Now that Ryan Pace has been here for a while, we can start to look at his past drafts to see what lessons we can learn from his approach. This can help us cautiously look ahead to the 2018 draft to see what he might be thinking.
With that goal in mind, I’m going to spend the next three weeks looking at how Pace has approached the three days of the draft, and then applying that approach to 2018 to see what players are likely being considered for the Bears this year. We’re starting today at the top of the draft. Let’s look first at the history, and then we’ll examine lessons learned.
2015: Kevin White, WR, 7th overall
2016: Leonard Floyd, OLB, 9th overall (trade up from 11)
2017: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, 2nd overall (trade up from 3)
Trend 1: Go get your guy
The first thing we should observe is that Ryan Pace is not shy about trading up in round 1 to get the player he has identified as his main target. So keep that in mind as we look at mock drafts with players who might be good fits for the Bears but are projected to go higher than #8.
It’s worth noting that these have all been relatively minor trades just moving up a few spots, which keeps the cost down. Despite reportedly exploring moving up to the top of the draft for Marcus Mariota in 2015, Pace has not been willing to give up multiple high picks in these moves.
Trading up becomes a bit more difficult this year because the Bears are already without a third round pick due to trading up for Trubisky last year, but they do have an extra fourth round pick they could use.
Trend 2: Replacing a veteran
The 2nd thing I notice about these three picks is that they all come at a position where a notable veteran had just been jettisoned. Brandon Marshall was traded before Kevin White got drafted, Leonard Floyd was brought in shortly after trading Jared Allen away, and Jay Cutler was cut before Mitchell Trubisky was drafted to replace him. Because of those veteran cuts, these were all seen as clear positions of need for the Bears heading into the draft.
Looking at the Bears now, there are a bunch of positions where notable veterans were just cut. Guard Josh Sitton, outside linebackers Willie Young and Pernell McPhee, and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman all fit that bill, and Pace could look to replace them with top draft prospects like Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb, Tremaine Edmunds, or Roquan Smith.
Trend 3: Prototype Prospects
The last trend comes now from looking at the type of players Pace drafted. All three fit the prototypes for their position. Kevin White has ideal size and speed for a wide receiver. Leonard Floyd has ideal length and athleticism for an edge rusher. Mitchell Trubisky has every good trait you want to see in a quarterback.
When drafting at the top of the draft, Pace has shown a tendency to bet on players with the highest upside, even though all of these prospects had a limited track record in college. White only had one year of good production, Floyd wasn’t really a full-time edge rusher in college and thus didn’t have many sacks, and Trubisky had only started for one year. It didn’t matter; Ryan Pace saw the upside in each of them and took a swing.
One way to quantify this is by looking at the relative athletic score (RAS) for each player. This is graded on a 0-10 scale by position, combining all athletic information into one number. Generally, a score of 5 puts you in the 50th percentile, 7.5 in the 75th, and so forth. Trubisky had an 8.48, Floyd a 9.81, and Kevin White a 9.77. Athleticism is less important for QBs-though Trubisky still tested well-and the other two are both in the top 2.5% of athletes at their positions.
Projecting these three trends to 2018 now, let’s look at what players could fit the bill. There are a number of options among the top prospects, as well as a sleeper that I think the Bears might consider.
I’ll start with what I feel is the most likely outcome for round 1. Edmunds checks every box for Pace at the top of the draft. He’s a freakish athlete (RAS of 9.85) who plays a position where they just jettisoned a veteran in Jerrell Freeman. He has about as much upside as anybody in the draft, and if you draw up the ideal 3-4 inside linebacker, you’re going to end up with somebody who looks and moves like Edmunds. At only 19 years old, he’s still somewhat raw, but the upside is tremendous, and Pace has shown he’s willing to gamble on upside at the top of the draft.
Nelson is another prototype player at a position of need, though guard is not typically viewed as carrying the importance of a pass rusher. And the Bears just cut Josh Sitton, potentially clearing the way for Nelson. Add in that the Bears just hired Nelson’s college offensive line coach, and plenty of fans have been making this connection. And Nelson certainly fits the profile, as he’s an elite athlete (RAS in the top 5%) who checks all the physical boxes. I’m guessing he’s the likely pick if he’s still available when the Bears go on the clock.
I also wonder if the Bears think about moving Nelson to right tackle. This would be a riskier move, but Pace has not shied away from those at the top of the draft, and Nelson has the build, feet, and arm length to play tackle. In that case, Nelson would break the trend of addressing an immediate need, but he would still be a high-upside yet risky play.
In terms of filling a clear need on the roster, I think getting Bradley Chubb would be the best possible round 1 outcome for the Bears. He checks all of Pace’s boxes: he’s a physical prototype (RAS of 9.39) who is long and athletic and he fills their biggest position of need where they just sent not one but two veterans packing (though it is worth noting Chubb had a very slow 3-cone time at the Combine, which raises a bit of a red flag for a pass rusher). Chubb is also the only player I see them maybe being willing to move up to get. If he happens to fall to #6, I could see Pace wanting to trade up past Tampa Bay at 7, who desperately needs pass rush help as well, but Indianapolis is picking 6th and also needs pass rush help, so I don’t think this is likely to happen.
You could argue that Marcus Davenport (RAS of 9.42) fits this bill as well, and is almost certainly going to be there for the Bears at pick 8. He has the size and length Vic Fangio loves in a pass rusher, and is raw but has tremendous upside. That could be one sleeper pick for the Bears, but he’s not quite the freakish athlete that Leonard Floyd or Kevin White were. Harold Landry is another athletic edge rusher (RAS of 9.43) who could be an option, but he doesn’t quite have the length the Bears like in their edge rushers and is also not quite as big of a guy as they’d probably like opposite Floyd.
Fitzpatrick is a really good player who could be the top-ranked player left on most boards when the Bears are on the clock, but he doesn’t really fit the Pace profile of a truly special athlete. He posted a very good RAS score of 8.36 at the Combine, but that’s not anything special like Floyd and White were. Pace’s profile so far seems to be to go for guys with good tape and great measurables, while Fitzpatrick more has great tape and good measurables. While I think this would be a good pick for the Bears, I don’t think it is likely if Pace sticks to his usual round 1 approach.
James is my “sleeper” prospect for the Bears at pick 8 because I think he fits the Pace round 1 profile perfectly. He has tremendous upside with all the size and athleticism you could ever want in a defensive back. He’s such a freakish athlete that he literally tested as the 2nd most athletic safety ever at the Combine. James has some questions from his college career due to lackluster tape at times, but he also made some big-time plays here and there, especially in 2016. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a history of investing heavily in the safety position from his time in San Francisco, and Pace isn’t afraid to take a risk like this on an elite athlete at the top of the draft.
If Pace follows his established pattern in round 1, the three most likely players he would take at pick 8 are Tremaine Edmunds, Quenton Nelson, or Derwin James.
In the next two Tuesdays I’ll have pieces looking at what Pace has done on day 2 (rounds 2-3) and then day 3 (rounds 4-7) in the last three years. I think there are pretty good lessons to be learned about his approach on both days.