Ryan Poles

Bears' top-30 visits offer glimpse into NFL draft plan after Caleb Williams goes at No. 1

The different draft paths the Bears can travel after taking Caleb Williams are starting to come into focus

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The Bears' plan for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft has been set for some time. Barring an unforeseen issue, the Bears will select USC quarterback Caleb Williams to kick off the draft.

The Bears entered the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine with Williams atop their board, and their subsequent meetings with the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner only crystalized that plan. Williams' 30 visit to Halas Hall last week was the icing on the cake.

The Bears and general manager Ryan Poles will have some big decisions to make after they select Williams at No. 1. The No. 9 pick looms as a hinge point in the draft for the Bears and several other teams.

The Bears own three picks after the No. 1 pick. They'll pick again at No. 9 and then not go on the clock again until the 75th pick. They will finish their draft with the No. 122 pick in the fourth round.

There are a myriad of different ways the Bears can go after they select Williams. The other 30 visits the Bears have scheduled can offer us a hint at the different directions Poles is looking at for his remaining three picks.

Based on reported and sourced information, the Bears have used 22 of their 30 pre-draft visits. Among the 21 players not named Williams to earn a pre-draft visit, five are realistic options for the No. 9 pick should the Bears stay in that slot: Rome Odunze, Malik Nabers, Marvin Harrison Jr., Dallas Turner, and Laiatu Latu.

It's probably more realistic that Harrison is a "trade-up" target, but there's a microscopic chance that prospect fatigue and a run on quarterbacks in the top eight will see him fall to nine. Turner and Latu probably fit better in the "trade down" category, but it's not inconceivable for the Bears to fall in love with one of the edge rushers and pick them at nine.

The Bears did not have to schedule a visit with Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt because he's eligible for a local day invite which would allow the Bears to save one of their 30 visits.

Based on the blue-chip players to visit Halas Hall, wide receiver appears to be the position the Bears are most focused on in the top-tier range.

Offensive tackle, defensive end, and center are also on the Bears' radar. However, aside from Alt and Turner, the players they have brought in at those positions are viewed as mid-to-late first-round prospects and not top-10 selections.

The Bears have visited with offensive tackles JC Latham and Tyler Guyton, defensive ends Chop Robinson and Latu, and interior offensive linemen Graham Barton, Jackson Powers-Johnson, and Zach Frazier. The Bears have also visited with speedy Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who scouts and analysts view as a late first-round pick. The Bears have also had Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, a top-15 prospect, in for a visit.

These two groups of players allow a couple of draft paths to come into focus.

There's the "trade up or dream slip" scenario of Harrison Jr. The "stick and take" scenario of Odunze, Nabers, Alt, or maybe Turner. The "slight trade down" view of Bowers, Latu, perhaps Turner, or Latham. Or the "bigger move down" for Robinson, Guyton, Worthy, or a top interior offensive lineman.

The bigger trade-down option, depending on how far and what a team is moving up to get, also brings into play the potential for the Bears to grab two of the top 40 prospects they've brought in depending on how the board falls.

If the Bears move down from nine to somewhere in the 20s, there's a chance they could pick up an extra Day 2 pick to further bolster the roster.

Here's a potential trade that satisfies the requirements:

Bears receive: No. 22, No. 50, 2025 third-round pick
Eagles receive: No. 9

In this scenario, the Bears should be able to draft one of Robinson, Worthy, Latham, or Guyton at No. 22 and then come back and draft Powers-Johnson, Frazier, or Barton at No. 50.

For the Bears, the calculus will be whether adding an elite player at No. 9 is more valuable than adding two B-level prospects after a trade-down. I believe that if Odunze falls to No. 9, the Bears will stick and take him. Harrison and Nabers will be gone by nine, and I don't see a trade-up being the play. Alt is unlikely to make it No. 9, and I don't think there's a big enough difference between Turner, Latu, Robinson, and Jared Verse for the Bears to stick at nine and take an edge rusher when they can move down slightly and add the same caliber of player while picking up capital.

It is important to note that at this point in the pre-draft process last year, Darnell Wright was not believed to be a likely top-10 pick. His stock kept rising and the Bears chose him at No. 10 after a minor trade down. A perceived mid-first-round guy -- i.e., Guyton or Latham -- could wind up being in play around No. 9 by the time the draft arrives.

As for their plans in the third- and fourth-rounds, the Bears have or will have meetings with Miami safety Kam Kinchens and Kansas State tight end Ben Sinnott, both of whom are projected to be late Day 2 or Day 3 picks.

Kinchens is a tough safety with good coverage instincts who could be the long-term answer at free safety after the release of Eddie Jackson. The Bears signed Kevin Byard to a two-year contract this offseason but need to find someone to pair with Jaquan Brisker past the 2024 season (the Bears can move on from Byard for minimal financial loss after this season).

Sinnott is an athletic tight end who can run routes on all three levels and is great after the catch. While he's a little raw, he would be a good draft and develop option to fill the Bears' long-term tight end two need. The Bears signed Gerald Everett to a two-year deal this offseason but can move on from him next offseason if needed for only a $1 million dead cap hit.

The Bears' draft plan post-Williams is still hazy, but with the draft 15 days away, we're at least getting a clearer picture of the options being batted around at No. 9.

At the annual NFL league meetings in Orlando, Poles said the Bears would break into three groups to debate the merits of using their second first-round pick on a receiver, offensive tackle, or defensive end. All three remain in play. But if we're reading the tea leaves, it does feel like wide receiver is the "stay at No. 9" pick, while the other two come more into play in a trade-down.

The Bears will spend the next two weeks firming up their board and solidifying their value buckets. They'll run through their endless list of mock scenarios to prepare for whatever comes their way between when they turn in the card with Williams' name on it and when they go back on the clock eight picks later.

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