As a rookie GM, Ryan Poles doesn’t have a hard act to follow in draft
The Bears’ new general manager doesn’t have a first-round pick — and maybe it’s just as well. Previous rookie personnel bosses struck out on their first pick and had better luck later in the draft — acquiring Olin Kreutz, Alex Brown, Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Goldman.
Curtis Enis. Marc Colombo. Shea McClellin. Kevin White.
Ryan Poles has a low bar to clear with his first draft pick as the Bears’ general manager. From Mark Hatley to Jerry Angelo to Phil Emery to Ryan Pace, first-time Bears personnel executives (Hatley was vice president of player personnel, the others were general managers) have not had much luck with their initial draft pick.
The great Jim Finks set the standard for the post-Halas era in his first Bears draft in 1975, when he took Jackson State running back Walter Payton with the fourth overall pick. He was so convinced Payton was a future star that he acknowledged he would have taken Payton first overall — ahead of Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski — if he had the No. 1 pick. But Finks by then was a seasoned general manager who had built the Vikings’ Super Bowl teams with several successful drafts. The others were in the hot seat for the first time.
Talk about immediate impact, Finks’ first draft was a gold mine compared to the previous drafts under the Halases and player personnel director Bobby Walston since the glorious Dick Butkus-Gale Sayers draft of 1965.
With Payton the obvious featured attraction, Finks drafted eight players who would start on the Bears’ 1977 playoff team, which was a huge deal at the time. The Bears were 24-59-1 in the six seasons before Finks was hired and had not been to the playoffs since winning the 1963 NFL championship.
It was a 17-round draft in those days, but Finks “hit” on his first six picks: Payton, defensive end Mike Hartenstine, cornerback Virgil Livers, guard Revie Sorey, quarterback Bob Avellini and linebacker Tom Hicks. He also took safety Doug Plank in the 12th round and fullback Roland Harper in the 17th. And defensive tackle Roger Stilwell, taken in the ninth round, was a two-year starter who was in the tackle rotation on that 1977 team until a career-ending knee injury in Week 5.
Most of those names might not resonate with Bears fans of this era, but they helped lay a foundation for a rebuild that culminated with the dominant 1985 Super Bowl championship team. Both Payton and Hartenstine played in Super Bowl XX.
By then, Finks was gone — off to the Cubs as team president in 1983 and the Saints as general manager in 1986 after resigning as Bears GM following a fractured relationship with George Halas.
Those who have followed Finks have struggled to live up to his standard. Hatley was the first to have ultimate authority over the draft when he was hired as vice president of player personnel in 1997. Jerry Angelo was hired as general manager in 2001, followed by Emery in 2012, Pace in 2015 and Poles in January.
Their initial drafts were underwhelming.
- In 1998, Hatley had the fifth overall pick and chose Penn State running back Curtis Enis over Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss. He acknowledged Moss’ character issues because of incidents in college, but as it turned out Enis had his own character and maturity issues and lasted just three seasons.
Hatley also drafted center Olin Kreutz, safety Tony Parrish and long-snapper Pat Mannelly that year, but Enis over Moss overshadowed those successes.
- In 2002, Angelo drafted Boston College offensive tackle Marc Colombo with the 29th overall pick. Colombo became a starter by Week 6, but suffered a dislocated kneecap and damaged his femoral nerve and played just 14 more games for the Bears before being released in 2005.
Angelo also drafted defensive end Alex Brown in the fourth round in that draft.
- In 2012, Emery pulled a surprise and drafted Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin with the 19th overall pick — ahead of Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones among other pass rushers. McClellin played for three different coaches in his four seasons and while productive never lived up to his draft status.
Emery’s best pick that first year was South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the second round.
- In 2015, Pace drafted West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White — after the Raiders took Alabama’s Amari Cooper three picks earlier. White suffered a mysterious stress fracture during the offseason program missed his entire rookie season. White suffered injuries the following two seasons and played just 14 games in his four years before he was cut.
Pace had better success with defensive tackle Eddie Goldman in the second round and safety Adrian Amos in the fifth round. But their production couldn’t make up for the miss on White.
Poles doesn’t have a first-round pick — traded to the Giants by Pace last year to draft Justin Fields. But he has two second-round picks (39th and the 48th pick acquired from the Chargers for Khalil Mack), plus a third-round pick (No. 71), two fifth-round picks (No. 148 and No. 150) and one sixth-round pick (No. 186).
And like those who have preceded him at Halas Hall, this is his first draft as the boss. He’ll need to be better than his predecessors, but a little beginners luck wouldn’t hurt.