Ryan Pace’s NFL Draft decision: Which holes to fill?
The Bears can live with Deon Bush at safety, Kevin Toliver at corner and Germain Ifedi/Rashaad Coward at guard. But a second-round pick can provide upgrades at those positions — and wide receiver and tight end, as well.
The Bears passed on re-signing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in part because they believe in Deon Bush.
For now, anyway.
“Ha Ha was a good signing for us last year,” general manager Ryan Pace said Tuesday in a teleconference with beat reporters before the start of the NFL Draft on Thursday. “He did a good job, and I think he got rewarded from Dallas [a one-year, $4 million deal].
“Part of that decision is how we feel about a guy like Deon Bush. We feel good about . . . DHC [DeAndre Houston-Carson] . . . [Jordan] Lucas. And then there’s also the talent of Eddie Jackson boosting that whole position group. We feel good about the young players we have, and getting Deon re-signed was important to us.”
That faith likely will not preclude Pace from upgrading the position in the second round of the draft if the opportunity presents itself.
Unlike a year ago when Pace was focused on a running back, he has options this year. He can live with Bush or draft an upgrade.
In fact, Pace has the same option at every other position of need, where he is replacing a 2019 Week 1 starter (or presumed starter) — cornerback (Prince Amukamara), guard (Kyle Long), tight end (Trey Burton) and wide receiver (Taylor Gabriel).
Here’s a look at where he stands on those positions heading into the draft:
Kevin Toliver, a highly regarded undrafted free agent from LSU in 2018, is first in line to replace Amukamara after sharing snaps at that position when Amukamara was injured. The Bears also signed CFL veteran Tre Roberson and former Steeler Artie Burns.
“We’re excited about Toliver,” Pace said. “We added Artie Burns. We have some young guys we’re excited about developing.”
But . . .
“For me, it’s no different than pass rusher — you cannot have enough of those guys.”
Veteran Jimmy Graham is the replacement for Burton, but Pace still is seeking a long-term solution at a key position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense — even with nine tight ends on the roster.
“The one silver lining last year . . . is we did accumulate some guys who are interesting to us,” Pace said. “I think the [additions] of Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris help fortify that group a bit.”
But . . .
“But it’s a good tight end draft, so if there are guys there that we like, we’d consider it.”
The Bears have more starting experience at this position than any of the others, with free-agent signee Germain Ifedi, a four-year starter with the Seahawks, and Rashaad Coward, who started 10 games after Long went on injured reserve. But an upgrade figures to be available — six second-round picks in the last two drafts became rookie starters.
“We really like where Coward’s heading — we’re really optimistic about that,” Pace said. “And getting Ifedi . . . [offensive line coach] Juan Castillo’s very high on him.”
But . . .
“But, to be honest, I think you’re mindful, too, that Ifedi’s a one-year deal, Rashaad a work in progress we feel good about. I think you’re always looking to bolster the offensive line . . . and it is a strong group. But then you could need tackle, as well. Those are all positions we could definitely consider.”
Though Gabriel was a complementary receiver behind Allen Robinson, losing his speed leaves a particular void in Nagy’s offense — or any offense. Do the Bears need to fill that role?
“We like the depth of our receiving room,” Pace said. “Drafting [Riley] Ridley last year helped. Getting CP [Cordarrelle Patterson] more involved, I think that’s big for us. There’s some young guys that need to step up. We’ve got some young guys there that I think are developing really well. Getting Anthony Miller healthy and obviously A-Rob’s talent . . . we like the room. That helped a little bit with the decision to release Taylor.”
But . . .
There was no “but” — so count on the Bears looking for a speed receiver in the draft as soon as they can get one.