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Bears GM Ryan Poles on taking punter Tory Taylor in fourth round: 'I didn't expect him to get much further'

Caleb Williams' No. 1 overall selection was expected and celebrated.

Rome Odunze being taken at No. 9 was universally lauded.

The Chicago Bears' 2024 NFL Draft class -- small in number as it might well have been -- was going swimmingly until a fourth-round splash that had pundits aplenty scratching their heads. That's when the Bears became the first team to select a specialist, going with Iowa punter Tory Taylor.

Taylor going at No. 122 overall was the earliest a punter has been drafted since the San Francisco 49ers selected Mitch Wishnowsky in 2019 at No. 110, also in the fourth round. Bears general manager Ryan Poles, who was working with just four total picks at the time and ended the three-day festivities with five total selections, didn't see Taylor falling further and believes the booter can be a game-changer for Chicago.

"I didn't expect him to get much further. Definitely didn't think I'd be able to pick him up when we got into the fifth round," Poles said Wednesday when speaking to a former All-Pro punter on The Pat McAfee Show. "And, really, the thought process there is to make anyone we're playing really uncomfortable. I didn't play much in the NFL, but I know running onto the field and having the ball spotted inside the 10-yard line is a very uncomfortable feeling. It's disheartening at times. And I love taking advantage of field position. And, really, that should help us with points, as well."

When Taylor was taken, that was the Bears' last pick of the draft. Poles later traded back for a fifth-round choice that he turned into Kansas edge Austin Booker.

There is no denying Taylor's field-switching prowess.

The Iowa product was a two-time All-American who collected the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter on his way out of the cornfields to the Windy City. In his award-winning 2023 campaign, Taylor aired out an NCAA single-season record for punt yardage with 4,479. He averaged 48.2 yards per punt in his final year, had a career-long 70-yarder and, along with his mighty leg, is adroit at pinning opponents in their own territory -- evidenced by his 30-plus punts inside the 20 in each of his last three years.

Still, as draft analyst Eric Edholm wondered aprint on Saturday, "with so few picks this year, was this the best value for the Bears?"

The quandary will remain unanswered for at least a few autumns to come, but history isn't all that comforting for Chicago.

Taylor is the third-earliest punter taken in Bears common draft history (since 1967). Chicago used a third-round pick on Chris Gardocki in 1991 and a second-round selection on Todd Sauerbrun in 1995. Sauerbrun was a multi-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, while Gardocki was also an All-Pro and won a Super Bowl. None of those accolades came while either was on the Bears, though.

Surprising as Taylor's selection proved to be, there was also plenty of intrigue at No. 9 -- the Bears' second pick of the first round. While Williams' selection was all but official long before the draft kicked off, there was plenty of suspense surrounding the No. 9 slot. Would the Bears potentially trade down? Would they bolster the pass rush or offensive line? Or would they grab one of the diamonds in a decorated wide receiver class? They did the latter, as Odunze fell right to Chicago.

"Rome was at the top of our list," Poles said. "We have our draft board kind of separated by different colors, and there's certain guys you don't pass up on. And Rome's one of them. It's hard to find a guy that is that big and that talented at the receiver spot and on top of that being an unbelievable human being, as well. So, there was no moving off Rome at all."

Though the Bears' roster already housed wide receivers DJ Moore and Keenan Allen, along with tight end Cole Kmet, Odunze's addition was a no-brainer, as Poles pointed to. The Washington Huskies standout already has a relationship with Williams and could, in time, grow into the WR1 role despite the talent he's joining in the receiver room.

Taylor's clearly the No. 1 punter after his draft standing. Not to mention, the Bears waived punter Trenton Gill on Wednesday, clearing out any competition for the Aussie.

The Bears' 2024 NFL Draft class will go down as a historic one for the franchise -- whether good, bad or ugly. Just how positive or negative a footnote the talented Taylor becomes punting in the Windy City will be something worth monitoring starting as soon as the 2024 season kicks off.

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