'Tune in': Bears know who they'll draft at No. 1

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears general manager Ryan Poles knows which player Chicago is going to select with the No. 1 overall pick, but he’s not ready to divulge particulars two days ahead of the 2024 NFL draft.

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I think everyone’s got to tune in on Thursday to watch and figure out, but I feel really good about our process and where we are and where we’re headed,” Poles said during his pre-draft news conference. “We know what we’re going to do, but everyone is going to have to wait until Thursday to go there.”

The No. 1 pick, which the Bears earned from a trade with the Carolina Panthers, is expected to be USC quarterback Caleb Williams. The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner was the only quarterback prospect hosted by the Bears this month on a top-30 visit. Conversely, Williams made only one visit — to Halas Hall — during his pre-draft process.

After trading Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 2025 conditional sixth-round pick, the Bears shifted their focus to starting fresh at the quarterback position. The team sent a contingent of nine coaches and front office members to Los Angeles, where they spent two days in March getting to know Williams before USC’s pro day.

Prior to bringing the 22-year-old quarterback to Halas Hall for a visit on April 3, Bears brass arranged a dinner near the team’s facility for Williams and several current players.

“That part, getting him with some of our players — that’s important to us,” Poles said. We’re in a really good place with our culture in our locker room. As much as I can, I want those guys a part of the process of building this team. I trust their feedback and I think that chemistry is really important, so that’s why we did that.”

Poles said he was in a different room during the early April dinner at Sophia Steak in Lake Forest, while players such as wide receiver DJ Moore, linebacker T.J. Edwards and tight end Cole Kmet had a chance to interact with the soon-to-be rookie quarterback.

The feedback Poles got from the veteran players who interacted with Williams was the final part of the Bears’ evaluation process.

“Really intelligent guy,” Poles said. “Came across as a really good teammate, easy to talk to, down to earth. We’ve talked through this process about the whole Hollywood thing. He’s all ball, wants to work, wants to get better, wants to win as a team. That’s the No. 1 thing for him on top of being successful. I think the biggest thing is, does he fit in our culture and what we’re trying to do? All signs were that he does, so that was positive.”

The Bears enter the draft with a league-low four selections at Nos. 1, 9, 75 and 122. After compiling double-digit draft classes in his first two years as general manager, Poles said he does not feel a need to add more draft picks.

“I feel really good where we’re at,” Poles said. “If that happens, that’s great. If we have less, whatever we need to do to accomplish what we’re setting out to do and improve our football team.”

As part of the pre-draft preparations, Poles had coaches and scouts break off into groups to evaluate several positions that are in play with the No. 9 overall pick: offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver.

Poles’ operative is to remain “flexible” when the Bears are back on the clock about 90 minutes after drafting at the top of Round 1 and believes Chicago’s biggest needs can be addressed with the team’s second first-round selection.

“It gave you a real good feeling like there’s different championship-caliber teams that have built their teams in different ways,” Poles said. “And it really solidified just those premiums positions are important. So those three are there. It matches up with this draft pretty well.”

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