The Pace Priorities: Examining the GM’s Positional Values Through Draft Investment

| May 8th, 2018

Ryan Pace has now had four drafts with the Chicago Bears, meaning that everybody playing on a rookie deal in Chicago was acquired by him. Accordingly, I think it’s worth looking at what positions in which he has invested the most and least draft capital.

This will give us an idea of what positions Pace prioritizes, and also help us see where the Bears might need to focus their draft attention in the next few years. It’s worth noting that free agency decisions and how well players pan out influence these too, but I think you’ll see positions which have been ignored in the draft are largely the ones with the biggest roster needs.

Heavy Investment

There are several positions where Ryan Pace has made a significant investment with high draft picks, seeming to indicate these are the positions he values most on the roster. Let’s look at what the positions are, what the draft investment has been, and what the future looks like at those positions.

  • Quarterback: Ryan Pace has spent only one pick on a quarterback, snagging Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, but he traded up to the 2nd pick in the draft to do so. At a position where only one player plays, a top 5 pick is a heavy investment, and they don’t figure to be investing additional significant draft capital at the position for at least a few more years.

  • Interior Offensive Line: The position group that has seen the highest number of high picks invested is actually the interior of the offensive line, where Pace has spent two 2nd round picks (Cody Whitehair and James Daniels), a 3rd (Hroniss Grasu), and a 5th (Jordan Morgan). This shows how much Pace values what is largely considered the less important portion of the offensive line, but hopefully they won’t have to spend another high pick there for a few years. Still, it’s worth noting that Kyle Long could be cut as early as next offseason, so another day 2 pick on the position in 2019 or 2020 wouldn’t be a shock.
  • Defensive Line: Pace has also spent multiple day 2 picks on the defensive line, grabbing Eddie Goldman in round 2 and Jonathan Bullard in round 3. He also invested a 5th round pick in Bilal Nichols this year. I think this, combined with the interior offensive line, shows that Pace believes in building a team from the inside out. Depending on how Bullard and Nichols progress (not to mention undrafted free agent Roy Robertson-Harris), and if Eddie Goldman is re-signed after 2018, we could see this position addressed fairly highly in the draft again in the near future.
  • Inside Linebacker: Until 2018, I would have said this was a position with light draft investment, as Pace had spent only a 4th round pick on Nick Kwiatkoski through his first three drafts (though he did invest two significant free agent contracts here). Then he spent a 1st round pick on Roquan Smith and a 4th rounder on Joel Iyiegbuniwe (it’s gonna be a while before I can spell that without the aid of Google) a few weeks ago. Coupled with the presence of veteran Danny Trevathan, I think it’s safe to say ILB is likely not getting another high pick for a few years. Again, this is not necessarily a position that is viewed as a premium one in the NFL, but Pace clearly values having playmakers here in the middle of the defense.
  • Wide Receiver: This is another position that would have been in the light investment category before 2018, as Pace drafted only Kevin White (1st round) and Daniel Braverman (7th round) in his first three years. That’s not a lot of investment for a position that regularly has 3-4 players on the field at a time. Then he spent a 2nd round pick on Anthony Miller and a 7th rounder on Javon Wims in 2018. Two picks in the first 2 rounds over a 4 year span definitely counts as significant investment. Given the quantity of options needed at this position, I think we should expect more players to be drafted here in the next few years, but hopefully more in the early day 3 range than needing another high pick.

Quantity over Quality

There are a few positions Ryan Pace has addressed repeatedly in the draft, but not with high picks. That would seem to indicate to me that these are positions he doesn’t think warrant high draft picks, and we should expect to see them addressed regularly on day 3 of the draft.

  • Running Back: Until 2018, Ryan Pace spent a 4th or 5th round pick on a running back in every draft. Jeremy Langford came first in 2015, followed by Jordan Howard in 2016, and Tarik Cohen joined the party in 2017. Howard and Cohen are poised to form quite the formidable duo, but I expect we’ll continue to see them add depth here on a nearly annual basis.
  • Safety: Safety is another spot where the Bears have added 4th and 5th round picks with regularity. Adrian Amos was a 5th rounder in 2015, Deon Bush (and Deiondre’ Hall, if he stays at safety) were both 4th rounders in 2016, and Eddie Jackson was a 4th rounder in 2017. DeAndre Houston-Carson was thrown in as a 6th round pick in 2016 as well. Amos and Jackson appear to have this spot locked down, but Amos is a free agent after 2018 and the depth behind them is shaky, so another pick here in the near future wouldn’t be surprising either.

Light Investment

These are positions which have largely been ignored in Pace’s draft so far. Not coincidentally, these are positions which project to be Chicago’s biggest needs in the next few years. I’m thinking we’ll see more draft capital spent at each of these spots in 2019 and/or 2020, much like we did with ILB and WR in 2018.

  • Outside Linebacker: Outside of a first round pick spent on Leonard Floyd, there had been no draft picks spent on edge rushers until Kylie Fitts was taken in the 6th round this year. Expect that to change in 2019, likely with Chicago’s 1st or 3rd round pick.
  • Offensive Tackle: The only pick spent on an offensive tackle through 4 years was 2015 6th rounder Tayo Fabuluje, who washed out of the NFL after his rookie season. The position has been ignored for three straight drafts, which makes some sense considering the Bears were ok with a duo of Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. But this is now one of the oldest positions on the roster; on opening day, Leno will be 26, and Massie and top backup Bradley Sowell will both be 29. Massie’s contract is up after 2018, and I think one of their top picks in 2019 will likely address this position.
  • Cornerback: If Deiondre’ Hall stays at safety for 2018, that will mean Ryan Pace has not spent a single draft pick on a cornerback through four years (though admittedly UDFAs Bryce Callahan and Cre’von LeBlanc have helped make that possible). On the outside, their top three players (Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and Marcus Cooper) past their rookie deals, and we should see some picks coming up here in the next few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they treat CB like they do S or RB going forward and mostly spend mid to late round picks there.

I find it interesting that these are three of the highest paid positions in the NFL, meaning they’re spots most NFL teams think are the most important, but ones Pace hasn’t invested much in yet (after QBs, which are far and away the highest paid/most important, the next 4 in some order are WR, CB, edge rusher, and OT). Besides QB, Pace has generally prioritized his premium draft resources on non-premium positions, but I think that will change in the next few years.