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ATM: Pace Can Be Trusted When It Comes to Draft

| April 20th, 2021

Since the Bears hired Ryan Pace prior to the 2015 offseason, few teams have made fewer selections in the NFL Draft. But the Bears GM ranks among the best in the league at getting value with the pick he’s made. While misses like Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen and Kevin White receive the most intention – rightfully, when it comes to the quarterback – Pace has been among the best in the league at making picks when it comes to the weighted career approximate value (CarAv). This is a metric used by Pro-Football-Reference.

Since Pace took over the team has made 39 draft picks. The only teams with fewer are Atlanta and New Orleans, while Carolina is tied. With those picks, Pace has managed a total approximate value of 407, just around the middle of the pack since 2015. The average CarAV amongst Pace’s picks is 10.4, the fourth-best average in the league.

Pace is often criticized for not valuing draft picks, but that oft-repeated notion seems unfounded.

  • Of the teams in the top 10 for average CarAV, only one, Baltimore, has used more than 45 draft picks since 2015.
  • Recent Super Bowl winners, Kansas City (42) and Tampa Bay (43), are all in the same ball park.
  • Other annual contenders like New Orleans (37), Buffalo (42) and Tennessee (44) also rank in the top 10.
  • Two other teams who are in the top 10 — Atlanta (38) and Carolina (39) — have made a Super Bowl in that span.
  • The only team in the top 10 without multiple playoff appearances since 2015 is the LA Chargers.

That isn’t to say fewer draft picks is necessarily better. The two worst-drafting teams in terms of total CarAV are the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. Both have had 43 draft picks in that span. But Pace’s practice of targeting specific players is one that is shared by several perennial contenders and the CarAV tells us he’s pretty good at identifying talent. Draft picks are only valuable if the GM knows how to use them. When Pace trades up, Bears fans should be comfortable knowing that he generally is right and there is more than one way to get the job done.

CarAv is just one metric, but data used by Pro Football Focus also leads one to believe that Pace is at least above average when it comes to drafting players. When accounting for positional value and weighing by round, PFF has Pace as the 12th best in the league since 2017. It isn’t a stretch to say he’d be higher across the board if the 2015 and 2016 drafts were included.

The truth is the 2020 draft probably saved Pace’s job, considering the results of the season. He drafted four players who figure to at least be competing or starting jobs as sophomores and at least two – Jaylon Johnson and Darnell Mooney – who certainly appear to be high-level starters. (The first-round misses have been tough for Pace, but Ron Wolf didn’t draft a single Pro Bowler in the first round.)

Whether using PFF or PFR, there doesn’t seem to be a metric in which the Packers, or the Patriots or the Seahawks, have drafted better than the Bears, but they have won more.  The ultimate truth about the league is that draft strategy is largely irrelevant. It comes down to quarterback play.

Pace deserves criticism for drafting Trubisky, but also deserves credit for being able to build a playoff team despite having horrendous quarterback play. The Bears chose to live with the Trubisky mistake (I suggest fans move on too), but now it comes down to getting the position right. Pace either has to accomplish that in this draft, or hit on so many other picks that he gets another shot in 2022.

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