There are no quick fixes in football.
Yes, parity exists, and the NFL playoffs feature new blood and constant turnover. But every successful team that can claim sustained success has been built through the NFL Draft.
So it gives me no pleasure to share that, in recent history, the Chicago Bears haven’t been very successful on draft weekend. In fact, according to Josh Liskiewitz of Pro Football Focus, the Bears have been one of the least successful teams in the draft over the past five years.
- Dallas Cowboys
- Oakland Raiders
- Seattle Seahawks
- Carolina Panthers
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Chicago Bears
To get here, PFF created a Wins Above Replacement metric that weighs several components in an attempt to come up with the expected wins for a player’s team because of a player’s contributions. From there, WAR numbers were calculated and added up for each draft pick from 2012 to 2016, before the final team-sums were ranked from best to worst. And for the Bears, well, let’s just say these grades won’t be going up on the fridge.
The drafts of Phil Emery and Ryan Pace rank Chicago 27th of 32 teams. That leaves five teams (Bills, Jets, Steelers, Broncos, and 49ers) below the Bears on PFF’s power ranking. The good news is that there’s (almost) nowhere to go but up, but the bad news is that another change in direction could be on the horizon if it gets any worse.
And in more bad news, we’re left to discuss and analyze the players drafted by the Bears since 2012, with the round they were picked and position they played:
- 2012: Shea McClellin (1, DE/LB), Alshon Jeffery (2, WR), Brandon Hardin (3, S), Evan Rodriguez (4, TE), Isaiah Frey (6, S), Greg McCoy (7, DB)
- 2013: Kyle Long (1, G), Jon Bostic (2, LB), Khaseem Greene (4, LB), Jordan Mills (5, OT), Cornelius Washington (6, LB), Marquess Wilson (7, WR)
- 2014: Kyle Fuller (1, CB), Ego Ferguson (2, DT), Will Sutton (3, DT), Ka’Deem Carey (4, RB), Brock Vereen (4, S), David Fales (6, QB), Pat O’Donnell (6, P), Charles Leno Jr. (7, OT)
- 2015: Kevin White (1, WR), Eddie Goldman (2, DT), Hroniss Grasu (3, C), Jeremy Langford (4, RB), Adrian Amos (5, S), Tayo Fabuluje (6, OT)
- 2016: Leonard Floyd (1, OLB), Cody Whitehair (2, C/G), Jonathan Bullard (3, DT), Nick Kwiatkoski (4, LB), Deon Bush (4, S), Deiondre’ Hall (4, CB), Jordan Howard (5, RB), DeAndre Houston-Carson (6, S), Daniel Braverman (7, WR)
Because the passing game drives football, players with the biggest WAR numbers by PFF’s standards are quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs, linebackers who play significant coverage roles, and pass rushers. From 2012 to 2016, the Bears drafted one quarterback (Fales), four receivers (Jeffery, Wilson, White, Braverman), nine defensive backs (Hardin, Frey, McCoy, Fuller, Vereen, Amos, Bush, Hall, Houston-Carson), four linebackers (Bostic, Greene, Washington, Kwiatkoski), and two pass rushers (McClellin, Floyd).
Looking at the names listed above, it should come as no surprise to find the Bears rank where they are. Of the 35 players selected by the Bears since 2012, only 19 are still with the team. Further, there are just five (Long, Fuller, Carey, O’Donnell, Leno) from Emery’s three-year run from 2012 to 2014.
Altogether, only Long, White, Goldman, Amos, Floyd, Whitehair, and Howard are penciled in as projected starters for the 2017 season. Of this group, only Whitehair and Howard earned “high quality” grades from PFF last season. Goldman and Amos earned “above average” grades, Long and Leno Jr. were handed “average” grades, while Floyd was “below average” as a rookie.
How unproductive have the Bears’ drafts been? Here is what Liskiewitz had to say about the Bears’ ranking:
“We were a huge fan of Cody Whitehair coming out of Kansas State, and he more than lived up to our hype last season. He graded among the top six centers in pass protection, run blocking and overall as a rookie last year for the Bears.”
That’s it. Full stop.
The highlight of five years of drafts was a center, who only moved to that position after the starter went down with a season-ending ACL injury. That tells you all you need to know doesn’t it? And this is no knock on Whitehair. But for as good as he was in 2016 – and projects to be in 2017 – a center doesn’t make the same impact a quarterback, receiver, pass rusher, or defensive back can.
Drafting poorly is one thing, but picking inconsequential players at important positions on the field is what has driven this franchise down the rankings list.
They drafted just one quarterback from 2012 to 2016, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a memorable pass among the five David Fales has thrown in his career. In that same time span, they drafted only 12 players who play positions not among the five most important to being a successful modern football team – that’s nearly 35 percent. More than a third of the picks made by the Bears since 2012 have been running backs, defensive tackles, late-round offensive tackles, and tight ends.
What makes things worse is the lack of production from the players they draft at impact positions.
Of the nine defensive backs selected, seven weren’t primary starters at their respective positions at any time during their professional careers. The Bears have picked four receivers, but only Jeffery has been a lead receiver type. At least the Bears tried to solve some issues at those two particular positions, though they would probably go about it in a different way if given a second chance.
The 2017 season is an important one for the direction of the Bears in the years to come. Unfortunately, it’s mostly built on the back of free agents – unless the draft class of 2017 steps in and contributes in a major way.