Matt Nagy remembers the opening day of the 2017 NFL draft as a “crazy night.” The Bears, of course, started it all by trading up for quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“I don’t think many people saw that coming but what a great move by Ryan [Pace] to do that,” Nagy said. “That’s what’s so neat about that draft.
“I always love listening to all the pundits talking about 10 minutes after the draft ends: ‘It was a great draft or it was a poor draft.’ I’ve always been amazed by that. I don’t know how that happens. They haven’t even played a play yet in the NFL. I’ll figure it out sometime.”
But the Bears’ first-year coach is figuring out Trubisky, who helped lead the Bears to an NFC North title this season. Here’s a look back at the Bears’ historic trade with the 49ers:
The quote: “The Bears come up to No. 2. The player they’ve been eyeing all along has been Solomon Thomas from Stanford.”
— ESPN Insider Adam Schefter on April 27, 2017 during ESPN’s live broadcast of the draft following the Bears’ trade
The story: The Bears liked Thomas, especially defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. They were widely linked to him throughout the pre-draft process.
“Good athlete, good quickness, played hard, had some versatility,” Fangio said last year before the Bears hosted the 49ers in Week 13 of last season. “And you know, I thought he would be a good player.”
But Fangio and the Bears also thought that safety Jamal Adams would be a good player, if not a better one than Thomas. If Trubisky was gone, there was a good chance that the Bears would have selected Adams.
Adams, whom the Jets selected sixth overall, was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. Thomas, on the other hand, has not produced at the level expected from a third overall pick.
It’s still too early to write off Thomas, who has only one sack this season. Some players require more time and the right scheme in order to truly flourish. Fangio certainly had a certain role in mind when he evaluated him.
Worth the cost
The quote: “If you have conviction on a player, you go get him. Because the alternative is, you don’t know.” — Ryan Pace on April 27, 2017 after drafting Trubisky
The story: Could the Bears have drafted Trubisky with their original third overall pick?
But Pace didn’t wanted to risk it. He wanted Trubisky and made sure he got him.
It’s almost been forgotten that the Bears were fielding calls from teams looking to move up in the draft. If teams were calling the Bears, surely they were calling the 49ers, too. In the end, the free-agent signing of Mike Glennon provided perfect cover for Pace to feel out the market.
Teams typically move up in the first round with quarterbacks in mind, too. The Chiefs and Texans traded up to select Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively, after the Bears’ bold move for Trubisky.
The Rams and Eagles did the same in 2016, when they made pre-draft trades to ensure the selections of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. The Jets moved up this year and nabbed Sam Darnold.
The Bears, as a franchise, also had recent history to consider.
In 2014, the team enthusiastically watched Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald fall in the draft.
When Donald reached the Rams at No. 13, it was thought that they would pass because they already had a good defensive line. But the Rams didn’t.
The Bears settled for cornerback Kyle Fuller at No. 14. Fuller has developed into a cornerstone on defense — one who just named to his first Pro Bowl — but it always hasn’t been smooth sailing.
More than Mitch
The quote: “Whether it’s a one-year starter or a small-school player or a guy coming off an injury, we’ve thoroughly researched these things to feel good about them.” — Pace on April 29, 2017 after the draft concluded.
The story: Last year, running back Alvin Kamara looked like the steal of the Bears’ trade with the 49ers.
Trading up from No. 3 to No. 2 cost the Bears’ No. 67 and No. 111 picks in 2017 and a third-round selection in 2018.
The 49ers then traded the 67th pick to the Saints, who took Kamara, the 2017 offensive rookie of the year.
But the Bears’ draft class will go down as much more than Trubisky. After flashing their potential as rookies last year, safety Eddie Jackson and running back Tarik Cohen turned into Pro Bowl players this year.
Similar to Trubisky, the Bears acted with conviction when they drafted them, too.
Jackson was returning from a broken leg, while Cohen starred at a small school in North Carolina A&T. There were questions about them, but the Bears had their answers.
The Bears saw stardom in Jackson despite injury concerns. They traded up from No. 117 to No. 112 to select him.
Picking on Pace
The quote: “[Ryan Pace] just got fired with this draft.” — an anonymous “high-level executive” to Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller on April 30, 2017
The story: The 49ers’ best pick from the 2017 draft was the selection of tight end George Kittle in the fifth round. He was named to the Pro Bowl.
