The 2017 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and it’s hard to imagine anyone looking forward to it more than the Chicago Bears’ general manager, Ryan Pace.
After all, not much went right for the Bears on the field in 2016, but the team did manager to receive a positive draft re-grade from ESPN’s resident draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr.
So while Chicago continues its rebuilding process, these past few drafts serve as the building blocks for successful seasons down the line.
Of course, just how far down the line has yet to be determined, but another solid draft could continue to turn the tide in the Bears’ favor. So let’s examine what and how they performed in last year’s draft as way to set some standards ahead of 2017.
We’ll start with Kiper’s teammate at ESPN, Todd McShay, who has two Bears players among the best value picks from the 2016 draft. It should come as no surprise to see Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard and center Cody Whitehair (coming off an all-time great season for a Bears offensive lineman) at the top of this list.
It’s an ESPN Insider list, so I won’t give too much away, but it’s definitely worth highlighting that McShay originally pegged Howard as a third-round pick, even though the Bears were able to land him in the fifth. Meanwhile, Whitehair was McShay’s 59th rated prospect, and Chicago took him with the 56th overall pick.
As for Kiper’s re-grades (which you can read here via ESPN Insider), the Bears should be happy about where they stand. Kiper, who upgraded the Bears’ initial grade from A-minus to A, sees Whitehair as one of the league’s top-flight centers. He also adds that Howard was as good as Ezekiel Elliott on a per-snap basis (something we discussed this morning in the bullets). Whitehair and Howard helped boost the class’ grade, as first-round pick eased some of Kiper’s concerns after a rookie season in which he came up with seven sacks in 12 starts.
The grade from Kiper is especially impressive, considering the lingering questions about the developing members of the secondary who were drafted in 2016. The Bears drafted three safeties last year (Deon Bush, Deiondre’ Hall, and DeAndre Houston-Carson) and not one among them stepped up and established themselves as a difference-maker as a rookie. If the Bears can get production from that position, it would go a long way toward rounding out the class and improving the product on the field.
This is the second straight draft class to get a positive re-grade from Kiper, who gave the 2015 class a B-plus upon further review. And that came without any contributions from top-10 pick Kevin White at wide receiver, as Adrian Amos and Eddie Goldman combined to start 16 and 12 games, respectively, as rookies in 2015. Running back Jeremy Langford was a productive rookie, too, but he has been removed from the starting role after Matt Forte left in free agency and was replaced by Howard.
All things considered, the only way for the Bears to get out of the hole they dug for themselves is to knock another draft out of the park. Not to sound to apocalyptic, but Pace’s job and the overall future of the franchise depends on it. Fortunately, and clearly, he’s done well in the past two.
But remember, for each of the past two drafts it took a whole year to realize just how good it was. So be patient and measured in your response to their picks on April 27, because it may well look like a home run a year later.