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NFL Draft 2019: History not kind to No. 87 overall, where Bears will pick first

Bears general manager Ryan Pace will draft first at No. 87. | Brian O'Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

The Bears’ first draft pick next week will come in unfamiliar territory: the third round, where general manager Ryan Pace hasn’t selected a player since 2016.

He traded the 2017 and 2018 picks in the same deal — to move up one spot in 2017 and draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall.

Last year, the 49ers used the Bears’ pick, No. 70 overall, on BYU linebacker Fred Warner, who totaled 124 and started all 16 games. In 2017, the 49ers flipped the Bears’ pick to the Saints. With the No. 67 pick, they chose Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara, who, in two short years, has established himself as perhaps the most valuable running back in football.

Pace knows — at least second-hand — the value of a third-round pick.

After trading his first two picks in this year’s draft, Pace is counting on striking gold when the Bears draft at No. 87 overall next week.

History, though, has other ideas.

A checkered past

Of the 49 players selected No. 87 since the NFL-AFL merger, only two have reached the Pro Bowl. Each did it once — and none as recently as 1974.

One was infamous. Eagles quarterback Mike Boryla was ready to begin law school after the 1974 season — he’d even bought the books — when he was invited to the Pro Bowl. He’d started only five games the year before and ranked 36th in the NFL passing yards. Five other quarterbacks had declined their invitations, though, so he was in.

Boryla threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win the all-star game. But two years later, he was out of football, headed off to law school.

49ers kick returner/running back Vic Washington made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1970. He’s the only No. 87 pick to make the Pro Bowl with the drafted him; Boryla was originally chosen by the Bengals.

The history of the No. 87 is either remarkably unlucky or foreboding, depending on how your mind works.

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Since the merger, nine players drafted one spot ahead, No. 86, have combined to reach 32 Pro Bowls. Three — kicker Morten Anderson, receiver Andre Reed and tackle Jackie Slater — made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Five players drafted No. 88 overall have combined for nine Pro Bowls. One, quarterback Nick Foles, was the Eagles’ Super Bowl MVP.

Good players still available

While superstars haven’t been drafted at No. 87, there have been a handful of solid contributors. The best in modern history is receiver Eric Decker, who, after being drafted No. 87 by the Broncos in 2010, totaled 5,816 receiving yards over an eight-year career.

Cornerback Mike McKenzie, taken by the Packers in 1999, started 131 games over 11 years.

Recent history is more discouraging. The Raiders took defensive end Arden Key, who had one sack as a rookie, No. 87 last year. The Giants selected quarterback Davis Webb in that spot in 2017 but cut him before the start of his second season. He’s yet to throw an NFL pass.

Inside linebacker Nick Vigil, drafted by the Bengals in 2016, has been a starter in two of his three NFL seasons. Wide receiver Sammie Coates and defensive back Philip Gaines, who were chosen No. 87 in 2015 and 2014, respectively, are no longer with their original teams.

What No. 87 is worth

Not all third-round picks are created equal.

Each team uses a version of the same draft chart, which assigns points to each selection and, in theory, provides a common language for trade discussions. In the original chart, devised by former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, the No. 87 pick is worth 155 points. The No. 67 pick, where Kamara was chosen, is worth 255.

Or, to put it simply: the No. 67 pick is worth roughly much as the No. 87 pick and the No. 101 overall pick — the sixth pick in the fourth round — combined.

Will the Bears find their very own Kamara this year? Lower your expectations accordingly.

More Pace magic?

The Bears are believers in Pace’s ability to pluck stars in the late rounds, and with reason: he drafted Pro Bowl players Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen in Round 4 and former Bears Jordan Howard and Adrian Amos in Round 5.

His third-round history, though, is limited to two players: center Hroniss Grasu and defensive end Jonathan Bullard. Grasu was in line to be the Bears’ starting center in 2016 but tore his knee during “Family Fest.” He started four games the next season before getting cut. Pace took defensive end Jonathan Bullard in 2016; he’s started 14 games in three years and is a depth piece on a strong defensive line.

He’ll have do better when he picks in the third round again next week.