It’s that time of year again for NFL fans across the country, with the annual NFL Draft approaching in just a few weeks.
Each year a combination of teams reach on high-upside prospects, while players with perceived top value slip down draft boards. As most know, the evaluation process is an imperfect one but there are many good guidelines and overall trends worth studying.
This year, the Chicago Bears have the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which is the highest the team has selected since 1972, when they took OT Lionel Antoine out of Southern Illinois.
With a Top-3 pick comes lofty first-year expectations for the player GM Ryan Pace selects, assuming he doesn’t trade out of the third slot.
As of now, the expectation is that Texas A&M’s edge rusher Myles Garrett will go off the board at either No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns or No. 2 to the San Francisco 49ers. Outside of Garrett, it's unclear who will be the other Top-2 pick in the draft.
In this year's class, there is no consensus top quarterback, defensive lineman or defensive back worthy of a Top-3 selection, which puts the Bears in a tough spot, considering they have long-term holes to fill at each of those positions.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the options for the Bears at No. 3 and why certain positions carry more value, both on the field and monetarily, over others.
Since 2000, 26 quarterbacks have been selected in the Top 10 overall and of those 26 players, only five were selected outside of the Top 5.
Of those 26 Top-10 signal callers, the list is headlined by Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick and Matt Stafford.
Yet, for as many good passers the top five has produced since 2000, there has been a fair number of busts, including JaMarcus Russell, David Carr and Vince Young (also Blake Bortles, Mark Sanchez and Robert Griffin III).
Since 1970, 46 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top five. Out of that crop, 27 made at least one Pro Bowl, resulting in a 59-percent success rate in that regard.
What’s troubling is how drastically the number falls off outside of the top five. Picks 6-32, and anything outside of the first round, has a success rate of 13 percent (47 out of 363).
Given the massive rise in cap space over the past few years, price tags for players continue to skyrocket, particularly for pass rushers and lock-down corners. Even so, the quarterback position continues to hold the heftiest price tag.
Andrew Luck is on average the highest paid quarterback in the league at $24.6 million per year, while Mike Glennon is currently the lowest-paid projected starting quarterback at $15 million per year.
With this in mind, the current monetary projection for the third overall pick is around $28 million over the life of four-year rookie contract. This would make the rough annual average value of a rookie’s deal at No. 3 around $7 million.
When comparing that to the highest paid player at the position, the value of a rookie’s cap hit at $7 million against Luck’s $24.6 million is just 28 percent.
The average NFL starting quarterback makes roughly $20 million per year, so if the Bears draft a quarterback with the third overall pick, they will be paying that rookie just 35 percent of the average quarterback yearly cap hit.
Candidates at Number 3
-Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
-Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
-DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)
-Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
Defensive Linemen/Edge Rusher
Shifting focus from the most valuable position on the football field, to the most valuable position on the defensive side of the ball, let’s take a look at the Bears most likely choice at No. 3.
It’s no secret the Bears need to add depth along the defensive line and there is a glaring need at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks.
Since 2010, seven defensive linemen (edge rushers) have been taken in the Top 5. Of those seven, six have had "successful" careers including, Ziggy Ansah, Jadaveon Clowney, Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh.
With a success rate of a whopping 87 percent during this small time frame, selecting of one of the three top pass rushers at third overall appears to be the safest pick.
Outside of quarterback, pass rusher is arguably the most valuable position on any NFL roster. If you can't get to the quarterback, it's tough to win at the highest level of the sport.
Looking at both defensive tackle and defensive end, Von Miller remains the highest paid player at an eye-opening $19.1 million per year.
Surprisingly, there are nine different pass rushers making more than $16 million per year, which truly demonstrates the value NFL teams put on the position.
Given the $7 million per-year figure of a rookie deal, the Bears would be paying a potential elite pass rusher at just 36 percent of Miller's contract, which creates substantial value.
Candidates at Number 3
-Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
-Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
-Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
In the words of current New Orleans Saints GM Micky Loomis “You can wait to draft defensive backs in the later rounds. The first two rounds should be dedicated to the [offensive and defensive] lines and game-breakers."
Through his first two drafts in charge of the Bears, Pace -- who worked under Loomis for 14 years in New Orleans -- has abided by his former mentor's philosophy.
That might change this year. Outside of Garrett, there is no true consensus “elite” talent at quarterback, edge rusher, offensive lineman or defensive back.
While Thomas, Allen, Trubisky, Watson and LSU RB Leonard Fournette are the headliners at their respective positions, none are slam dunks. As such, Pace may opt for a game-changing defensive back in the first round, of which there are three in this draft: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore, LSU S Jamal Adams or Ohio State S Malik Hooker.
Since 2000, only six defensive backs have been taken in the Top 5. Three of those were safeties and none were taken any higher than fifth overall.
While five out of the six DBs had successful NFL careers, Chiefs S Eric Berry and Vikings CB Terrance Newman top the list, with Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey is developing into one of the top players at his position.
With no direct comparison of a defensive back taken inside the Top 3, it makes this case study difficult to project. Using the six DBs that have been taken in the top five since 2000, four of those players have been selected to play in at least one Pro Bowl, with former Redskins S Sean Taylor’s career being cut short by a tragic death.
Going by the Pro Bowl bar, there has been a 67-percent success rate from this group over the last 17 seasons.
The value of defensive backs has grown significantly over the last five years, which has led to more lucrative deals for top-end players.
Much like running backs during the 2000s, the value of a game-changing secondary player is currently at near-historic levels, which could possibly warrant a Top 5 pick, especially in a class that lacks “elite” talent.
Even then, how much financial sense does it make to draft a corner or safety at No. 3 overall?
Looking at cornerback, Josh Norman is the highest paid player not on a franchise tag, at an average of $15 million per season. Using that same $7 million figure that a rookie at No. 3 would make, the value of a rookie cornerback would be 47 percent.
At safety, Eric Berry tops the list at $13 million per year. A rookie safety would cost 54 percent less annually.
Yet the Top 30 NFL safeties make an average of $6 million per year, which means a rookie safety taken third overall will make 110 percent compared to a top 30 safety, making the value of that position much less attractive.
Candidates at Number 3
-CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
-S Jamal Adams (LSU)
-S Malik Hooker (Alabama)
What Should the Bears Do?
Based on recent history, the Bears' safest pick would be a pass rusher, either Thomas or Allen. With a success rate in the 80th percentile over the past seven years, drafting a pass rusher would not only fill a serious need in Chicago but would also provide great financial value, especially when factoring in the fifth-year option of a first-round selection.
Coming in at a close second on this list would have to be quarterback for two simple reasons:
1. Quarterback in the most important position on the field by a wide margin. (see Tom Brady vs. J.J. Watt)
2. The value of having a good young signal caller under cheap control for five years would be a massive advantage for the Bears in terms of cap space.
Rounding out this list are the secondary players, for a few reasons:
1. Lattimore is the best value due to his position but with nagging health issues and just one year of starting experience on an NFL-caliber defense at OSU, he carries a sizable amount of risk for a Bears team that has struggled with injuries of late.
2. While Adams and Hooker are two of the best safety prospects in quite some time, it's hard to justify using the No. 3 overall pick on the position, especially considering the secondary depth in this year's class.
Ideally, the Bears will trade out of the third overall spot and acquire more draft picks, but is a wildcard meant for a completely different conversation. If Pace stays put and makes a pick at No. 3, quarterback and pass rusher give him the greatest value.
One thing is for certain: for a 3-13 team with serious needs on defense and at quarterback, if Pace swings and misses with the third overall pick, sizable on-field improvement will remain years away.