In 2016, outside linebacker was considered a strength for the Bears after Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee combined for 20.5 sacks. Ryan Pace drafted Leonard Floyd in the first round.
In 2017, the Bears overpaid Mike Glennon and raved about his upside (“fired up”). They signed Mark Sanchez as a competent backup. Ryan Pace drafted Mitch Trubisky.
Those moves weren’t about value dropping to them. They weren’t about “best player available”. In both instances, Pace traded up for the player and surprised many by drafting what wasn’t considered a need.
The lesson is clear. How the Bears identify their needs is not necessarily how the media and fans identify them. And it isn’t just the first round.
In 2016, the Bears seemed to have a strong interior offensive line with Kyle Long, Hroniss Grasu and Matt Slauson before taking Cody Whitehair in the second round. Later in the draft, they took Nick Kwiatkoski after signing Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan to play the same position.
In 2017, Pace drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round after giving Dion Sims a big contract to pair with Zach Miller. Then they took Tarik Cohen in the fourth a year after having Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey battle with Jordan Howard for a starting role.
Generally, the Bears have been projected to take a guard or a pass rusher in the first round because those two positions are seen as their biggest needs. But are we sure Pace sees it that way?
The Bears spent a lot of money on cornerbacks this offseason and have both Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller locked-in for the next two years. But Denzel Ward just might be too good to pass up.
While Ward isn’t as tall as the Bears have generally preferred, he did come in taller than many expected at nearly 5’11”. Less than an inch separates Ward from Iowa’s Josh Jackson — a player many pegged as fitting the Bears profile. Ward makes up for it with longer arms, a higher vertical jump and explosive speed.
A few other points on Ward.
- Slot corners play more than 60% of the snaps and the Bears can bet on Amukamara missing some time with an injury at some point next season. Ward could lock down slot receivers before moving outside to replace Amukamara next year.
- Bears don’t have a need at safety, but last week I wrote about how valuable another good player at the position could be.
Ward is just one player at a position many see as being locked up.
What if Saquon Barkley were to drop? The Bears would almost have to take the man widely-regarded as the best player in the draft.
Guard is generally seen as a big need, but it’s possible Pace really likes Jordan Morgan or Eric Kush. Also possible that he wants to see what Harry Hiestand can do with Grasu. Are we sure they don’t see Whitehair as a guard and not a center?
Can they really rely on Danny Trevathan to stay healthy two years in a row? If they don’t think so, there are two terrific inside linebackers that they could take.
Some teams stick to what the public sees as needs. The Bears clearly do not. We’re at the point in draft coverage where “experts” are doing seven-round mocks, which is really just pegging players to fill perceived holes.
By now, Bears fans should be prepared to be surprised.