A big reason for the Chicago Bears struggles in recent years has been poor drafting.
GM Ryan Pace is attempting to turn things around and his rookies played well in 2016 but one recent draft class is still haunting the Bears.
The Bears finished the 2013 season at 8-8, missing the playoffs by one game that year. It was the first year under head coach Marc Trestman and the team entered the off-season looking to add enough pieces to compete for the NFC North crown the following year.
They owned the 14th overall pick in that draft and focused on addressing key needs on the defensive side of the ball.
Phil Emery, who was GM at the time, tried to build a draft class that would put the Bears over the top.
It never happened.
Instead, the Bears finished the 2014 campaign at just 5-11 and the draft class has continued to look worse each year since. As a result, both Trestman and Emery were fired after that season.
The general rule of thumb is to wait three years before grading an NFL draft class. Chicago's 2014 class has now played three years in the NFL, so let's proceed with the grades.
1st: CB Kyle Fuller (14th overall)
Fuller’s rookie season got off to a great start as he recorded two interceptions in a Week 2 win over the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, he led the league in interceptions (3) after three weeks.
But after that it was a steady decline for Fuller.
The Virginia Tech product struggled for most of his rookie year, as quarterbacks took advantage and targeted him increasingly toward the end of the season.
He rebounded with a decent sophomore campaign, including a very impressive stretch in the final eight games of 2015.
A knee scope in August of 2016 somehow cost him all of last year, which means Fuller’s roster spot for 2017 is in serious jeopardy. To this point, Fuller has failed to meet expectations at almost every turn.
A change of scenery, or possibly a positional shift to safety, might be best for Fuller and the Bears.
2nd: DL Ego Ferguson (51st overall)
The Bears attempted to solidify their defensive line with the selection of Ferguson in the second round. He played all 16 games his rookie season, recording 2.0 sacks and had three pass deflections.
Ferguson’s sophomore season turned out to be a disappointment as he played in just four games before suffering a knee injury. During that time Ferguson was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
He then missed the entire 2016 season after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason.
3rd: DL Will Sutton (82nd overall)
The Bears took defensive tackles in back-to-back rounds during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Following the pick of Ferguson in the second round, Chicago drafted Will Sutton out of Arizona State, who was the two-time reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Sutton managed to stay healthy his first two years with the Bears and although his numbers aren’t eye-popping, he’s been a solid rotational defensive tackle in Chicago.
He missed the final seven games in 2016 after suffering an ankle injury.
Grade: C –
4th: RB Ka’Deem Carey (117th overall)
Chicago’s first pick on the offensive side of the ball came in the fourth round when they selected Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing yards (1,929) in 2012.
The Bears at the time were looking to add a backup to Matt Forte. Carey has shown flashes of being a potential starter in Chicago but it hasn’t materialized. In fact, the club has drafted running backs in two straight years following the Carey pick.
That doesn’t mean Carey hasn’t contributed. He’s been one of the best special teams players on the roster and is still part of Chicago's backfield as it enters 2017.
Whether or not the Bears can win using three running backs, thus giving Carey the significant playing time he's lacked the last two years, is still yet to be answered.
4th: S Brock Vereen (131st overall)
The Bears went right back to the defensive side of the ball with their second pick in the fourth round.
Chicago hasn’t had a solid safety tandem in years and they tried to land a starter when they selected Vereen out of the University of Minnesota.
He appeared in all 16 games his rookie season but Vereen struggled. He was released after Week 3 of the 2015 NFL season and hasn’t caught on elsewhere. He's currently a free agent.
The worst part is that Emery traded up to grab Vereen in the fourth round, giving up a fourth- and a fifth-round pick to Denver.
6th: QB David Fales (183rd overall)
The Bears haven’t selected a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft in more than a decade but they have picked players at the position in the later rounds.
One of those quarterbacks was San Jose State product David Fales.
Fales didn’t appear in a game for the Bears during his first two years and was released prior to the start of the 2016 season. After injuries to Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, the club re-signed Fales off the Ravens practice squad.
He attempted five passes in the season finale against Minnesota.
6th: P Pat O’Donnell (191st overall)
After releasing Brad Maynard in 2010, Chicago turned to Adam Podlesh to fill the void. That lasted three years before the Bears looked to the draft for a future punter.
They selected O’Donnell with the 191st overall pick, marking the first time since 1996 the Bears selected a punter in the draft.
O’Donnell struggled a bit his rookie year but turned in solid campaigns in 2015 and 2016.
7th: OT Charles Leno Jr. (246th overall)
Just a year after the Bears selected guard Kyle Long in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they opted to take a tackle in 2014.
That pick came in the seventh round when they selected Charles Leno Jr.
Leno took over as the starter at left tackle early in 2015 after injuries slowed Jermon Bushrod. He started all 16 games last year as well.
He's been more than serviceable on the left edge, which is pretty good value from a seventh-round pick. Leno may not be the permanent solution at left tackle but he’s a solid option in the interim.