Bears Draft Pick Named Potential ‘Steal’ of 2024 NFL Draft

The Chicago Bears landed more help for their defensive trenches on Day 3 of the 2024 NFL draft when they traded for UCLA’s Austin Booker in the fifth round. Could Booker also turn out to be one of the steals of the entire draft?

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler certainly believes that could be the case. He recently named Booker as one of his Day 3 picks “who could surprise” and argued that his “pass-rush savvy” could blossom into a weapon for the Bears once given time to properly develop.

“The Bears used a 2025 fourth-round pick to trade back into this draft (at No. 144) and scoop up Booker, who easily could have been drafted on Day 2,” Brugler wrote on April 29. “Although he isn’t ready for a meaningful role as a rookie, Booker has the promising pass-rush savvy to be a steal when we look back at this selection in two or three years.”

Brugler isn’t the only one thinking Booker might turn out to be a steal for the Bears. Sporting News also mentioned him on its list of “late-round steals,” while Pro Football Focus made him an honorable mention in a similar category focused on Day 3 picks.

Time will tell if the analysts are correct, but for now, the Bears should feel excited about having a new young pass rusher in its ranks with the potential to grow into a starter.

Austin Booker Has Drawn Comparisons to Maxx Crosby

Booker is an intriguing talent for the Bears given their need to find a long-term starter to play opposite Montez Sweat on their defensive line. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound edge defender racked up eight sacks and 27 quarterback hurries in 12 games for UCLA last season, achieving high levels of success as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. He also touts an excellent 81 3/8-inch wingspan that has drawn him Maxx Crosby comparisons.

The biggest knock against Booker is his lack of tape. He showed tremendous potential as a key contributor off the edge for the Bruins in 2023, but it was also his only season as a college starter. He logged just 505 career snaps during his three years at UCLA.

Still, the tape there is of Booker is strong. During NFL Network’s live draft broadcast, Daniel Jeremiah said he even believes Booker could have been a late first-round pick in 2025 if he had returned to UCLA for another season and added more tape to evaluate.

“I feel like I was mentally and physically ready to be at the higher level,” Booker told reporters during his introductory press conference on April 27. “But also it’s good to strike while the iron’s hot. You never know what’s going to happen next year.”

Expecting excellence from Booker right away would be a mistake. If Jeremiah is right, though, the Bears might not have to wait long to see a return on their investment.

Will Austin Booker Get to Compete for Staring Job?

The Bears essentially paid two draft picks to land Booker. They shipped their 2025 fourth-round selection to the Bills in exchange for a 2024 fifth-rounder — one that Chicago originally owned and used to acquire Ryan Bates from Buffalo in March. So clearly, they think highly of him and his long-term upside for their defense.

Will Booker get the chance to compete for a starting job right away, though?

The Bears still have veteran DeMarcus Walker, who made 12 starts for them in 2023, and added Jake Martin to the defensive end room in 2024 free agency. Even if they feel that Booker has more long-term value than either of them, they may prefer to let him develop at a slower pace and continue a steady rotation with him and their veterans.

One thing worth adding about Booker: He is still just 21 years old and will not turn 22 until December, more than halfway through his rookie season. Now, that is not to say that he won’t win a Day 1 starting job for himself during training camp, but it goes to show that the Bears do not need to put their foot on the gas and hurry his development.

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