LAKE FOREST — When it comes to pre-NFL Draft discussions or even news conferences, there’s always a little bit of deception.

After all, no team wants to give away what they’re doing ahead of a critical three days for their respective organization.

But it’s safe to say that Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham was answering more questions about one particular prospect that could be available for the Bears with the 9th overall pick.

That’s Jalen Carter, a defensive tackle from Georgia who is one of the best players in a draft and would fill a need for the Bears on the interior of the defensive line. He could very well be drafted in the Top 5 during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday night, but off-the-field concerns have caused some of his projections to drop.

It’s left open the possibility that Carter could be there at No. 9 for the Bears to select, leaving Cunningham and general manager Ryan Poles with something to think about.

At his pre-draft news conference this week, Cunningham was asked if Carter fit Matt Eberflus’ “HITS Principal” – which has been a guiding mantra for the team’s consideration of players since the head coach took over.

“I think Jalen’s a really good player. There’s no denying the talent. You turn on the tape a could of years ago when they first won the national championship and they had all those defensive lineman on the field, you couldn’t help but notice 88, and then knowing ‘Oh, he’s going to be in next year’s class,'” said Cunningham when asked that question. “Then you turn on the tape this year and you see a lot of the same flashes as well, and he’s been playing through things.

“I think that he’s one of those players you really covet just in terms of being one of the better defensive tackles in this class.”

There’s no denying that since Carter was a force in the middle of Georgia’s defensive line on back-to-back national championship teams. He was a consensus All-American in 2022 as his push on the line freed up a number of his teammates on the edges while he also had three sacks and two forced fumbles.

But part of the evaluation includes everything off the field as well, as the teams evaluate the entire person before selecting him. Cunningham, Poles, along with Eberflus have certainly spent the time with Carter to get an idea of who he is should he be there at No. 9.

“I think just spending more time with him and really just getting to know him, we were able to be there with him. Our first conversation was, I think, was at the combine. The second time was at his pro day,” said Cunningham. “I think the more time you spend around him, the more you realize that he’s a good player, but you get to know him more as a person.”