INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears’ bargain hunt began this week in earnest.
The team spoke with quarterbacks expected to be available in the middle rounds of the April draft Wednesday: Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, USC’s Cody Kessler, N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, among others.
They’re not the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine, but, rather, where the value lies.
“There are … a handful of quarterbacks in the middle part of the draft that I feel good about,” Bears GM Ryan Pace said this week. “And that we’ve got to make sure we’ve accurately graded.
“And that’s where our scouts really earn their money.”
The Bears don’t seem to be in the market for a first-rounder, be it Cal’s small-handed stalwart Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s surging Carson Wentz or Memphis’ super-athletic Paxton Lynch. The Bears have preached faith in Jay Cutler, and have too many needs elsewhere to use a first-round pick on a quarterback.
After that, though, anything’s possible.
It would be unprecedented in recent history at Halas Hall. Since selecting Rex Grossman in the first round in 2003, the Bears haven’t drafted a quarterback higher than Kyle Orton, who went No. 106 overall in 2005. The Bears’ fourth-round pick this year is No. 103.
“One of the big questions this year with GMs around the league is, ‘O.K., who’s the next Kirk Cousins?’” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of the Redskins starter, a fourth-round pick in 2012. “Who’s that next middle-round (guy) that can get you to the playoffs, if he needed to start down the road?”
That the Bears have met with virtually all those players in Indianapolis is significant. They have room for a quarterback threat; neither second-stringer David Fales nor futures-contract employee Matt Blanchard has thrown a regular-season pass.
Hackenberg might be the most divisive player among the mid-round options. His physical tools and freshman success in Bill O’Brien’s pro style offense once inspired dreams of a No. 1 overall selection, but two inconsistent seasons have dropped his stock considerably.
After leaving Penn State following his junior season, Hackenberg began training with former Bears backup Jordan Palmer. They watched tape — of Hackeneberg, NFL defenses and Palmer’s brother, Carson — during eight weeks of training earlier this year.
“I’m battle-tested,” Hackenberg said Thursday. “And I’ve handled it and haven’t flinched and am still willing to work and not hurt from it. I can continue to get better. …
“I wouldn’t say there’s a chip on my shoulder. My biggest fear is just not being able to reach my full potential.”
The Bears did not speak with Michigan State’s Connor Cook on Wednesday, but scouted him in person during the season. Despite questions about his shoulder and attitude — which he tried to dispel Thursday — he’s closer to the top tier of quarterbacks than a mid-round bargain play.
Hogan left Stanford with a program-record 36 wins, but has a funky throwing motion. He said the Bears “just wanted to gauge where I am mentally” when they did playbook work with him Wednesday.
Arkansas’ Allen — who revealed Thursday he’s been getting hand massages to lengthen them before the NFL’s measurements — said learning behind an established starter has its benefits.
“Hopefully you get behind a guy that’s been there and knows the system and has been playing for a while, and learn as much as you can …” said Kessler, a three-year starter at USC. “At the same time, you’re competing for their spot every day.”
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who interviewed with the Bears during the Senior Bowl, said he’s not annoyed that there’s a tier between the first-rounders and bargains.
“I guess the paycheck is the only thing that matters at that point,” he said. “There’s a lot of great quarterbacks, Hall of Famers, that were drafted late.”
The Bears would be happy with a solid backup.
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