Ryan Poles challenges, empowers Bears' brass in leading first NFL Draft: 'The team got better'


LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Ryan Poles awoke early Saturday morning on the second floor at Halas Hall. After making his first NFL Draft picks as the Bears’ new general manager the night before and burning the midnight oil, he had found a short time to rest in a room near his office before a new day began.

Poles arrived in the Bears’ draft room Saturday ready to enact his plan for the final day of the draft, but he first issued a challenge for his scouts. He put each scout in front of the team's draft board and had them write down the names of three prospects in whom they felt a strong conviction. Stars were placed on those draft board tags, and “a majority” of the eight prospects whom Chicago selected Saturday had that designation by their names, Poles later said.

“Anytime someone has conviction about something, it means something," Poles said. "They’ve spent a lot of time. There’s no waver. That was important.”

The Bears completed their first draft under Poles' watch this weekend, turning the five picks he inherited in January into an 11-man class. Poles made five trades in total relating to selections in this draft, starting with the bold deal of star pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Chargers in March for an additional second-round pick and concluding with the acquisition of two seventh-round slots at the end of this draft to jump the line for undrafted free agents.

Poles had planned to trade down all along. Entering the draft, the Bears’ 90-man roster had just 64 players on it, with the waves of free agency having settled. Poles made it his goal to bring in as much young talent as possible, drafting prospects who made an impression during the Bears' tireless days, months and even years of evaluations.

“Any time you have more ammunition, the better in terms of getting hits,” Poles said.

When the 36-year-old Poles was hired by the Bears in late January, he got emotional while reflecting on the close trust built in the Chiefs’ scouting department that raised him over 13 years. He wanted to create that kind of bond with the Bears, first by hiring Ian Cunningham as assistant general manager and Trey Koziol as co-director of player personnel and then by truly empowering the scouts.

Poles implemented a philosophy he learned from longtime NFL general manager John Dorsey, for whom he worked from 2013-’17 with the Chiefs, with scouts challenging each other’s reports on prospects. Peers evaluate peers, presenting healthy criticism that Poles believes brings greater clarity on those prospects. During the days leading up to the draft, Poles had his scouts rank each prospect by position group on anonymous polls from their cell phones. The results would appear on a screen. They were forming a consensus by eliminating groupthink.

Poles also made a point to lean on the Bears’ coaching staff during the scouting process. While some general managers will only trust the scouts they’ve hired, he wanted to incorporate the coaches’ scouting opinions and create a connection between the two sides. That meant dozens of voices in the draft room providing input as Poles formed the final decisions.

“It’s been cool to see that under pressure,” said Breck Ackley, an area scout for the Bears.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus praised the leadership Poles brought while he empowered the entire draft room.

“There’s no lines between scouts and coaches, coaches and scouts,” Eberflus said. “It’s the Chicago Bears trying to make us better.”

It became clear as Poles filled out his first Bears draft class that Eberflus and his staff were a priority. Aside from second-round cornerback Kyler Gordon and second-round safety Jaquan Brisker, the Bears' draft class is in need of great development before assuming key roles.

Wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., a third-round pick out of Tennessee, connected well with Eberflus during a 15-minute meeting in his office at Halas Hall. That helped prove to the Bears that Jones was worth taking a chance on in at No. 71 overall despite the work he needs to become a polished NFL receiver. Dominique Robinson, a fifth-round edge rusher from Miami (Ohio), was a converted wide receiver who admits he’s raw.

“The athlete stands out the most,” said Brendan Rehor, an area scout for the Bears. “I think there's only upside with this kid, which is what we're betting on and what we invested in."

The Bears drafted four offensive linemen for a position group that Poles was eager to overhaul, but each of those selections came in the fifth round or later. Those prospects each have plenty of work ahead to meet their potential.

Poles pointed to his trust in the Bears’ “teachers” whom Eberflus hired for his coaching staff. Now it’s their turn to lead this draft class forward and foster their development for the NFL. The Bears will hold a three-day rookie minicamp beginning Friday at Halas Hall, welcoming in not just their 11 draft picks but also dozens of undrafted free agents and tryout players. They'll all be prospects who have caught the Bears scouts’ attention at some point.

An NFL team is never a completed product, and a roster rarely seems secure. But Poles can now rest easy knowing the Bears' work on this draft is done.

“We should be excited because the roster got better,” Poles said. “The team got better."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Bears