LAKE FOREST — He had a number of players that would fill holes on his roster that were available for selection in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
But when his pick did finally come up on Thursday night, Ryan Poles already had his man in mind, and it was someone that fans may not have expected.
With highly-touted defensive tackle Jalen Carter there to pick at No. 9, the Bears’ general manager decided to trade back one pick to let the Eagles select him. His eye was on an offensive tackle from Tennessee, who may have slipped off a few fan’s radars but certainly not Poles.
“He’s a tone setter. He plays with an edge to him, which we love. We want more of,” said Poles when talking about Tennessee’s Darnell Wright, whom the Bears selected with the tenth overall pick.
The native of Huntington, West Virginia built himself into one of the best tackles in the SEC during his four years in Knoxville. He played the left and right tackle position, didn’t allow a sack in his final 19 games, and was named a first team All-SEC pick in 2022.
What he put on tape was good enough for the Bears to consider him for the selection, but a workout the Saturday before Easter at Halas Hall turned the tide for Poles and his staff. Along with talking about certain details with formations with Wright as a test of his football IQ, the general manager said that the team put him through an extensive workout on the field.
Safe to say, he passed.
“I kind of joke around, we brought him into the deep water to see if he could swim or not. He accepted the challenge and showed us the grit and mental toughness to be able to fight through fatigue and all of those things that we look for,” said Poles. “It was a really good experience from start to finish A guy we were comfortable with as being the top tackle in the draft.
“So we’re pumped about that.”
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was able to give provide some more positive feedback for Poles on Wright since he’d already gotten a few days to work with him. He was a head coach for the American team at the Senior Bowl in early February – and the tackle was on his team.
“He loves him. He loves him, yeah. You could see when you’re up close to him, you can feel the power. You can feel the size, the anchor,” said Poles of Getsy’s impressions of Wright at the tackle position. “When guys try to really press on him. When you’re looking at offensive linemen, you want clean hands. He’s got some technique to work on, all of them do.
“The one thing I look for is if you miss with your hands, and your technique’s a little bit off on a certain play, you still have the ability to anchor up, even when you’re wrong, you can win when you’re wrong. That just shows you what he’s got in his body.”
Showing enough for the Bears to make him their first top ten draft pick in five years, and an important one as the franchise works to get to the top of the NFL.