Darnell Wright was so shocked, he wasn’t sure he would be able to answer questions Thursday night.
The Tennessee offensive tackle was at a party with family, coaches and friends at a Knoxville, Tenn., Hyatt when the Bears called to let him know they were taking him with the No. 10 pick in the NFL draft.
On a video call with Chicago reporters a short time later, Wright said his head was “racing 1,000 mph.”
“I knew as far as my talent and what I can do — I knew I could go this high,” Wright said. “But it just took the right team to just see that, the right coaches who know what they’re looking at. They know what I can be. I haven’t even reached my (potential). I’m just scratching the surface of what I can be. I think they know that. And I know that. It’s going to be fun.”
Before the Bears took Wright, general manager Ryan Poles traded back one spot with the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9. The Bears gained a 2024 fourth-round pick in the deal.
The Bears needed an offensive tackle to play opposite Braxton Jones, who started every game at left tackle as a rookie last season. Quarterback Justin Fields was sacked 55 times in 2022, and part of building a roster that will help Fields elevate his game is shoring up the protection for him.
In the 6-foot-5, 333-pound Wright, the Bears have a player who has prototypical size, an aggressive style and a lot of experience. He started 42 games over four seasons at Tennessee and was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2022. Some draft analysts believe he is a plug-and-play starter at right tackle.
Wright, 21, of Huntington, W.Va., described himself as versatile because of his ability to play on the right or left side and as being big and strong. He thinks he can show his athleticism to those who might not be familiar with him.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger called Wright “a mauler.”
”Watch him against the elite players in college football and watch him eliminate them and shut them out,” Baldinger said. “Then you just watch how he moves bodies. His power is real. His base is good. Everybody needs to be coached in this business. It’s a different game in the NFL than it is in college. But there’s an awful lot to like about his size, about his movement, about his power, about his mentality, about his experience.”
The Bears picked Wright over other highly rated offensive tackles — Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Georgia’s Broderick Jones. The Arizona Cardinals picked Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. at No. 6. Skoronski, who played at Maine South, went to the Tennessee Titans at No. 11, and the Pittsburgh Steelers took Jones at No. 14.
Wright got to know Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy at the Senior Bowl and he developed a solid relationship with offensive line coach Chris Morgan during their pre-draft visits. Wright said he went to Halas Hall and Morgan also “kicked my (butt)” during a workout at Tennessee.
“He put me through the ringer,” Wright said. “He just wanted to see if I’d quit, and I wouldn’t quit.”
Morgan told Wright on Thursday night that it was hard not to call him and let him know the move was coming.
“It’s rare that you get to go somewhere where you really get to get coached by someone you really like and you feel like can take your game to the next level,” Wright said. “That’s what I feel like C-Mo can do for me. He already told me it’s going to be hard, but I’ve never shied away from hard. I just want to get the best out of myself, and I think Coach C-Mo is going to be perfect for me.”
ESPN’s Louis Riddick said on Thursday night’s broadcast that Wright “has the ability to be the best player in this draft.” Riddick noted that Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. — the first defensive player taken in the draft by the Houston Texans at No. 3 — said Wright was the best player he played against.
“He is big, mean, nasty,” Riddick said. “He has great feet. He has punch. He has good lateral agility. He can absolutely knock you off the football. … And as far as being a mauler? Ooh, he’s going to finish it, even in pass pro. If you let up at all and you don’t get off, he’s going to put you on the ground and then he’s going to put his helmet right in your chest.
“If you’re rushing against this guy, you’re sitting there going: ‘Where should I go? What can I do? I can’t run down the middle. I can’t get on his edge.’ And if I get out in space and I’m a second-level player? Make sure your chin strap is buckled.”
Fifteen months into rebuilding the Bears roster, Poles entered this draft with multiple major roster needs.
The Bears also need help at edge rusher after totaling a league-low 20 sacks in 2022. And they need a three-technique defensive tackle, a key position in coach Matt Eberflus’ defense.
Carter might have fit that role and was a popular topic of draft speculation surrounding the Bears.
Carter was ranked by many as one of the top defensive prospects in this draft, but character concerns caused him to drop. Last month, Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in a car crash that killed a Georgia teammate and staffer. Carter was not driving the car that crashed.
At his pro day, Carter also had gained weight and struggled to make it through his drills, calling into question his preparedness.
Poles made clear last month that the Bears would do their due diligence to make sure they were comfortable with Carter. He also said he would talk with Chairman George McCaskey and President Kevin Warren about making such a pick. The Bears met with Carter at the NFL combine, went to his pro day and then hosted him at Halas Hall for a visit.
Now the Bears will look to fill their defensive holes Friday and Saturday.
The Bears have three Day 2 picks —Nos. 53 and 61 in the second round and No. 64 in the third round, but there is a 43-pick gap between their pick Thursday night and their first second-round pick. Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham said Tuesday that the team would regroup after the first round to discuss whether they wanted to move up in the second round to go after a higher-rated crop of players.
The Bears started down the road to this draft on Jan. 8, 2023, when they lost their franchise-record 14th game of the season to the Minnesota Vikings. When the Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts in their season finale the same afternoon, that gave the Bears the No. 1 draft pick.
Poles spent more than two months determining what to do with that pick. One of the first steps was determining if Fields would remain the Bears starting quarterback, meaning Poles would not select one of a quartet of highly ranked prospects — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
Instead, Poles turned his attention to fielding trade offers from other general managers and ultimately landed a deal with the Carolina Panthers that gave the Bears the Nos. 9 and 61 picks this year, a 2024 first-rounder, a 2025 second-rounder and wide receiver DJ Moore.
The Panthers used the No. 1 pick to take Young, one of three quarterbacks taken before the Bears picked at No 10.
Young, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2021, threw for 8,200 yards and 79 touchdowns with 12 interceptions over the last two seasons for Alabama. The biggest question with Young, who has elite-level processing skills and great instincts and poise, is whether his size — 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds — will affect his ability to have success and hold up at the NFL level.
The Texans took Stroud at No. 2 and then traded up with the Arizona Cardinals to take Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. at No. 3. The Colts picked Richardson at No. 4.
Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon became the first Illini player selected in the first round since 2012 when the Seattle Seahawks picked him at No. 5. Witherspoon is the first top-five pick from Illinois since Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice went second and third in 1996.
Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, who is from Barrington, went to the Green Bay Packers at No. 13.
Source: Berkshire mont
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