Using Historical Trends to Guide Chicago’s Draft Approach

| April 28th, 2021

The 2021 NFL draft starts tomorrow, so I want to take a look at historical trends to see where the Bears can expect to find positional value at various points in the draft. This builds very closely off a study I did last year, so here’s a quick recap of the approach:

I looked at every draft from 2010-20 to see how many players at each position were drafted in the top 50 (their 2nd round pick is #52), top 85 (their 3rd round pick is #83), and top 175 (their 5th round pick is #164). I didn’t bother looking at their 1st round pick because the top of the draft is more about a small pool of individual players as options, and the heavy focus in draft media on the 1st round means most fans are already pretty familiar with those names.

  • My source for this data did not differentiate between CB and S, so I combined the 2 into DB.
  • They did differentiate between interior offensive line and offensive tackle, so I kept those separate.
  • They had LB and DE as separate, with some edge rushers on both lists. I included all DE as edge rushers (even though some were more 3-4 DEs, not true edge rushers) and manually went through the LB list, looked up scouting reports for every player, and included anybody who was talked about as an edge rusher.

I then used The Athletic’s composite big board, which averages rankings from a number of different draft sources, to compare to historical trends. I focused especially on positions which I identified as needs for the Bears. The idea here is that positions with more players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody highly rated slip through the cracks, while positions with fewer players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody reach for them to fill a need.

Round Two (Top 50)

Here is the data for players drafted in the top 50.

  • Because every draft is different, I provided a range from the least to most players at that position drafted in the top 50 picks since 2010, as well as an average.
  • The last column shows how many players from that position are ranked in the top 50 right now according to the composite big board linked above.
  • Positions that are particularly good or bad are highlighted in colors (red for historically low, orange for near the low end of the range, light green for near the top end of the range, and green for historically good).

A few thoughts:

  • This is not a good draft to need a defensive back near the top. There are only 7 prospects ranked in the top 50, compared to 9.5 usually drafted in that range. That means you are unlikely to find good value at CB or S in round 2.
  • Offensive tackle, on the other hand, is historically good this year, with 8 players currently rated in the top 85. It will be somewhat surprising if the Bears don’t land a tackle at some point in the first two rounds.
  • It’s also a pretty good year to need a QB near the top of the draft, though that’s pretty heavily skewed by the 5 highly rated QBs who will very likely be gone before Chicago drafts at pick 20 in the 1st round. The 6th QB on the consensus board – Kyle Trask – is rated the 83rd best prospect, meaning the media thinks taking any QB in round 2 would be a significant reach.

Round Three (Top 85)

Here’s the same table as above, only now expanded to the top 85 prospects in each draft.

A few thoughts:

  • DB is closer to average here, indicating the depth is better than the top-end talent.
  • OT remains stellar, while WR looks really solid as well. Chicago should have a real chance to improve their offensive talent on day 2 of the draft this year.
  • It’s not a great draft for tight ends though. Kyle Pitts is a stud, but he will be gone long before the Bears pick, and there’s not much after that.

Round Five (Top 175)

The Bears don’t currently have a 4th round pick, so it’s a big drop from pick 82 to 164. Let’s see what the positional depth looks like in round 5.

  • DB now looks really good. The top talent at CB and S may not be great this year, but the depth is outstanding.
  • OT and WR also have excellent depth. The Bears would be wise to think about double dipping at OT in particular since they don’t have anybody under contract beyond 2021.
  • The interior offensive line depth seems really bad. This isn’t a huge need for the Bears, but a center to push Sam Mustipher would be nice. It looks like finding value there in the middle rounds might be difficult though.

I didn’t bother extending this analysis out to the Bears’ four 6th round picks, because those last few rounds have an appreciably lower hit rate and are much more about taking players you like than focusing on specific needs anyway. Ryan Pace has yet to draft a starter in rounds 6 or 7, but he’s landed a bunch of them (Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos, Darnell Mooney, Bilal Nichols) in round 5 .

Lessons Learned

  • The value at OT is excellent throughout the draft, and the Bears would be wise to grab one early and double dip on another on day 3.
  • There doesn’t seem to be much value at DB on day 2, but the depth is excellent, so round 5 might be a good target for a CB or S.
  • The depth at WR is quite good as well, which should set up nicely for the Bears to find value by targeting one in the middle rounds.
  • It’s a bad year to need a TE, so Chicago would be wise to wait and take a flyer on a late-round developmental U prospect.

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