2023 Senior Bowl

NFL Draft: Bears will focus on cluster of talented edge rushers at 2023 Senior Bowl

The 2023 Senior Bowl is scheduled to kick off its week of practices on Tuesday, January 31, in Mobile, Alabama. The Chicago Bears scouting department will be in attendance in full force over the three days of practice sessions.

There’s no doubt the Bears will keep a close eye on this year’s edge rushers competing in the game. If Chicago keeps the No. 1 overall pick, there’s a good chance they’ll use it on Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. But even if GM Ryan Poles lands Anderson in the first round, the Bears are a strong candidate to double-dip on the position later in the draft. The Senior Bowl will feature several strong prospects, including an early first-rounder, the Bears should consider depending on where they pick.

Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson is the 2023 Senior Bowl’s top prospect. He’s a massive edge defender at a verified 6057 and 270 pounds. His arms measured over 35.5 inches in the spring, and if that number checks out at the Senior Bowl weigh-ins, Wilson’s stock will continue going up.

Wilson played in 10 games last season and finished the year with seven sacks, matching his season total from 2021. His incredible strength at the point of attack, combined with his rare length, makes him a down-to-down handful for opposing linemen, even if he isn’t the fleetest of foot. That’s not to suggest he isn’t a plus-athlete; guys his size require fewer steps to finish plays and, sometimes, it can appear like they’re less athletic. That isn’t the case for Wilson, whose baseline athletic traits make his overall profile borderline special.

Wilson suffered a foot injury late in the 2022 college season, and there’s a chance he’ll pull out of the Senior Bowl. It’ll be a bummer if he does, but his 2023 NFL Draft projection won’t change. He’s going to be a top-15 pick, and if the Chicago Bears trade out of the No. 1 pick, Wilson could be a fantastic target. He’d instantly be the Bears’ most talented pass rusher and provide a three-down presence on a defensive front that desperately needs one.

Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey received some first-round buzz at the start of the 2022 season, but I think he’ll likely come off the board in the middle-to-later portion of Day 2. He’s a relentless worker with instincts and awareness as a pass rusher, but he’s a tad too linear to project as a player who will consistently create pressure. His 13.5 sacks in 2022 look great on his stat sheet, but his game doesn’t translate as a double-digit sack guy in the pros.

Still, the Bears would welcome Foskey as a mid-round selection and part of a pass-rush rotation in 2023. His presence alone will level up Chicago’s effort and energy. He fits coach Matt Eberflus’ HITS philosophy very well.

Army’s Andre Carter II is one of the more interesting edge prospects at the 2023 Senior Bowl. He’s a favorite of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., and he ranks as a first-round player for some respected draft analysts. His film suggests he belongs in the Day-3 discussion, however. He’s a raw athlete with only a few seasons of experience on defense.

Carter exploded onto the national stage in 2021 with 14.5 sacks but regressed to just 3.5 last season. He’s a one-trick pony as a pass rusher at this stage in his development, relying mostly on speed around the edge. His pass-rush arsenal needs a lot of work, but his physical traits will intrigue defensive coordinators.

Carter is a verified 6062 and 255 pounds. NFL scouts estimate his 40-yard dash at 4.65. He’ll wow in shorts and a t-shirt at the NFL Combine. But he’ll have to prove at the 2023 Senior Bowl that he can win against top competition.

The Chicago Bears’ need for an instant-impact pass rusher will push Carter down their wish list, but he won’t be entirely removed from it. If he slides into the middle portion of Day 3, Poles will highlight him as a traitsy guy with upside.

One of my personal favorites in the Senior Bowl’s edge group is Auburn’s Derick Hall. He’s not as big as players like Wilson or Carter — he stands a verified 6025 and 255 pounds — but he’s a quick-twitch athlete with long arms (34 3/4 inches). He’ll challenge NFL offensive tackles from Day 1.

Hall had 6.5 sacks in 12 games last season. He totaled nine sacks in 2021. He does a nice job using speed and power, keeping opposing linemen guessing what move is coming. His motor runs hot for four quarters; he’ll be another guy Eberflus tabs as a HITS fit.

Hall can be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He won’t be a high first-rounder, which puts him out of the Chicago Bears’ draft range. The premium placed on pass rushers shrinks the odds he’ll slide into the second round, but if he does, he’d be a great get for the Bears.

Ohio State’s Zach Harrison is projected to be a third-round pick right now, but if he has a big week of practices in Mobile, he could easily see his stock rise into the second-round conversation. At 6053, 266 pounds, and arms measuring nearly 36 inches, he’ll check every box for what an NFL edge rusher should look like. But his production doesn’t match those measurables. He totaled just 5.5 sacks over the last two years with the Buckeyes.

Harrison isn’t the most flexible or athletic prospect, and at times he can be slow to react to what’s happening around him. But as a former five-star recruit, teams will bet that his best football is ahead of him. He’s the kind of value selection in the later portion of Day 2 who can blossom in the right system and with veteran mentorship.

The Chicago Bears could use Harrison’s length and overall steady skill set as a rotational piece, especially if they land an established pass-rusher in free agency or a more gifted athlete in the first or second round. There’s no doubt Harrison will be a top-100 pick, and the Bears will have their fair share of selections in that range.

Another name to monitor during the 2023 Senior Bowl is FAMU’s Isaiah Land. He doesn’t fit the profile of what the Chicago Bears’ defensive scheme calls for as an edge defender; scouts weighed him in at just 208 pounds in the spring. There’s no doubt he’ll bulk up during NFL draft season, but even if he adds 25 pounds, he’ll still be sub-240.

Land’s speed and twitch are huge assets, however. He had 18 sacks in 2021, which dropped to seven this past season. His first-step quickness has allowed him to turn the corner easily on the college level, but how he fares against the Senior Bowl’s group of offensive linemen will go a long way in determining his 2023 NFL draft stock. I’d be shocked if he ranks highly on the Bears’ draft board, but speed can’t be taught. And if you can grab an edge rusher who can pin his ears back on obvious passing downs? You do it. Land will be a Day-3 pick and qualifies as a solid roll of the dice for the Bears.

Other edge defenders worth bookmarking for the 2023 Senior Bowl include Clemson’s K.J. Henry, Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore, and LSU’s Ali Gayle,

Bears Talk will be on location at the 2023 Senior Bowl. Make sure you’re subscribed to the Bears Talk Podcast and YouTube channel for daily updates from Mobile, Alabama.

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