With limited picks left by Ryan Pace, Bears GM Ryan Poles stays patient in draft
Poles is practical and prudent enough to know he needs to keep his second- and third-round picks rather than trade up into the first round.
The most dangerous way to approach the wildly unpredictable NFL Draft is to believe that you somehow have an uncanny ability to predict it.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles is unproven, but he’s a pragmatist. He knows his best chance at succeeding in his first draft is to take as many shots in the first three rounds as he can, which is why he resisted any impulse to catapult himself into the first round Thursday with an ill-advised trade.
It’s rarely fun to wait, but it’s often smart.
As the first round wound down, the Bears still had their second-rounders (Nos. 39 and 48) and a pick in the third (No. 71), and the goal is to find three significant pieces of their future with those selections Friday. Those are their valuable picks, and they need every one of them.
The odds of finding meaningful talent decrease with each round, but there’s still a strong enough chance in the second and third to make those picks worthwhile. On the Pro Bowl rosters last season, 34% of the offensive and defensive players were second- or third-round picks.
From the 2019 draft class, nearly two-thirds of the second-round picks and half the third-rounders have had at least one season as a full-time starter. And the Bears badly need starters across the board, but especially at cornerback and wide receiver and on the offensive line.
So Poles maintained the “discipline” he talked about in reference to holding firm in his long-term plans for the roster and watched patiently as the supposedly elite talent of this draft went elsewhere.
The Jaguars opened by taking Georgia defensive end Travon Walker, leaving Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson for the Lions at No. 2 as the first five picks were defensive players for the first time since 1991.
The Bears never had any dreams of trading into that zone, but one of the early picks had to be painful. Using the selection the Bears traded to them to move up and get Justin Fields last year, the Giants drafted Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal at No. 7. They would’ve had their choice of any wide receiver at that point, too.
That’s one of the toughest parts of this rebuild for Poles, who must deal with the mess Ryan Pace left him after he went for broke and mortgaged the future only to finish 6-11 last season and get fired. It would’ve been awfully helpful to have a full arsenal of draft picks in his first year, but Poles had to trade Khalil Mack for that extra second-rounder just to give himself a chance at producing a decent class.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but at the same time, that’s why I was hired,” Poles said this week when asked about navigating the draft with a depleted set of picks. “That’s just what we’ve been handed, and we’re going to maximize that.”
Poles’ restraint Thursday offered yet more hope that the Bears are headed in the right direction. He has no delusion of being able to outfox counterparts such as Bill Belichick, John Lynch and Jason Licht.
Given the state of the Bears, would it have been better to package two of those picks to move into the first round at, say, No. 20? Probably not.
Pace never shook that smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome. The Bears’ 48-65 record under his direction — seventh-worst in the NFL over that span — suggests that he did not, in fact, know something that the rest of the league didn’t.
What Poles seems to know is that he doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t think he has the answers to a test that no general manager aces. He’s playing the actual odds, not the ones he imagines being inexplicably in his favor when there are 31 other teams going through the same draft preparation. It’s practical and prudent.