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Reflections on the 2019 Draft Weekend

| April 29th, 2019

The draft is over, and a lot happened that could impact this roster both in 2019 and beyond. Let’s take a look at the major moves made and put them into perspective.


David Montgomery & the Running Back Position

Easily the biggest Bears move of the weekend. Not only was he the team’s first pick, but Ryan Pace showed just how much he valued Montgomery by trading up to get him.

As I mentioned last week, RB was clearly the biggest need on the roster going into the draft, and it was one of the few spots where a rookie could make an immediate impact. Accordingly, we should expect to see a lot of Montgomery on the field from pretty much day one.

In terms of fit, Montgomery is a textbook Andy Reid running back. He’s compact and well built, and has good agility, which is why he hit 3 of the 5 physical thresholds I’ve identified before (and came pretty close in the other two). In the run-up to the draft, there were many people who compared Montgomery to Kareem Hunt, who thrived in 2 years as the lead running back in a similar offense in Kansas City. Lou Ayeni, a running backs coach who worked with both Montgomery and Hunt in college, says that the comparison is valid, but Montgomery is even better as a route runner and pass catcher. That should have Bears fans extremely excited about Montgomery’s future in Chicago.

In terms of production, Montgomery was one of the most elusive running backs in college football. He led the nation in forced missed tackles last year, and had one of the highest rates of explosive runs of any back in the draft. These are all aspects that were missing from Chicago’s run game last year. Montgomery lacks top end speed, but is otherwise a complete package who is ideal for this offense, and thus I expect he’ll thrive here.

If you want to see more of an Xs and Os breakdown of what Montgomery can do, here’s Jacob Infante, one of the best draft guys in the Bears Blogosphere:

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Montgomery may lack speed, but the other RB the Bears drafted – 7th rounder Kerrith Whyte – certainly does not. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Whyte is a smaller back at around 200 pounds, and at first glance seems like a weird draft pick since he was a backup at FAU, which isn’t exactly a powerhouse. However, he backed up 3rd round pick Devin Singletary, and was still good enough to earn 134 carries last year.

I honestly don’t know much about Whyte besides the fact that he’s fast, so I’ll defer to smarter draft people than me.

With Montgomery, Mike Davis, and Tarik Cohen ahead of him on the depth chart, and Cordarrelle Patterson likely to play some snaps at running back too, Whyte will have to really play well to earn a roster spot. But his physical tools might give him a shot, and at least he should stick around on the practice squad and have a better shot next year, when one or both of Davis and Patterson could be gone.


Riley Ridley

This pick was almost universally praised as a great value on day three, and it’s not hard to see why. As you can see here, Ridley is a savvy route runner who has a knack for contorting his body in whatever way necessary to come down with difficult catches.

Unlike Montgomery, Ridley is actually not a textbook WR for the Reid offense. He’s not particularly fast or explosive, hitting only 1 of the 3 physical thresholds for which they’ve shown a preference.

This is the second WR in as many years the Bears have drafted who is a great route runner. Much like Anthony Miller last year, Ridley’s route running ability makes him ready to contribute early on, but his immediate impact might be limited simply due to the guys in front of him. The Bears already have Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Cordarrelle Patterson at wide receiver, and Tarik Cohen will play snaps there too.

With three of their five picks spent on skill position players, it is clear that the Bears are prioritizing putting weapons around QB Mitchell Trubisky so he is in the best possible position to succeed. This is an approach that I 100% support and will make it easier for the expected offensive improvement to happen.


The DBs

The two remaining picks were defensive backs Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark. Although they are both technically cornerbacks, they are basically opposite players. Shelley is small and a middling athlete, but he was a productive CB for four years in a major conference at Kansas State. Denmark, on the other hand, is an extremely raw player from a Division II school who recently switched to CB, but has an outstanding combination of size and speed.

Both players are likely switching from the outside cornerback positions they played in college. Shelley will play in the slot, while Denmark will likely move to safety, and could even eventually be a S/LB hybrid if he adds a bit more weight. For both, their ticket to a roster spot in 2018 is special teams, though I think Shelley has a decent chance to be a serviceable nickel back in time.

If you’re interested in seeing a bit of film on what each player can do, check out Infante’s look at Shelley and Denmark.


The UDFA Haul

There’s actually quite an impressive collection of talent here.

