When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the Raiders’ 24th overall pick this year at the draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace likely will hear something different.
“With the 24th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Buffalo.”
Pace’s bold acquisition of Mack from the Raiders makes this year’s draft extremely different, and that starts with his player evaluations and targets this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Pace doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick (traded for receiver Anthony Miller) to use or bargain with as the draft plays out. Pace’s first selection isn’t until No. 87 in the third round. So what will he do?
If we’ve learned anything about Pace’s draft style over his first four years, it’s that he isn’t afraid to move up or down based on whom he covets and whom he’s looking at on his draft board.
The selections of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety Eddie Jackson, center Cody Whitehair and receiver Anthony Miller are all examples of players drafted after moves made by Pace.
But Pace’s drafts also stand out for what he, director of player personnel Josh Lucas, assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and college scouting director Mark Sadowski have been able to accomplish in the middle rounds. They’ve found stars, starters and more.
Of the 15 selections the Bears have made in rounds three through six over the last four years, 11 remain on the team. It includes two first-team All-Pro selections in Jackson and running back/returner Tarik Cohen, a 2015 Pro Bowl alternate in running back Jordan Howard and a four-year starter in Adrian Amos.
Linebacker Joel Iyiebuniwie and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson are the only players of the 11 who have not started for the Bears, but they’re core special-teamers.
Drafting a replacement
Drafted in the fifth round with the 145th selection, defensive tackle Bilal Nichols emerged as the Bears’ mid-round gem last season.
He started five of the Bears’ last six games of the regular season, replacing 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard. In the Bears’ playoff loss against the Eagles, Nichols was on the field for 33 defensive snaps while Bullard got 10.
Nichols’ ability to supplant Bullard is an example of how the Bears have been able to successfully build and improve from within.
This year, Howard’s place is worth watching, especially after Pace and coach Matt Nagy showed interest in controversial back Kareem Hunt.
Howard and Hunt are examples that good backs can be found after the first two rounds. The Saints and Chiefs selected Alvin Kamara (No. 67) and Hunt (No. 86) in the third round of the 2017 draft, respectively.
In 2015, the Cardinals also selected future All-Pro back David Johnson with 86th overall pick. For now, the Bears’ draft starts with the 87th pick.
Drafting for needs
Pace’s grading system is firmly in place after four years. He wants his scouts to search for and identify five specific traits in players.
And Pace wants his scouts to state their cases for players who appeal to them with same conviction that he often displays. It helps Pace maintain a best-player-available approach.
But will the best player available ever be a kicker?
Some teams shy away from drafting kickers. Outstanding ones can be found in undrafted free agency.
• 49ers put franchise tag on Robbie Gould
But Pace’s top priority this offseason is finding a replacement for Cody Parkey, and it might require a draft pick to do it, especially after the 49ers placed the franchise tag on Robbie Gould on Tuesday.
Since 2000, there have been 41 kickers drafted, according to Pro Football Reference. Of those 41, the majority of them — 25, to be exact — were selected in the sixth and seventh rounds. It includes 10 since 2011.
The Bears, who drafted Paul Edinger in the sixth round in 2000, currently have two seventh-round selections: No. 222 and No. 238. They also have No. 126 in the fourth round and No. 162 in the fifth.