The Chicago Bears made their mission obvious in the 2023 NFL Draft. They wanted to get better in the trenches. This was especially true in the middle of their defenses. When the dust settled, they had added three defensive tackles to their ranks. One of them was Zacch Pickens from South Carolina. The athletic lineman turned heads at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, showcasing his considerable potential and magnetic personality. One issue people had with him was his overall production.
His numbers did not reflect his apparent ability. He finished 2022 with just 2.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss. It’s hard to fathom, given its mix of speed, length, and first-step explosion. Some wondered if it had to do with how South Carolina coaches used it, not allowing more offense on the field. This is where Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune may have stumbled upon another explanation. It was provided by former Pickens defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey. He was asked what his former player’s best game was.
“Kentucky (four tackles, one sack, one deflected pass). It was really the healthiest he’s been in our first six games.”
From what Lindsey says, Pickens has been struggling with injury issues through the first five weeks of the season. This is reflected in the numbers. He had no sacks and half a tackle for a loss in those five games. Over the past seven, he’s had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss.
Zacch Pickens is a cautionary tale about the project.
It’s a reminder that appraisers often don’t have all the details. Sometimes if a player isn’t as productive as expected, it might not be because they’ve stagnated or regressed. There is a chance that they were playing injured. It’s a testament to Pickens that he played no matter what and finished the season strong. It also explains why the Bears felt comfortable taking him in the lead in the 3rd round. They thought the healthy version was what they would get once the season started, and they knew he was strong enough to play through the pain.
General manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus see a player who fits their profile and locker room culture. They think Zacch Pickens has only scratched the surface of what he can be. With the benefit of an NFL training regimen and a defensive scheme that will allow him to attack, it’s not crazy to think his production will make a significant jump going forward.