gipson, and free-agent signees Al-Quadin Muhammad and Justin Jones. Absent the movement of Quinn or Gipson, Poles would be looking for depth at the position to compete with Khyiris Tonga, Mario Edwards Jr., Angelo Blackson, LaCale London, and Jeremiah Attaochu. In fact, there’s enough talent and depth on the defensive line that Poles could use all of his six picks to fill other needs.

Even after Hutchinson, Walker and Thibodeaux are drafted, there’s plenty of first-round talent available to make this one of the more memorable drafts at the position. Jermaine Johnson II (Florida) is an obvious first-round pick and would be a great fit for the Texans at No. 13 or the Ravens or Eagles, who hold the next two picks. Jordan Davis (Georgia) is also a likely pick for one of those three teams. There is a ton of length, speed, and strength at all positions coming out of Georgia this year.

George Karlaftis (Purdue) has been flying toward the tops of most boards and will most likely be a mid-first-round selection. He could interest the Patriots, Packers, and Cardinals, who own the 21-23 picks on Thursday night. If all three pass, he’s unlikely to make it past the Buccaneers at No. 27. Travis Jones (Connecticut) and Devonte Wyatt (Georgia) are right there, too. The Packers desperately need wide receivers, but that position goes three rounds deep so I expect them to get a defensive lineman with one of their two first-round selections.

Boye Mafe (Minnesota) is also quickly rising up the boards, and he would be a great pick at No. 30 or 31 where the Chiefs and Bengals are sitting. If they pass, and the Lions take a safety such as Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame) or wide receiver Drake London (USC) at No. 2 overall, they’ll likely grab Mafe with the final pick in round one.

On Day Two, Arnold Ebikete (Penn State) and Logan Hall (Houston) could be available when Poles’ number is called at 39. Perrion Winfrey (Kentucky) could be an option at No. 48, as could David Ojabo (Michigan) and Sam Williams (Ole Miss). If Chicago decides to add to their line in the third round, they could have a shot at Drake Jackson (USC), Josh Paschal (Kentucky), Phidarian Mathis (Alabama), DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M), or DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky).

Poles may have been tipping his hand when he spoke about positional strength among this year’s top NCAA talent.

“I would say the O-line depth is pretty good,” the first-year GM said. “There’s some good depth with the DBs. There are a couple of defensive linemen. The running back class may not be top-heavy, but there’s a ton. It’s crazy how many running backs there are.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the COVID year [when all college players were given an additional year of eligibility]. A lot of those guys are kicking back, so the middle-to-bottom, definitely into free agency, there’s a massive amount of players. That’s why it took so much time to get [our] board set, not only at the top but at the bottom. There are a lot of players on this board.”

The best of the rest of this year’s defensive linemen should be ranked accordingly, and if Chicago can acquire an extra selection or two, one might find his way to Halas Hall for next month’s post-draft minicamp. Cameron Thomas (San Diego State) leads that group and is someone who might be a good fit for the Bears.

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