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Ryan Pace turns it up a notch for fifth-round draft haul

With opportunity knocking, the Bears’ GM pulled off two trades to end up with three players he coveted: Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson, Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor and speedy Tulane receiver Darnell Mooney.

Tulsa v Michigan State
Bears fifth-round draft pick Trevis Gipson (15, sacking Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke last season) improved from four sacks to eight and from nine tackles-for-loss to 15 as a fifth-year senior last year.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Pace raised some eyebrows when he traded a fourth-round pick in 2021 for a fifth-round pick Saturday to select Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson. But it almost wouldn’t be an NFL Draft if Pace didn’t raise some eyebrows.

After staying put in the second round Friday to fill two holes with Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet and Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson, Pace was back to his aggressive self on the third day of the draft, acquiring two additional fifth-round picks. He paid a one-round premium to acquire the 155th overall pick from the Vikings to draft Gipson. Then he traded the Nos. 196, 200 and 233 picks to the Eagles for another fifth-round pick (No. 173) and a seventh-round pick (No. 227).

‘‘We identified a cloud of players we could acquire in the fifth-round area, so we just maneuvered around to make that happen,’’ Pace said. ‘‘We knew [that] giving up the future [fourth-round pick] to go up and get Gipson — without having to give up a pick in this year’s draft — that was valuable for us. He was a player we had graded high, and we wanted to make sure we got him.’’

All in all, Pace ended up with three fifth-round picks: Gipson (No. 155), Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor (No. 163) and speedy Tulane receiver Darnell Mooney (No. 173).

Pace used his two seventh-round picks on offensive line prospects: Colorado guard Arlington Hambright (No. 226) and Tennessee State guard/tackle Lachavious Simmons (No. 227).

The 6-3, 261-pound Gipson was the intriguing acquisition of the day. Pace went all out to fortify an area of strength (the Bears have Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn as starters). Gipson was pegged to go anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round by draft analysts. Pace said he will be an outside linebacker in the Bears’ defense.

‘‘Just a tremendous upside as a pass rusher,’’ Pace said. ‘‘At Tulsa, he played with a lot with his hand down. We think some of his traits can exceed even more in our defense. There’s just a lot of natural pass-rush traits to him, and I think they all translate to our game very well. He’s got a rugged style of play.

‘‘He went to the Senior Bowl and had a great week of practice. And he followed it up with a great Senior Bowl game. A lot of excellent interviews with us. It just gave us a lot of confidence to go up and get him where we got Trevis.’’

Before the draft, Pace noted he considered cornerback to be similar to pass rusher: ‘‘You can never have enough of them.’’ He was true to that Saturday, taking Vildor at No. 163.

‘‘He’s got high-end ball skills,’’ Pace said. ‘‘He can play inside, he can play outside. We stress confidence when we talk about cornerback, and he definitely has that confidence and play demeanor that we look for. He has a skill set that also translates to special teams very well, which is going to be important, especially in the early part of his development.’’

The trade up for Mooney addressed a void created when the Bears cut Taylor Gabriel. The 5-10, 176-pound Mooney ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

‘‘This guy has legit speed,’’ Pace said. ‘‘Beyond that speed, his route quickness stands out. His ability to separate stands out. He stepped up and played well in some pretty big games. Our coaches have an excellent vision for Mooney and how he can help our offense and how we’re gonna use him.’’

The Bears took two fliers on the offensive line with Hambright and Simmons. The 6-4, 307-pound Hambright, who transferred from Oklahoma State to Colorado as a graduated senior, played tackle in college but likely will be tried at guard.

‘‘I think he slipped through the cracks a little bit, just for that transfer from Oklahoma State to Colorado,’’ Pace said. ‘‘He wasn’t at an all-star game. He wasn’t at the combine. But [he’s] a guy our coaches have a lot of conviction on.’’

The 6-5, 315-pound Simmons played guard and tackle at Tennessee State and has the ability to play either position in the NFL, Pace said.

‘‘His size and length jump out — he’s got 35-plus-inch arms,’’ Pace said. ‘‘These are the type of guys our offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, loves to work with, that body type. There’s just a lot of upside with him.’’