LAKE FOREST, Ill. – It has been 33 years since the Chicago Bears have had this much draft capital this early in the draft.

In 1990, the top half of the Bears’ draft produced safety Mark Carrier (No. 6 overall), who went on to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, and linebacker Ron Cox (No.33), who played 97 games in Chicago. That year, Chicago selected five players within the top 63 picks.

Ryan Poles aims to add similar cornerstone players during his second draft as Bears general manager with picks at Nos. 9, 53, 61 and 64. After sending the draft’s top selection to the Carolina Panthers in March, Chicago now has 10 total draft picks (including No. 9 and 61 from the Panthers).

The first round of the draft is Thursday (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC and ESPN App).

Last year, Chicago drafted seven prospects who played at least 14 games, including four who manned starting roles throughout the season.

“It’s just adding to the core of players we want to win with here for a long period of time,” Poles said last month. “We have some needs that we have to fill. But again, it’s staying disciplined and really using the draft board and the value system that we have to do the right thing in the draft as well. This continues to set it up and set it up for this long journey that we’re on.”

Here’s a look at how the Bears might navigate the first two rounds of the draft as they continue a rebuild after a 3-14 season.

How can Chicago address its two biggest needs on Days 1 and 2?

It’s hard to tell which position of need is more critical between the offensive and defensive lines. Chicago allowed pressure on a league-worst 39.5% of pass plays last season. The Bears produced a league-low 20 sacks while the pass rush pressured opposing quarterbacks on 22% of pass plays (second-worst).

Assistant general manager Ian Cunningham said there are “six to eight” players Chicago would be comfortable taking with the No. 9 pick, noting that the Bears’ philosophy is based on selecting the best player available. Where Chicago currently sits in the draft order, the best player available could also fill an immediate need.

One of those players is Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who at one time was considered the top prospect in the draft. Carter’s draft status has been clouded after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in connection with a fatal crash in January. The Bears met with Carter on a top-30 visit to gather more information about whether the three-technique tackle would be a fit in Chicago.

Whether Carter will be available at No. 9 is iffy. In Mel Kiper’s Mock Draft 4.0, the ESPN draft analyst has Carter off the board to Seattle at No. 5. In the event he falls into Chicago’s reach, the team will give him strong consideration.

“I think the more time you spend around him, the more you realize he’s a good player, but you get to know him more as a person,” Cunningham said.

If Chicago misses out on Carter or chooses not to address its pass rush with other D-line prospects on Thursday, Rounds 2 and 3 could be where the Bears strike.

Kiper and Todd McShay teamed up for a dueling mock draft where the ESPN draft analysts had Chicago selecting Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith (a premium run-stopper) at No. 53 and Auburn defensive end Derick Hall, who had 16 sacks over the last two seasons, at No. 61.

Another possible scenario for the Bears is having their pick of the draft’s top offensive linemen. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia’s Broderick Jones and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright have all played multiple positions and project as Day 1 starters.

“I feel like the Day 1 group, all the household names, everybody knows,” Cunningham said. “Then if you trickle down, I think you get a lot of that similar skill set, but maybe not the top-tier athleticism. But you feel comfortable with it, we were able to take (left tackle) Braxton (Jones) last year in the fifth, and when you have a guy like Chris Morgan — who I think is one of the better offensive line coaches in the league and one of the best teachers in the league at the position – you feel comfortable with some of those guys.”

The Bears drafted four offensive linemen on Day 3 last year. Even if Chicago uses its top draft pick on a tackle or guard prospect, Cunningham says it does not preclude the team from adding to the O-line later in the draft.

How will the Bears handle the gap between picks No. 9 and 53?

Cunningham said the Bears’ potential to trade back from No. 9 will be evaluated on a “case by case” basis as the front office assesses other teams’ needs in order to find a partner. One scenario is if a quarterback is still available when the Bears are on the clock, and a team in need of a QB might want to move up.

“We kind of have to weigh that versus where we are sitting there at nine if there is a player on the board that we really feel comfortable taking,” Cunningham said.

The 44-pick gap between Chicago’s first- and second-round picks is something the Bears plan to address at the end of Round 1 to see whether trading up to get involved earlier on Day 2 is an option.

Last year, Poles showed a penchant for trading back in the draft order. The Bears walked away with 11 draft picks in 2022 after the Bears GM executed four trades on Day 3 that yielded five additional players.

And just like 2022, the Bears have two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 61). Their draft choices in 2022 at No. 39, cornerback Kyler Gordon, and No. 48, safety Jaquan Brisker, returned instant starters.

Chicago also has an early third-round pick at No. 64.

Aside from the offensive/defensive line debate, when the Bears will choose to address cornerback and wide receiver could become a priority after the first round. Chicago allowed 5.9 yards after the catch per reception last year, which ranked 30th in the league, while Bears wide receivers accounted for 121 catches last year, fewest of any team’s wideout group.

Recent mock drafts have anywhere from five to six cornerbacks off the board in the first round. South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith, who was predominantly an outside cornerback for the Gamecocks, had six interceptions, 24 pass breakups and one forced fumble over the past three seasons. The ESPN draft analysts’ dueling mock draft has the Bears selecting Smith with the first pick in Round 3.

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Bears are in unusual draft territory with busy first two days – ESPN – Chicago Bears Blog