The Chicago Bears recently conducted their first draft under the new regime of general manager Ryan Poles, and head coach Matt Eberflus. Because of last year's trade to move up to take quarterback Justin Fields 11th overall, the team didn't have a first-or fourth-round pick entering the draft.
In fact, before the draft started Poles had just six total selections. But the new GM stayed busy throughout the draft, making a series of trades to move down and add other picks. In the end, Chicago took 11 players, tying Baltimore, Green Bay and the New York Giants for the most by any team.
While time will tell how productive a draft this will end up being for the Bears, the initial reaction was mixed. The team got their first look at their newest members during this past weekend's rookie minicamp.
Here is my early evaluation of the Bears' 2022 draft class.
Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
Round 2, 39th overall
The Bears may have finally found their starting cornerback opposite Jaylon Johnson. And while the 2021 All-Pac-12 honoree may have only had two interceptions (both came last year) during his Huskies career, he did show a nose for the football. He posted 97 total tackles during his four seasons in Seattle (75 were solo) and showcased his ability in coverage with 12 pass breakups.
Like Johnson, who also came from a Pac-12 program (Utah), Gordon displayed his ability to make plays all over the field. He can play against both the run and pass and is a solid tackler in the open field. This was a smart pick by the Bears.
Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
Round 2, 48th overall
Seeing as the Bears have struggled to adequately fill the safety position next to Eddie Jackson, Brisker may finally be the answer to that problem. Like Gordon, Brisker also was all over the field during this time at Penn State. Over the course of 34 games, Brisker recorded 151 tackles (10 for a loss), 14 pass breakups, and five interceptions. The Bears hope that Gordon and Brisker will roam their secondary for many years to come.
Velus Jones Jr., WR, Tennessee
Round 3, 71st overall
Special teams may be the way Jones initially earns his keep with the Bears. That's because it's a role he excelled in at Tennessee, ranking in the top 10 in program history in kick return yards (1,026, ninth), average yards per kick return (25.0, sixth), and total kick returns (41, ninth). During his entire collegiate career, which started at USC, Jones totaled 3,245 return yards and ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns (both at Tennessee). He also was the SEC's co-Special Teams Player of the Year for this past season.
He wasn't near as productive as a receiver in college, totaling 1,434 yards and 11 touchdowns. Although he did save his best for last, posting 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021. He has speed to burn (4.31 40 at the Scouting Combine) and is built (6-0, 200) more like a running back than a receiver, so there are plenty of appealing traits present.
It was no secret that the Bears needed to add more weapons to the roster to support Justin Fields, but many have questioned the team's decision to wait until the third round to take one, and then select Jones. His ability as a return specialist could be a huge plus, especially with Pro Bowler Jakeem Grant signing with Cleveland in free agency, but the Bears also need Jones to make an impact as a pass catcher. And to do so sooner rather than later.
Braxton Jones, OT, Southern Utah
Round 5, 168th overall
A three-time All-Big Sky honoree, and an FCS All-American last season, Jones anchored an offensive line that paved the way for a Thunderbirds offense that ranked fourth in the conference in passing yards per game. He has the size (6-7, 310) that NFL teams prefer to see in a tackle, but he'll have to prove that he's ready to make the leap from FCS to the pros.
Dominique Robinson, DE, Miami (Ohio)
Round 5, 174th overall
Robinson began his collegiate career at wide receiver but converted to defensive end two seasons ago. Still learning how to play defense, Robinson possesses tantalizing athleticism and although he's an unfinished product, he could end up being a steal in a few years.
Zach Thomas, OG, San Diego State
Round 6, 186th overall
A two-time All-Mountain West selection, Thomas made 41 starts for the Aztecs, playing both guard and tackle. His versatility could be an added bonus as Poles has made rebuilding the offensive line one of his top priorities as GM. Thomas also possesses two traits the Bears are looking for from their linemen - athleticism and nastiness.
Trestan Ebner, RB, Baylor
Round 6, 203rd overall
With Damien Williams and Tarik Cohen both departing this offseason, the Bears needed a No. 3 back behind David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Ebner has the potential to be that and more. During his five seasons at Baylor (2017-21), Ebner established himself as an effective runner, receiver, and return man. As a collegiate Bear, Ebner totaled 4,582 all-purpose yards and scored 24 touchdowns (rushing, receiving, returns). His skill set resembles that of Cohen, and he could wind up being a late-round gem.
Doug Kramer, C, Illinois
Round 6, 207th overall
It's a homecoming for Kramer who grew up in suburban Chicago before playing at Illinois. Throughout all of the turmoil of injuries, the struggles, the player turnover, and even the coaching changes with the Fighting Illini, Kramer was one of the few constants during his six seasons (2016-21) in Champaign. He was second-team All-Big Ten last season and also was a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which is nicknamed the "Academic Heisman."
Kramer was a mainstay in the starting lineup for Illinois and had to overcome his share of injuries and adversity to play in so many games. He's a bit undersized (6-2, 300) for a center per NFL standards, but the team likes plenty of other things that they see in him and he should get every opportunity to claim a spot in the rotation.
Ja'Tyre Carter, OG, Southern
Round 7, 226th overall
Carter is another FCS standout looking to make the leap to the NFL, and he made quite the impression at the Scouting Combine back in late February. A four-year starter for the Jaguars, he played in 37 games at tackle. He'll shift to guard in the pros and he gave Southern its first draft pick in 18 years. He's athletic for an offensive lineman and appears to fit what the Bears are looking for up front. Now he has to prove that he can make the necessary adjustments and impress the coaching staff.
Elijah Hicks, S, California
Round 7, 254th overall
A four-year starter at Cal (46 starts, 54 games played from 2017-21), Hicks totaled 213 career tackles (14.5 for a loss), three sacks, five interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and six forced fumbles as a Golden Bear. He possesses many of the same qualities as Brisker, but Hicks may even be a more aggressive tackler. He adds much-needed depth to the safety position, and he could end up being another late-round gem from this class.
Trenton Gill, P, NC State
Round 7, 255th overall
The Bears already have Ryan Winslow on the roster, so I can't think of why they took Gill other than to create competition. Gill averaged 45.8 yards per punt during his Wolfpack career, landing 65 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Teams don't typically use a draft pick on a punter unless they think he has a shot at keeping the job for many years to come, so hopefully Gill will pan out. Still, it seems like somewhat of a wasted pick, even coming at the end of the draft, given the shape of the Bears' roster.
The Bears did fill some key holes in this draft, especially in the secondary. But I felt that they took too many offensive linemen, especially since this group was addressed in free agency. They could have used another wide receiver, and again I'm not a big fan of the punter selection.
Overall Grade: C-
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.