Ryan Pace knows how his critics will look at the Bears’ 2017 draft class.
He drafted a quarterback who started only one season in college and gave up multiple picks to do so. He later selected three offensive players from small schools few people in Chicago are familiar with.
And with a draft deep at safety, cornerback and edge rusher, the Bears took only one player on defense — a safety coming off a serious leg injury who won’t be fully ready to go when he arrives.
But Pace doesn’t care.
He believes in quarterback Mitch Trubisky. And he believes in his draft board and his unwavering “best-player-available” approach that netted his team Ashland (Ohio) tight end Adam Shaheen at No. 45, Alabama safety Eddie Jackson at No. 112, North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen at No. 119 and Kutztown (Pennsylvania) guard Jordan Morgan at No. 147.
“There’s so much that goes into this and so much knowledge gained on these players that makes [coach] John [Fox] and I feel more comfortable when we’re making these decisions,” Pace said Saturday after his third draft as the Bears’ general manager. “Whether it’s a one-year starter or a small-school player or a guy coming off an injury, we’ve thoroughly researched these things to feel good about them.”
Trubisky, of course, will define the class. But that storyline will take time because he needs to -develop.
In the meantime, the Bears decided to stick to their draft board and pass on defenders who stand out. A plug-and-play safety or defensive lineman would have gone a long way in helping coordinator Vic Fangio’s already decent defense.
According to the NFL, there were 56 defensive backs and 32 linebackers selected in the draft — and the Bears came away with only Jackson.
“The drafts unfold different every year,” Pace said. “This year, that’s just the way it worked out, and you guys know we’re taking best player available and that’s the way the draft fell. We’re just happy to get good football players.”
The five selections are the fewest in Pace’s tenure. The Bears made nine picks last year and six in 2015.
For a team that wants to build through the draft, the Bears likely came up short this time.
But Pace is OK with that. According to the Bears’ draft board, he got quality picks, and the quantity didn’t matter.
“We got to a certain point today where I could feel it was going to drop off a bit,” Pace said. “So let’s go ahead and get players we know we’re going to feel good about instead of just getting quantity and guys we’re not excited about.”
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With three drafts in the books, it’s apparent that Pace isn’t afraid to deal. Beyond his bold move to nab Trubisky, Pace also traded down in the second round and up in the fourth round.
Last year, Pace made four trades. It included moving up to take outside linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 and going back twice in the second round.
This year, trading up and getting Jackson became a priority in the fourth round.
“We knew if we wanted to get him we would probably have to trade away one of our sixth-round picks,” Pace said. “So we talked about that, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and get guys that we like right now. Let’s be aggressive here.’
“I felt like the later part of the draft was kind of weakening down. When we were able to go get Eddie Jackson, a guy that we targeted, a guy that was kind of sticking up on our board, we traded away a sixth to do that.”
Pace didn’t feel compelled to move back into the draft after using his final selection on Morgan in the fifth round. As he said, the draft was “weakening” according to their evaluations.
“At that time, we were good,” he said.
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Deshaun Watson’s intangibles appeared to give him an edge over other quarterbacks in the draft. But the Bears firmly believe in what Trubisky offers. It was the reason why he was the Bears’ top quarterback and for many other teams.
But if you’re not buying what Pace is selling, NFL analyst Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Buccaneers coach, also came around on Trubisky while taping ESPN’s “QB Camp” series.
“He’s a fun guy to be around,” Gruden said last week. “The thing I like about Trubisky is that he’s really into it. He’s attentive. He’s got very good retention. He’s a good communicator.
“I liked him out on the field when he met all the different players that were contributing. There was NFL players down there he was meeting for the first time. He responded very well. He’s a likeable guy.”
Trubisky’s intangibles might be an overlooked quality, but he’ll need them as sits and learns behind Mike Glennon, while having a city to win over.
“He’s a young kid, but he has the intangibles I’m sure impressed everybody’s he met with,” Gruden said. “He’s a team guy. I will say this about him. What he went through at North Carolina really impressed not only the staff at Carolina but a lot of NFL people that I’ve talked to. He never quit.”
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