I'm not projecting trades in a mock draft this early in the offseason, but I'll be surprised if the Bears end up holding onto the No. 1 overall pick. That said, I don't think they'll move down beyond the range of one of the top defensive players.
A plethora of options here, and GM Ryan Poles has numerous needs to address. Pass rusher should most certainly be under consideration for a team that recorded a league-low 20 sacks. Offensive line would make sense given the Bears need to put more pieces (and protection) around QB Justin Fields. Trading down a few spots with a team in need of a franchise passer obviously is a viable path — though Poles didn't completely rule out a quarterback for himself, and that would open up an entirely different can of worms. But let's go with Carter to anchor a defense that surrendered the most points in the league and was the NFC's worst against the run (157.3 yards allowed per game). The 6-3, 300-pounder's sack numbers (3 last year) won't wow you. But the All-American is cat quick, lines up at all points along the front, can push the pocket and gets exceptional penetration and is especially effective at swallowing running backs. Chicago coach Matt Eberflus, who previously ran the Colts defense, might see his new version of DeForest Buckner.
The Bears moved on from Robert Quinn before the trade deadline so they'll be in the market for an edge rusher this offseason, and Will Anderson is in the same pre-draft conversations as Chase Young and Nick Bosa when it comes to best non-QB players in a class.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling that the Bears should trade Justin Fields and draft Bryce Young with the No. 1 pick. But I believe the Bears have faith in Fields' skill set as a player and opt to instead get better around him. Chicago trades back in this NFL mock draft and decides to help Fields with OL Paris Johnson Jr. Johnson has experience playing multiple positions and should be an immediate plug-and-play starter to help give Fields more protection.
The Bears find themselves in an ideal situation. While I won't project trades in this iteration of my mock, as noted above, it's more likely than not that the Bears will find a trade partner as a quarterback-needy team looks to move up. In some of those trade scenarios, they may still have the chance to draft Carter or Alabama's Will Anderson Jr.
There isn't a wrong choice when choosing between Carter and Anderson, as they are the 1A and 1B on my big board as the top prospects in this year's draft class. Bears coach Matt Eberflus has talked about the importance of having a stud three-technique in his defense, and Carter is a game-wrecker from the interior. The most talented prospect on a defense that yielded five first-round picks in 2022, Carter has a special blend of power, short-area quickness and lateral agility to be equally disruptive against the run the pass.
I would have traded back, but the rules are the rules, and I'm a rule-follower! So I'll go with a game wrecker who can be the face of the franchise. Carter is so powerful and disruptive on the interior. I don't think you can go wrong with either Carter or Alabama's Will Anderson, but I keep thinking back to something Bears coach Matt Eberflus said about the three-technique: "We call it the engine that makes everything go." If that's how he sees the value of the position, then you've got to go Carter here. He'll make everything go.
So in this scenario, the Bears move down, pick up more picks and still manage to get a player they might draft at No. 1 if they stay home. That's a pretty solid Thursday night for GM Ryan Poles. Carter's production might not wow you (six sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss over the past two years), but he dealt with a knee injury this season and was behind numerous first-rounders on Georgia's 2021 depth chart. Make no mistake: Carter is the real deal. He fires off the ball and uses his excellent strength to push blockers backward.
Last season, Chicago was 32nd in sacks (20) and 27th in run defense (4.9 yards allowed per carry), and coach Matt Eberflus would love to have someone like Carter in the middle of that defensive line to create disruption.
Frankly, the only position the Bears might not have to address this offseason is quarterback. In previous mocks, I've given them Alabama's Will Anderson here, and although I have Anderson as the top player on my Big Board, I consider Carter more of a 1A than the second-best prospect in this draft class. The scheme-wrecking defensive lineman was arguably the most talented player on a historically-great Bulldogs defense that saw five prospects selected in the first round last year.
Chicago adds to its haul, trading back another two spots and still landing Anderson, an all-around talent on the edge. The 'Bama defender addresses a major need for the Bears, who finished with a league-low 20 sacks in 2022.