LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Caleb Williams era is underway in Chicago and Rome Odunze is there, too. Fair to say, the NFL draft went just about the way the Bears hoped.

Chicago kicked it off by taking Williams with the No. 1 overall pick and gave the Southern California star another target eight spots later by drafting Odunze on Thursday night. With a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and an All-America receiver from Washington, it wasn’t hard to see why general manager Ryan Poles was excited.

“To have the opportunities that we did this year, for everything to go what I think is in a really good direction, it’s really big for our football team,” Poles said Saturday. “I think we made huge strides forward. There’s work to be done, but this is an impact draft for this organization, for sure.”

The Bears added an offensive lineman in the third round when they took Yale’s Kiran Amegadjie with the 75th pick on Friday and selected Iowa punter Tory Taylor in the fourth at No. 122 on Saturday. They traded into the fifth round, acquiring the 144th pick from Buffalo for a 2025 fourth-rounder, and selected Kansas edge rusher Austin Booker.

THINKING BIG

Poles has overhauled the roster in two years and now has the Bears looking like playoff contenders after going 10-24 with him and coach Matt Eberflus in charge. There’s a buzz in Chicago and it’s not just because of the prized rookies.

The Bears boast a potential top-tier defense led by edge rusher Montez Sweat and cornerback Jaylon Johnson, and their offense has a chance to become the backbone of the franchise for the first time in decades. They traded with the Los Angeles Chargers for six-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen, giving them another top receiver to go with DJ Moore, and with Odunze in the mix, Williams will have no shortage of targets.

QB HISTORY

The quarterback position has been a sore spot historically in Chicago. The Bears hope that changes with Williams.

“The history’s the history,” Poles said. “Like I’m kind of done talking about it. You go back so much all the time and those days are over.”

Williams had 93 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions over three seasons at Oklahoma and USC. The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner asked some questions about the franchise’s history with QBs when he met with the Bears. He got the answers he needed.

“The explanation was just that they haven’t put everybody in the right spaces,” Williams said. “That’s their mission, goal here. That’s why you’ve been seeing the people hired — coaches, executives, PR teams and things like that. Getting those right people to bring in the right people for the culture and to lead to victories.”

The Bears are the only team not to have a quarterback throw for 4,000 yards in a season.

TOUGH TIMES

If the offense comes together as envisioned, it won’t just be opponents having a tough time. The Bears’ defense could be in for a challenge, too.

“I think it’s going to be tough to defend, starting with practice,” Eberflus said. “We’ve gotta defend those guys in practice, which I think is going to be really good for our skillset on both sides of the ball.”

HOME GROWN

The Bears went local in the third round when they took the 6-foot-5, 323-pound Amegadjie, who’s from the Chicago suburbs.

Amegadjie was first-team All-Ivy League as Yale’s left tackle the past two seasons after starting at right guard in 2021. He could push Braxton Jones for the starting job at left tackle, though Poles said he sees Amegadjie as more of a swing tackle for now who can also play guard.

PUNT IT

Taylor comes to the Bears after a record-setting career at Iowa.

The Australian set an NCAA mark last season with 4,479 yards punting while playing for a team with the worst offense in the nation. He is the Hawkeyes’ career leader in punts (295) and yards punting (13,657). The Bears ranked near the bottom of the NFL in punting last season with Trenton Gill.

“The leg strength. The way he can flip the field,” scout Drew Raucina said. “He’s going to help our defense. Everything about that he’s going to help us, come in here immediately and make an impact.”

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