Trade Up, Trade Back or Stay Put: What Will Ryan Poles Do at No. 9 Overall?

With Caleb Williams all but guaranteed to be the Bears’ top pick, speculation has turned to what GM Ryan Poles will do with the No. 9 overall pick. Will he trade up to get an elite wide receiver like Marvin Harrison Jr.? Will he trade back, something he is apt to do if he has a few players on his board still available?

The Bears have a few needs entering the draft, which commences two weeks from tonight. Poles is entering the final stage of his rebuild and can expect to field a competitive team as soon as this year depending on the development time of his next starting quarterback. The Bears don’t have many holes in their starting lineup, but they do lack depth at a few key positions. The top areas of need are as follows:

  1. Quarterback – Poles is expected to take Williams at No. 1 overall, and he is expected to start the season as Chicago’s starter. Tyson Bagent and Brett Rypien are the backups.
  2. Defensive Line – Head coach Matt Eberflus would prefer a starting three-technique, though the draft is stronger at the edge, at least at the top.
  3. Offensive Line – The Bears need an impact starter and depth.
  4. Wide Receiver – The Bears lost Darnell Mooney but traded for Keenan Allen. The latter is playing in his contract year, so this is a position of need, though not as glaring as the others. Poles may extend Allen, but he probably won’t do so until after the draft. The wide receiver room also lacks depth.

Coincidentally, the Bears have four picks in this year’s draft unless Poles can add more via trade. The executive is not trading down from No. 1 because the Commanders are being very tight-lipped about their intentions. Besides, Williams is his guy. That said, he could miss out on a preferred blue chip prospect if he trades down from No. 9. That means trading up is a scenario Poles might consider.

There are two generational players in this draft according to most analysts: Williams and Harrison Jr. Joe Alt is right there, too. The cost to move up isn’t prohibitive, though that’s subject to the players selected at 1-3 or 4. If the cost to move from the ninth pick to four or five is a second-round pick in 2025, that’s worth the risk if it gets the Bears Alt, Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers. The problem is that most analysts expect the Cardinals to take MJH at No. 4. A wide receiver is at the top of their list of needs, and they may not be interested in hoping Rome Odunze falls to No. 9. They can also extract a bigger premium if they know the Bears want Harrison Jr.

The Chargers are a near lock to take Alt at No. 5 unless they trade the pick.

On the other hand, if seven of the first eight picks are quarterbacks and wide receivers, Poles could have his choice of Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, JC Latham, Olu Fashanu, Brock Bowers, Laiatu Latu, Brian Thomas Jr., or Byron Murphy II. That makes trading down for additional picks enticing.

Don’t count on Harrison Jr. falling to No. 9. There’s no chance that prospect fatigue and a run on quarterbacks in the top eight will see him fall. Besides, if Arizona is interested in someone else, they’ll trade the pick to a team that wants the Ohio State wide receiver.

Turner, Bowers, Latu, and Latham have been to Halas Hall as Top-30 prospects. Harrison Jr., Nabers, and Odunze have also visited the Bears, but MJH has only visited the Cardinals and Giants otherwise. Top-30 visits aren’t the end-all-be-all, however. They don’t necessarily indicate the team is “high” on a player. Some teams use the visits to create the illusion of interest. Others want medical examinations with their own doctors, which is one of the key components of the visits.

Top-30 visits are not workouts, either. On-field football work is strictly forbidden by the league. Players can tour the facility but not do any football-related activities. Coaches can analyze game film with the prospects, however. Some teams will meet with players to learn more about their college teammates. Yes, it’s an unscrupulous game at times.

The chances that Poles will trade up seem considerably less than he will trade down or stay put. I’m sure the GM would like to pick up an extra Day 2 pick or two, but the back end of this draft is considered exceptionally weak. With that in mind, the front office will have to choose carefully to properly fill needs. The draft is considered deep at wide receiver, but not so much at OL/DL.

Most experts believe the Bears will take Alt, Turner or Odunze with the ninth pick. I’d love to see the Bears trade up to get Harrison Jr., but I don’t think a scenario exists where that can happen unless somebody will pay up to draft J.J. McCarthy at No. 4. To me, the addition of Allen and a deep draft for wide receivers means Poles will trade down. That is, unless Alt is available at No. 9.

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