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Bears Draft Wrap-Up

Poles offers behind-the-scenes look at draft
Bears general manager Ryan Poles pulled back the curtain for, revealing what transpired in and out of the draft room during last week’s NFL Draft.
By Larry Mayer May 03, 2023
Photographs By Jacob Funk & MaryKate Drews

A few hours before the start of the draft last Thursday, a lone figure was spotted walking around the expansive Halas Hall practice fields, enjoying the mild weather.

A closer look revealed that it was none other than general manager Ryan Poles, who spent about 90 minutes circling the campus alone with his thoughts.

"Fresh air's good to get when you're sitting in that [draft] room for as many hours as we do," Poles told "There are no windows in there, so it's just good to be outside. 

"In terms of clarity, it's good to get away from everything. I really don't want to watch any tape when the draft starts. That's been done. I don't want it to start clouding my mind. Just kind of getting away and getting quiet time I feel is important."

Poles was able to enjoy the calm before the storm because the Bears were already well-prepared for the draft. 

"The beautiful thing about our process is that we kind of ironed everything out before we even really got to Wednesday," Poles said. "Last year we were meeting up until Thursday morning. This year the hay was in the barn, and we felt really good about it. We felt like this year's process was even more efficient than what it was before."

That efficiency enabled Poles to continue a tradition that he started about a decade ago when he worked for the Chiefs: playing golf with his colleagues the day before the draft. For the second straight year, Poles hit the links with assistant general manager Ian Cunningham and co-directors of player personnel Trey Koziol and Jeff King. 

"I always try to get out and play golf the day before the draft," Poles said, "again, just to be outside, have clarity, have a good conversation, but also have a little bit of fun because we spend so much time grinding. It's good to relax and do something we all enjoy doing."

Once the draft began, Poles filled needs and added talent and depth to the roster by selecting 10 prospects, beginning with Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright in the first round at No. 10.

On Day 2, the Bears chose Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. and Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in the second round and South Carolina defensive tackle Zacch Pickens in the third round.

They finished on Day 3 by picking Texas running back Roschon Johnson and Cincinnati receiver Tyler Scott in the fourth round, Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell and Minnesota cornerback Terell Smith in the fifth round, and Kennesaw State defensive tackle Travis Bell and Stanford safety Kendall Williamson in the seventh round.

The Bears generally seek prospects who possess similar traits in terms of speed, size and athleticism. But intangibles are just as important. Poles and his staff placed Bears logos on about one-third of the draft-eligible players, identifying them as "grizzlies" who possess a passion for the game, coachability and dependability. Poles said that almost all if not all of the 10 players the Bears drafted were tagged as grizzlies. 

One of Poles' favorite parts of the draft is calling the prospects to inform them that they're about to be selected by the Bears. 

"It's that moment that their dream to make it to the next level and be drafted comes true," Poles said. "You can hear it in their voice. Some are in shock and it's almost like, 'Hey man, can you hear me? Did you hear what I just said?' And then there are other guys that the energy just kind of pours out of them and you hear the family screaming in the background."

When Poles called Bell, the 6-1, 280-pounder defensive tackle began to cry—after becoming the first player in Kennesaw State history to be drafted. Last Saturday night, Poles described Bell as "probably one of my favorite human beings" after the two had bonded during a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall. 

"I had a couple people come up to me and say: 'He didn't even want to leave; he wanted to stay here and be a Bear,'" Poles said. "So to make that come true on draft night was really cool."

Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter Sr., Tyrique Stevenson, Zacch Pickens, Roschon Johnson, Tyler Scott, Noah Sewell, Terell Smith, Travis Bell and Kendall Williamson. See photos of all the new Bears rookies selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Bears completed three trades during the draft, one on each day. 

On Thursday night, they moved down from No. 9 to 10 to take Wright, acquiring a fourth-round pick from the Eagles. On Friday night, they traded up five spots in the second round to choose Stevenson, dealing a fifth-round choice to the Jaguars. On Saturday, they moved down 12 spots in the fourth round and selected Johnson, recouping a fifth-round pick from the Saints.  

Poles detailed how the Bears consider potential trades in the draft room, revealing that there's a square at the top of a video screen where members of his staff list the terms of possible deals. 

"They're either receiving calls and putting up the trade [offer] where I can see the value or they're actively pursuing trades to see what makes sense for us," Poles said. "If there are a lot of players in a certain bucket, we might look to move down because we know there's a good chance we're going to get a player at a certain value if we move down. The number of players on the board tells you how far down you can go because you don't want to go too far down where you miss a player."

When contemplating a move down, it's important to know what the teams that will jump ahead of you are planning to do. 

"Our pro staff did an outstanding job with team needs," Poles said. "If it's a tackle, how many teams in between really need a tackle? Now teams can trade up in there, which throws a little curveball at you. But I'll even lean on our analytics group and say, 'Based on our data that we've collected, what's the percent chance that that guy's still there?' And if we feel comfortable, we'll make the trade."

Whether or not they make a deal, the Bears always stay a couple picks ahead. 

"I'm really proud of our preparation and our process there," Poles said. "If we're two picks away, we have three names on the piece of paper ready to go. So really once it flips over to us, we know what player we want to take."

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