The 49ers’ worst pick?
A player they reportedly would have taken if the Bears took Thomas at No. 2: linebacker Reuben Foster. The 49ers traded back into the first round to take Foster at No. 31.
The 49ers released Foster on Nov. 25, the same day they played the Buccaneers and a day after he was arrested at the team hotel. He was later charged with misdemeanor domestic violence.
Foster always a controversial pick, following his issues at Alabama and before the draft. He also served a two-game suspension before this season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies.
But the point here isn’t criticize the 49ers’ selection of Foster. It’s that it’s best to let things play out before reaching any conclusions about a draft class.
Pace was criticized for his 2017 draft class. But a year later, it’s shaping up to be arguably his best.
Don’t look now, but Nagy’s Bears also have big plans for tight end Adam Shaheen, their second-round pick that year, too.
In mid-November, we outlined some of the statistics that illustrated the Bears’ success this season. Let’s revisit some of them with two games remaining:
Strength of schedule
According to Pro Football Reference’s strength of schedule metrics, the Bears have had the easiest slate of any team in the NFL.
However, it’s interesting to point out that the Packers, 49ers, Lions and Vikings trail them in the NFC. The Vikings (7-6-1) are the only team with a winning record of the four.
In other words, the Bears look like the only team in the NFC North to take advantage of their schedule.
In general, point differential is viewed as an indicator of the best teams, and the Bears have actually improved in this area.
The Bears currently are tied for second in point differential at plus-119 with the Chiefs. The Saints are first at plus-167.
During the Bears’ last Super Bowl run in the 2006 season, they finished second in point differential.
This bears repeating, too: Nine of the 10 teams that played in the last five Super Bowls were either first or second in point differential.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s traditional passer rating has slipped. In mid-November, he had a 101.6 rating but he now has a 94.1. He can thank his 33.3 mark against the Rams for the drop.
But in ESPN’s total QBR — which “incorporates all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning, including how he impacts the game on passes, rushes, turnovers and penalties” — Trubisky has been steady.
Trubisky currently ranks fifth in total QBR, trailing only the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, Saints’ Drew Brees, Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average measurement, the Bears still have the best defense in the NFL by a wide margin.
DVOA — which “breaks down every single play of the NFL season, assigning each play a value based on both total yards and yards towards a first down” — is another indicator of the best teams in the NFL.
The Bears currently rank fifth in total DVOA, which includes offense and special teams.
How does Eddie Jackson’s injury affect the defensive scheme for the rest of the regular season? — @Antdizzle567
A: Overall, I don’t think Vic Fangio is going to be changing his defensive scheme much. But I get your concern in wondering how different the defense will be without Jackson. The Bears used coverages and calls that put Jackson in the best places to use his game-breaking abilities. It’s not that Fangio won’t feature Deon Bush in the same ways; it’s that Bush will handle them differently. He’s not Jackson. Adrian Amos and Jackson also played off each other well. They’ve said in the past that they were allowed to make changes on the fly on the field. Fangio, though, did have good things to say about Bush’s play when he last started six games for him in 2016.
Why does Leonard Floyd always play well against the Packers? Is it Rodgers scrambling? And, did the Bears specifically pick him with Rodgers’ play style in mind? — @HalasBearReport
A: Floyd has played very well against the Packers. He has 5 ½ sacks in six career games against them, which includes two last week. The Bears certainly had Rodgers in mind when they traded up and drafted Floyd in 2016. Great pass rushers are needed against great quarterbacks. Is Floyd a great pass rusher? Not yet, but Rodgers described Floyd as a “legitimate pass rusher.” Floyd’s speed and athleticism make him a unique threat that helps the Bears combat Rodgers’ knack for improvisation.
Do you see the Bears using Javon Wims at all in the future? — @AllThatChazz1
A: Not this season. I look at Anthony Miller’s decrease in playing time. He’s had only one catch this month on two targets. Miller is a rookie with much to learn, even though he had a productive stretch earlier this season. Wims is essentially in the same boat. After his limited experienced at Georgia, he’s arguably had more to learn, too. But the Bears certainly have plans for Wims in the future. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have kept him on the 53-man roster all season long.