Two words come to mind to describe the Chicago Bears 2017 draft class: Bold and Risky.
As the pressure continues to mount on a regime that has won just nine games the past two seasons, the spotlight over GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox just got a whole lot brighter, as if that spotlight transformed into a heat lamp.
The Bears came in with seven total picks, including five within the first 117. They left with five total selections, two the result of trade-ups, one in a trade-down and a total of three small-school prospects.
To put it kindly, the early analysis on a crucial draft has not been positive but how much does that really mean when none of their new additions have played a snap?
Fox isn’t a media favorite, for good reason, and Pace was viewed as a lesser hire due to the assumption that now Colts general manager Chris Ballard had the job in the bag. All in all, one has to wonder how much different the narrative would have been if the team had stayed put at No. 3 and failed to take one of the top quarterbacks in this year's class.
While it’s time for substantial improvement from a Bears team that is firmly entrenched within it’s third year of a total rebuild, just how big of a gamble is their incoming rookie class?
Round 1 (2nd overall): QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
This pick can be dissected from two separate angles.
- Was drafting a quarterback in a perceived “weak class” worth it?
- Did the Bears overpay in a one-spot trade up?
Trubisky was my top quarterback, by a wide margin, in this year's class. In terms of quarterbacks over the past three years, he would rank third, slightly behind both Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota. Second, I am a firm believer that a Top-10 quarterback can mask many roster deficiencies.
With this in mind, I applaud Pace for not only being aggressive in his pursuit of Trubisky but showing the conviction to trade away three picks for him, knowing he'd face an unreal amount of criticism.
Yes, those three picks (3rd and 4th rounders in 2017 and a 3rd rounder in 2018) could prove to be key losses but even if Solomon Thomas and Rueben Foster turn out to be good pros, the impact of a top franchise quarterback is much greater.
For comparison, back in 1998, the Chargers traded up from three to two with the Cardinals and gave up the 33rd overall pick and next year’s first rounder. While the current group-think is that the Bears mortgaged their future for the right to move up one spot, it was a much smaller price to pay in terms of value that what the Chargers gave up 19 years ago.
Obviously, with a bold move like this, there is always the “bust factor” but we’ve seen multiple examples in recent years where teams gave up much more for a franchise quarterback that panned out and positively impacted their franchises in a short timeframe.
Mike Glennon should never have been a factor in this move, either. His three-year, $45 million deal included just $18.5 million in guaranteed money with $2.5 million of that being offset if they cut him & he signs with another team in 2018. This signing was purely a safety blanket if they did miss out on their top quarterback and it also gives Fox a better chance to win now and potentially save his job while Trubisky develops.
After decades of disappointing quarterback play, this is the type of move that can set a franchise up for success over the next 10 to 15 years.
Make no mistake, this single move will define Pace's tenure in Chicago. If Trubisky leads the club to playoff wins, Pace will be here for the long haul. If Trubisky is a bust, Pace won't be around to draft the next QB of the future.
Round 2 (45th overall): TE Adam Shaheen (Ashland)
The 6-6, 280 pound tight end known as “Baby Gronk” was a surprise pick to many, especially with a bevy of defensive back talent on the board. Even after a nine-pick trade down, which gained them a pair of fourth round picks (2017 and 2018), the talent at secondary and pass rusher was clearly evident, yet the team took a small-school tight end.
Pace has pushed his “Best Player Available” mantra throughout his tenure with the Bears and while many had Shaheen graded as a third- or fourth-round talent, this was an obvious case of Pace valuing a player much higher than most NFL draft analysts.
While I would personally classify this as a reach, I would not classify this as a “needs based” pick, especially after the free agent signing of Dion Sims.
Ashland University is a division two school, which kept Shaheen off many radars throughout the draft process but when watching more extensive film on Shaheen, it’s not hard to see what the Bears like in him.
The former basketball recruit absolutely dominated in his two years of starting, including a four-touchdown game this past season.
The quality of competition will be a sizable step up from what Shaheen is used to but he is a fluid athlete with good size and a gigantic ceiling, hence the comparisons to Rob Gronkowski.
Round 4 (#112 overall): S Eddie Jackson (Alabama)
For the third time in three picks, Pace was active on the trade front, moving up from 117 to 112. In the trade up, they gave up a 6th rounder in addition to 117.
When asked about why they traded up five spots to grab Jackson, Pace noted that they saw a big drop off in talent coming right around the time they picked at 117. This notion was immediately confirmed as the Chargers took another defensive back at 113.
Jackson was an early round talent that slid due to a broken leg he suffered in his final year at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide product should give the Bears their centerfielder at safety. He has good ball skills and also brings value as a punt returner.
Former Iowa product Desmond King was still on the board at 112 but did not offer the special teams value the Bears sought.
Overall, this is a good value pick and Jackson could easily slot in as a day one starter at free safety, alongside free agent addition Quintin Demps, as well as the No. 1 punt returner.
Round 4 (#119 overall): RB Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T)
This pick was a confirmation of my growing theory that Pace is attempting to mold his offense after what he had in New Orleans with the Saints.
Trubisky isn’t exactly a Drew Brees type but in the right light, Shaheen compares to Jimmy Graham and Cohen appears to be a carbon copy of Darren Sproles.
As some know, I had previously mocked Cohen to the Bears in my final seven-round mock draft.
At 5-6, 180, the former small school product does not scream full-time back, which is fine considering the Bears already have their primary back in Jordan Howard.
What Cohen does bring is an explosive weapon out of the backfield, much like Shaheen who will create difficult mismatches for opposing defenses.
Cohen also brings special teams value as an elusive returner, which makes this pick even more sensible. Speed has been an obvious target for the Bears offense this off-season.
Round 5 (#147 overall): OL Jordan Morgan (Kutztown)
The final pick for the Bears on day three was a bit of a head scratcher for most. Currently, the Bears have Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton along the interior of the offensive line.
In his final press conference, Pace did confirm that they see Morgan as a guard but with 34 5/8 inch arms, that position assessment may not be set in stone.
Morgan become the third small-school product out of five picks, which to some has a weird scent of former GM Phil Emery.
All in all, this was yet another move geared to the future, especially with Sitton heading into the second year of a three year deal at age 31.
With three out of the five selections coming from small schools, many fans have been left to wonder “Who are these guys?’ and rightfully so.
What has become abundantly clear is that Pace is firmly focused on the future and refuses to pigeon-hole himself into a short-term outlook, even if that means a new coaching staff in 2018.
There’s a lot of upside at the top end of this class but there’s also a lot of risk and some view that as unnecessary, especially for a team that refuses to spend large amounts of long-term assets in the free-agent market.
While names like Shaheen, Cohen or Jackson could turn into key pieces over the next few seasons, this class, along with Pace’s job, completely relies on the success of Trubisky. If he fails, the entire organization fails. If he succeeds and leads them to multiple playoff runs in a consistent fashion, Pace will be labeled a great general manager and Bears fans will reap the rewards by seeing a team that will consistently win 10 or more games on a yearly basis.
Overall Grade: C