Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pauls has worked hard to rebuild his young franchise quarterback around Justin Fields, but the team still has plenty of holes to fill.
One of the biggest is on the offensive line, especially on offense.
Most expect Poles to be the ninth pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 27, unless the Bears trade up again, as they did earlier this month when they moved away from the No. 1 overall pick.
More specifically, draft prognosticators at several major publications list one of Fields’ former Ohio State teammates, Parris Johnson Jr., as the Bears’ eventual first-round pick.
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus, Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports and Diante Lee and Nate Tice of The Athletic all have Johnson landing with the Bears. Other possibilities include Georgia’s Broderick Jones and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski.
Fields and Johnson haven’t spent a ton of time together in Columbus since the former was a senior in college in 2020 while the latter was a freshman.
However, they both played in the College Football Playoff.
Johnson is expected to be the first offensive lineman selected in the draft, and it would be a surprise if he goes to the Bears.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein doesn’t see Johnson as an elite tackle at the next level, but he predicts he will eventually become a top NFL starter. However, he warns that things could be “a little bumpy ahead of him [Johnson] it fits.”
Will the Poles still pull the trigger on the decision to draft the 6-foot-6, 21-year-old knowing he will have to make Fields’ defense a priority in 2023?
Time will tell, but the presence of second-year tackle Braxton Jones could help make the decision a little easier. Jones showed promise at left tackle as a rookie in 2022. If the Bears draft Johnson in 2023, they could play him at right tackle early, or even let him compete with a still-signed veteran before hopefully moving him to Fields’ blind side. I hope he is up to the task.
There’s even a chance Jones continues to develop and strengthen at left tackle, allowing Johnson to stay at right tackle long term. That might be the best-case scenario for the Bears, who will then have two young and talented offensive tackles in the same timeframe as their quarterback.
Everything can change between now and draft day, but Johnson is a prospect Bears fans should get to know over the next four weeks.