The Bears were really good in 2018, and are poised to be good for the next few years. The man responsible for that turnaround is Ryan Pace. He has used a combination of draft picks and free agents to assemble nearly the entirety of one of the most talented rosters in football.
But somehow Pace doesn’t get his due as one of the best general managers in the NFL, largely because he got a lot of bad press early on as he oversaw three necessary losing seasons to overhaul one of the oldest and worst rosters in the league. But I’m here to fix that today by highlighting just how good he’s been at the most important part of a GM’s job: drafting.
The premise of this study is simple enough: try to find a way to quantify how well teams have drafted since 2015. Of course, that’s easier said than done, because how do you quantify a draft? There is no one perfect metric to measure the success of a draft pick, so instead I used a bunch, hoping that they would combine overall to give us a clearer picture of draft success.
Here are the metrics I used, with a quick explainer for each:
- 1st team All-Pro nods: This is meant to be a measure of how well a team acquires top-end talent, the guys who can lead your roster to a championship.
- Pro Bowl berths: Similar to All-Pros, but less demanding. Really good players can be Pro Bowlers without becoming All-Pros. Think of this as a measure of really good but not great starters.
- Seasons as a starter: This is then intended to measure how many solid players teams acquire in a draft.
- Career Added Value (AV): Pro Football Reference assigns a value to every season for every player, so I added this up for every draft pick from 2015-18. Higher AV = more total value from your draft picks (at least in theory).
- Games played: This is more a measure of total depth measure than anything, because it counts everybody on the active roster the same. Basically a measure of how many picks stick around to contribute in some way, even if that’s mainly special teams.
Total data for every team (from Pro Football Reference) can be viewed below, with the teams placed in alphabetical order and average values for each metric on the bottom row.
Now let’s see where the Bears rank:
- All-Pros: 3rd. Thanks to Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen, the Bears finally found themselves on the mark here in 2018. You could maybe knock Pace for not getting enough top-end talent in the draft, but Eddie Jackson certainly qualifies as that. It’s worth noting special teams inclusions count just as much as offense and defense here (hence Cohen), but there was no way to undo that without a whole lot of legwork on my part.
- Pro Bowls: 5th. Here we see the Bears well represented not only in total Pro Bowl appearances, but also in a variety of players, as all 5 of their berths have come from different picks (Jackson, Cohen, Mitchell Trubisky, Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard). You can fairly argue that the Pro Bowl selection process is not necessarily a good indicator of the best players, but there is no denying that Pace has done a good job of drafting good players.
- Seasons as starters: 4th. Here again we see the Bears among the league’s best in terms of using the draft to land players who will become consistent contributors. In addition to the guys mentioned above, there are a number of players who have established themselves as starters (and good starters at that), including Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, James Daniels, Leonard Floyd, Anthony Miller, and Roquan Smith.
- Career AV: 6th. Everything we’ve seen in the first three metrics shows up in the total added value from Chicago’s 2015-18 drafts. AV isn’t a perfect metric, as I think it overvalues positions with easily quantifiable statistics, but it is still useful when only one tool out of many. And here the contributions of depth players like Nick Kwiatkoski and Deon Bush show up.
- Games played: 20th. Here’s the one area where the Bears don’t rank very well. They’re actually below average in total games played by draft picks since 2015. The reasoning for this is simply that the Bears haven’t had many picks. Due to a combination of no compensatory picks and draft day trades, the Bears have only drafted 27 players in this span, while the average team has drafted 32. Most picks will play in games as reserves and special teamers even if they don’t pan out.
[Quick side note: I realized while doing this that volume totals are going to favor teams who drafted well in 2015/16 over more recently, since there’s been more time for these stats to accumulate. I tried to account for this by dividing by years in NFL for each pick and then adding them up (so making 2 Pro Bowls in 4 years counts the same as 1 in 2 years), but it didn’t really change much. The Bears ranked 5th, 4th, 8th, 4th, and 9th, respectively, in the 5 categories above.]
Add it all up, and the numbers seem to suggest that the Bears have had somewhere around the 5th best draft haul in the NFL since Ryan Pace showed up. They haven’t gotten a massive quantity of games due to not having a large volume of picks, but all of the metrics trying to measure quality consistently indicate that the Bears’ selections have been among the best in the NFL.
The numbers pretty clearly say that Chicago finally has a GM in charge who knows how to draft. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that, but it should set them up to continue to be competitive for the foreseeable future as some of these players begin to form the veteran core of the team and can get supplemented by new guys in the draft.
Rest easy, Bears fans, the team is in excellent hands.