Do the Bears want to draft Jalen Carter over other possibilities such as Will Anderson?
The 6-3, 300-pound first-team All-America defensive lineman from Georgia who could be the 3-technique tackle who makes Matt Eberflus’ defense click, as Tommie Harris did for Lovie Smith’s unit in 2004-08, could be the top defensive player in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The 3-technique is, according to Eberflus, the most important position in this Bears defense. After Eberflus was signed, the former Bengals defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was the Bears’ biggest free-agent expenditure to address that 3-technique position. The Bears went to former Chargers defensive tackle Justin Jones when Ogunjobi failed his physical.
After linebacker Roquan Smith was traded, Jones was named captain. Jones has been a team leader and a sometimes effective defender. He hasn’t, though, made the impact the Bears require at that spot.
Eberflus has already expressed interest in advancing the job. In order to improve the edge rush against the Packers in Week 13, the Bears briefly started Jones at left defensive end, according to Eberflus. Additionally, he instantly brought up Jones when questioned on Monday about his proficiency with the 3-technique.
“Justin’s done great in there. He’s done a good job,” Eberflus said. “We’re looking at him at defensive end, which will be cool for him to be able to look at that, but also play inside. We do a lot of movements inside — that really enhances his skill set.”
Eberflus won’t accept anything less than outstanding performance at the 3-technique. Denico Autry, who led the Colts with nine sacks in his first season, was signed by the franchise when he was appointed as their defensive coordinator in 2018.
General manager Chris Ballard of the Colts made a risky move to upgrade as Autry’s performance declined in 2019 by sending the No. 13 overall choice in the 2020 draft to the 49ers in exchange for DeForest Buckner (and moved Autry to defensive end). Buckner received a five-year, $105 million contract extension with the Colts right away, making him the NFL’s second-highest-paid defensive tackle behind Aaron Donald. To Eberflus, the 3-technique is that crucial.
He was delighted that Jones possessed Autry’s adaptability.
“Absolutely,” Eberflus said. “That’s why we brought him here — because he can play all [defensive line] positions. The 5, the 9, the 6, [the] 3. He can play all those.”
The Bears (3-10) might have enticing trade-down alternatives with teams scrambling for a quarterback because they are on pace for a top-three pick in the 2023 draft. However, Carter might be their greatest choice because he is only temporary.
Here is the problem. In a mock selection by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, Carter is expected to go No. 2 overall to the Seahawks (who have the Broncos’ first-round pick), with the Bears selecting Alabama’s Will Anderson at No. 3.
Before the 2023 draft comes together, there is still a lot of work to be done. However, the Bears, who passed on Donald in 2014 and chose cornerback Kyle Fuller instead, might fall one choice short of securing Carter.