The Bears signed what many viewed as the top tight end (Dax Raymond), wide receiver (Emmanuel Hall), and interior offensive lineman (Alex Bars) in the undrafted pool, as well as one of the top kickers in John Baron II. That is an impressive list, especially for a roster that already was pretty deep and thus might look unappealing to undrafted players trying to find their best chance at making a team. This speaks volumes to how well-regarded Chicago’s coaching staff is and how effectively they recruited these players that many other teams were going for as well.

A few thoughts on some UDFAs:

  • Baron is now the 4th kicker on the roster, but he might be the most impressive. He made 50/60 FGs in college (83%) and was 135/137 in extra points. He was basically automatic from inside of 40, made 7/11 from 40-49 yards out, and 6/8 from 50+. The ability to hit deep field goals is something I don’t think anybody else in the competition possesses.
  • Alex Bars suffered a knee injury last September that likely kept him from being drafted. He worked with OL coach Harry Hiestand for a few years in college and in my opinion is the UDFA most likely to stick on the roster this year. I think Bars is likely going to be a cheap option for quality depth on the interior at worst, and could be in the running to replace Kyle Long in 2020 should he be a cap casualty.
  • Tight end Dax Raymond is a good physical fit for this offense. In fact, Raymond drew comparisons to Trey Burton from some in the pre-draft process, which highlights a best case scenario for his career. You may recall that Burton himself was an undrafted free agent in Philadelphia who eventually earned a bigger role there before leaving for a starting spot in Chicago. A more likely, positive outcome would be if Raymond could develop on special teams and provide competent depth, similar to what Ben Braunecker currently provides.
  • Another intriguing player is edge rusher Mathieu Betts, a Canadian import who dominated lesser competition in college. He has an insane 6.77 second 3-cone time, which is a key indicator of explosive bend for edge rushers. The number people always point to as a key indicator is 7 seconds, and Mathieu crushed that. This doesn’t mean he’ll be a great player, but his combination of physical ability and college production – even against lesser talent – is certainly intriguing.
  • Wide receiver Emanuel Hall is probably the biggest name UDFA the Bears signed. He was a good deep ball specialist in college and made waves at the Combine with an outstanding performance. Hall offers a fantastic combination of size and speed that makes him a dangerous player if he can develop better route running ability and more consistent hands. The competition at wide receiver is going to be a fun one to watch in training camp, as Ridley, Hall, Marvin Hall, and Javon Wims are going to be competing for 2-3 spots.
  • One quick note: Hall is also the type of speedy WR I suggested the Bears would look for as an eventual replacement for Taylor Gabriel, who will likely be a cap casualty after 2019. Between Hall, Montgomery, Whyte, and Ridley, it is possible that three veteran role players – Gabriel, Mike Davis, and Cordarrelle Patterson – could all be in thier last season with the Bears. They are all valuable contributors but not really core guys, and cutting all 3 next offseason would save over $12M in 2020 cap space. That’s valuable for a cap-strapped team, and might be possible because the Bears were forward-thinking in acquiring players to fill holes in 2020 this weekend, just as I suggested they should. You could argue the same for Shelley (Sherrick McManis) and Bars (Kyle Long).

The Bears signed many more UDFAs too – about 18 or 19 in all – but I don’t have the time to research and write about all of them. This piece is already long enough. You can see a full list of players here.

One thing in general to keep in mind with UDFAs: not all of them are going to pan out. In fact, most of them won’t. But if the Bears can get 2-3 who stick around and contribute, even as depth players, that is a win. Many of them are realistically fighting for practice squad spots in 2019, and can hopefully provide competitive depth for 2020 and beyond.


Special Teams Emphasis

Finally I want to end with a quick note about one concern I have for the 2019 roster: special teams.

The Bears lost three key contributors from last year in WR Josh Bellamy, RB Benny Cunningham, and TE Daniel Brown. In terms of the offense, the depth at all three spots looks better now than it has in a long time, but I’m unsure how the special teams will shake out. Players like Javon Wims, Emanuel Hall, Dax Raymond, and Kerrith Whyte fighting for spots on the end of the roster will probably have their fates decided more by special teams than offensive ability. So don’t look at those young WRs and think veteran special teamer Marvin Hall is going to be cut. Hall might not offer as much as they do in terms of offensive upside, but his contributions on specials might outweigh that from the team’s perspective.

Chicago’s roster is deep and talented, which is going to lead to difficult decisions at the end of the preseason. That’s a good problem to have.

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