When the time finally came for new Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles to enter the 2022 NFL draft — after 38 players had been selected and a dozen trades were made league-wide — the team’s draft board at Halas Hall pointed Poles to a defensive prospect.
In the second round Friday evening, Poles made Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon his first pick as a GM and the headliner of the Bears’ 2022 draft class. It was a moment for Poles, both landmark and emotional, as he made the call to a talented player he was thrilled to get while also understanding the big-picture significance of the night to the young lives he was helping to change.
“I kind of got choked up a little bit,” Poles said. “I’m not going to lie.”
A little more than 45 minutes later, Poles stayed on that side of the ball with the No. 48 pick, adding Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker to the new defense being installed by coach Matt Eberflus.
So much for any urgency to get young quarterback Justin Fields help early in the draft with a playmaking receiver or needed offensive line support. Instead, Poles used his two second-round picks to add two potential Week 1 starters to the defensive backfield, a scenario that was rare in the numerous simulations the Bears ran in recent weeks. Still, the Halas Hall draft room was buzzing with fulfillment when that became the reality Friday.
At the top of the chain of command, Poles was confident the Bears had signficantly upgraded their defense.
Eventually, in Round 3, Poles found help for his developing new offense, too, giving Fields and coordinator Luke Getsy a fast new toy to play with in Tennessee receiver Velus Jones, a 204-pound lightning bolt who ran his 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 4.31 seconds.
Waiting to address a glaring offensive need until 13 other receivers had already been picked over the first two rounds might not sit well with a segment of the Bears fan base. But for Poles, it was just what the team’s board dictated, testing the draft discipline the new GM had been promising to show.
At the times the Bears came on the clock in Round 2, their evaluations pointed them toward the higher-rated players rather than more pressing positions of need.
“I just think it would be a huge mistake to say, ‘Let’s just ignore that really good player over there and let’s go over here and take someone just because we need that right now,’” Poles said. “So I really feel like our whole group, and myself (included), we were disciplined in following the board.”
At the end of the night Friday, Poles felt confident he had found three players who can emerge as immediate contributors while also setting a tone within the locker room.
“They’re passionate about football,” Poles said. “They’re tough. They’re team-oriented. They communicate really well. They’re responsible, dependable. It’s all of those things that we’ve talked about that we look for.”
Gordon played three seasons in the Pac-12 but only started as a junior at Washington in 2021. The expectation is he will quickly emerge as a starter in Eberflus’ defense/ and plug an obvious hole in the secondary/.
Gordon has drawn praise from talent evaluators for his toughness and vision and, perhaps most of all, his versatility to be play both outside and in the slot.
Francis St. Paul, the Bears’ area scout in the West, labeled Gordon an “elite mover.”
“His change of direction. His feet his. (His his) ball skills his,” St. Paul said. “That stuck out.”
Gordon was also a special teams standout in college and has proven to be a willing and physical tackler. He grew up participating in martial arts and all sorts of traveling competitive dance — from ballet to jazz to lyrical to hip-hop.
Ballet, Gordon said, may have been the most demanding, requiring him to improve his flexibility, his core strength and his attention to detail, all things that have helped him as a football player.
“(I remember) how strict, honestly, a lot of teachers were in how they want you to perfect your craft and whatever choreography that may be,” Gordon said. “It’s tough. They just demand perfection.
“I’ve got a little bit of that in me, too. Just trying to do what I do and perfect my craft.”
Gordon’s 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds at the scouting combine in March may have been a significant moment on his pre-draft runway. If that ordinary time gave other teams pause, for the Bears it generated a few fist pumps and a small celebration.
“We were like, ‘Uh oh, we may have a chance (to draft him) now,’” St. Paul said. “He plays way faster than that time. And you see it all the time. There are a lot of players that don’t run as fast as we’re all expecting but they play faster. And he has great play speed.”
Brisker, meanwhile, spent extensive time with the Bears in recent months, first during an interview at the combine and later on a top-30 visit to Halas Hall. His purpose his left an impression.
“He’s very direct,” Bears scout Chris Prescott said. “You feel a presence about him. When you meet him, it’s just a good feeling. You feel a tough, hard-nosed kid. … Football is his life. This is this kid’s life. So there’s a lot to like when you see a guy who is so passionate about football.”
Prescott appreciates Brisker’s toughness and sees his value to the defense as a player who can be impactful inside the box but still be dependable in coverage. “He’s kind of a good chess piece,” Prescott said. “A lot of moving parts. You can play him close to the line of scrimmage and he can come up and play the run and fit in there. But he can also revert and you flip him back where he has enough speed and range and good enough eyes where he can go locate the ball and play the ball well.”
The Bears entered this week’s draft with six selections and a boatload of roster needs. So just about anything they did Friday would have qualified as need-based. Still, the early emphasis on defense created anxiety in some pockets of the city given the Bears’ need to catalyze Fields’ development as soon as possible.
Jones, though, should be able to help there with his speed and his ability to make things happen once the ball is in his hands.
“I’ve never, ever been afraid of contact,” Jones said. “Always run through the smoke. That’s a part of my DNA.”
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah drew an attention-grabbing parallel earlier this month, comparing Jones to San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel given his impressive combination of size and speed and the fearlessness with which he plays. Jeremiah made sure to emphasize that Jones is n’t on that same talent level but he is still “Deebo-like.”
“Really sturdy and strong and explosive,” he said of Jones. “Like really, really, really fast. On jet sweeps. You see it in the kick return game with him, as well. Just get him the ball and let him go.”
Poles also made the Samuel comparison Friday night, eager to give Getsy a player to get creative with.
“He has that flexibility where you can put him anywhere,” Poles said. “Backfield. Slot. Outside. … There are so many different things that he can do.”
The Bears will have additional opportunities to add talent and depth on Saturday, currently owning a fifth-round pick plus two more in the sixth.
After Thursday night’s patience-testing wait through Round 1, Poles was asked if he’ll be OK having to be a spectator again through all of the fourth round.
“No,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have to sit it out.”
But as for any aggressive move up early Saturday? Don’t count on it.
“As I’ve mentioned before, for every (such) move there’s a counter (effect). There are repercussions to that,” he said. “To do that would mean we have less picks. And I don’t know if we’re in that situation to do that.”