The Bears desperately needed to add more juice to their pass rush this offseason, and many expected them to target the position on the first two nights of the NFL Draft.
However, they stayed true to their evaluations and didn’t feel comfortable addressing the position the first four times they were on the board.

Initially, those were also the only four times the team would be on the board. Nevertheless, they understood the importance of adding one more defensive end, so they traded a fourth-round pick from next year’s draft to select University of Kansas edge rusher Austin Booker with the 144th pick in the fifth round.

Many thought Booker would be selected on the second day of the draft, and some believe he would have benefited from another year of seasoning at the collegiate level.

After all, he only played one full season in college, as he saw little playing time for two years at the University of Minnesota before joining the transfer portal and eventually landing in Kansas. Needless to say, Booker is RAW (he only had 505 college snaps under his belt). With that said, he is also very talented. He has the frame, athleticism, and pass-rush savvy to develop into a quality starter if he gets proper development.

Caleb Williams was lauded as a generational prospect coming out of USC. While I think it would be naive to expect him to repeat CJ Stroud’s incredible performance from a year ago, I expect him to show flashes of greatness and be very good right out of the gate. The same can be said for Rome Odunze, who would have been the top receiver selected in most classes. Punter Tory Taylor, whom the team selected in the fifth round, may not have the same name recognition as those two. However, he demanded a similar level of respect in college (which is really saying something considering the position he plays). He also should have no trouble succeeding in the pros.

On top of the three rookies who have a direct path to contributing from day one, the Bears also have two lottery tickets in Booker and Yale University offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie, whom the team selected in the third round. However, unlike Booker (and the other rookies mentioned above), Chicago doesn’t really need Amegadjie to contribute on day one. 2023 first-round selection Darnell Wright is coming off an impressive rookie season at right tackle, and Braxton Jones has developed into a quality starter on the left side.

While the Bears don’t necessarily ‘need’ Booker to provide anything right out of the gate (banking on a fifth-round selection making an immediate impact is never a good spot to be in), the defensive end spot is undoubtedly a much weaker position.

Anything Booker can provide in terms of his ability to get after the opposing quarterback would be a welcome addition to Chicago’s defensive front.

Kansas did not rely on Booker to play on every down, and it would be wise for the Bears to follow a similar blueprint until he adds more weight to his wiry frame. As it stands right now, they probably don’t want the 240-pounder playing on first and second down, so it feels safe to say most of his contributions will come as a third-down pass-rusher. If the Bears are comfortable with where they are with the current defensive line, they could move Demarcus Walker inside on passing downs to make room for the rook on the outside.

While we will have to wait another month to see what Booker can do on the field, he seemingly made a strong first impression on his teammates at training camp.

Montez Sweat did not hide his excitement when reporters asked about the rookie.

“I’m excited about him. He’s got the whole makeup from the frame to the pass-rush ability,” said Sweat.

“He’s going to be a great player.”

Booker’s impact will have little effect on the narrative surrounding the Bears’ rookie class. In fact, if he doesn’t develop into a valuable contributor, many will forget he was even selected amongst his peers.
However, if he finds his footing in the Windy City, the class has the potential to be an absolute home run.

PHOTO: Chicago Bears

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