Monday Morning Draft Grades — Reviewing Day 1’s Haul In-Depth

| April 29th, 2024

Quick Disclaimer: I hate Draft Grades.

These flimsy ‘grades’ are built far too quickly and rely entirely on the grader’s (my) priors, ultimately boiling down to questions like these:

  • Did I like the players Ryan Poles drafted before we entered draft week?
  • Do I agree with Poles’ teambuilding philosophy or do I want to hold it against him?
  • Do I think Poles ‘over-drafted’ any of the players he selected? Or did he ‘steal’ a few of his players instead?

These questions leave far too much room for subjectivity and ask the grader to make too many judgement calls, often resulting in guesses and good vibes that include some context while leaving out others. Take for instance the grades handed out to Ryan Pace’s 2019 Draft, arguably the worst Bears draft in recent memory — would it surprise you that a draft without a 1st or 2nd round pick still received multiple ‘A’s and quite a few ‘B’s? What does any of that mean?

Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I want to measure Ryan Poles’ latest draft against something a bit more firm — I want to assess the ‘value’ he got out of the 2024 draft, and I believe that requires a new set of questions to measure Poles against:

  • Do Ryan Poles’ 2024 selections make sense within the Bears’ current contention timeframe?
  • Which positions did Ryan Poles target? How difficult is replacing/upgrading each selection’s position outside of the draft?
  • Does each chosen player fill a role within Chicago’s big picture? If so, how important is that role?
  • How much success does each chosen player need to achieve to justify their selection?
  • Finally, what do I think of the player?

With our criteria set, I think we can properly assess Poles’ 2024 Draft Class. Let’s dive right in with…

Pick #1: Caleb Williams, QB, USC

Does this pick fit within the Bears’ contention timeframe? Caleb Williams defines the Bears’ contention timeframe. His talent should make for a fun & exciting 2024 season, but because he’s still a rookie NFL QB I think we can all agree that he’ll likely step forward in 2025 before fully hitting his stride in his 3rd season. As such, Williams sets the Bears’ direction as a competitive team that’s also still aiming towards a Super Bowl window that (likely) opens in 2025. We’ll use this timeframe to assess all other picks.

Is this pick a premium position? Undoubtedly. In the NFL, Quarterback is the premium position. And though many in NFL circles will cite later-round success stories like Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and now Brock Purdy, the first overall pick in the NFL Draft has become one of the most steady & reliable ways for teams to acquire a 4,000 yard passer or a 30 TD thrower. With a QB as well-regarded as Williams is available for selection, this is the perfect use-case of the pick.

Does this pick fill a role on the team? Suffice it to say, yes. There will be plenty of time to talk about Caleb Williams’ role as a leader on this Bears’ team, but we can save that for another time.

How much success does this player need to justify their selection? This varies, and will also be best discussed another day. But fair or not, the expectations for Caleb Williams will be sky-high come 2024 — he’s got the talent to break Chicago’s passing record-book wide open. The hope is that he’ll do so soon.

What do I think of the player? A full report on Williams (and each of the other members of the class) will be posted on the blog soon, but in short I think he’s well worth the pick. Absurd throwing talent, outstanding movement capability, and consistently extraordinary performance on a team that didn’t see any OL or WRs drafted before the 7th round (where two of his WRs & 1 OL ultimately found themselves).

Overall Grade: N/A — This pick became so well-telegraphed that I don’t believe it needs to be graded. Caleb was the only realistic option at #1, and Poles legacy will hinge on the success (or failure) of this selection. What more can be said?

Pick #9: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

Does this pick fit within the Bears’ contention timeframe? Odunze more than fits the Bears’ timeframe — he slots into 2024 as a much-needed 3rd receiving threat on a team whose receiving corps was far too top-heavy going into the weekend. The drop-off from DJ Moore and 31-year-0ld Keenan Allen to Tyler Scott felt far too steep, and Rome bridges that gap in the roster well while offering insurance against Allen’s history of injuries.

But while Odunze fits well into 2024, the real value from his selection comes fin his fit into 2025 & beyond — Wide Receiver is quickly becoming one of the most expensive Non-QB positions in the league, and with Odunze in tow Chicago now has two “WR1”-level players under contract through next year. Assuming DJ Moore signs an extension within the next calendar year, the cap flexibility Odunze will create going forward is hard to overstate and should allow Ryan Poles quite a bit of room to maneuver.

Is this pick a premium position? Absolutely. I grew up in the NFL of 20 years ago (where drafting WRs late and developing Antonio Brown felt much more common) but the NFL today sees WRs paid like EDGEs and 3-Technique pass rushers. It’s hard to believe, but it’s certainly a premium position.

Replacing good WR play has become harder than ever (just look at the reaches at the end of the 1st round!), meaning picking great WRs where you’re able to do so has become that much more important to the health of your team’s passing game.

Does this pick fill a role on the team? Yes, and an important one — Odunze can play all 3 major positions effectively (X, Z, Slot), but his size and speed should give Shane Waldron the X-WR chess piece he needs to allow DJ Moore to operate more commonly as a Z-WR, where DJ is often at his best.

How much success does this player need to justify their selection? Picking at #9 felt like a luxury going into the weekend, but I would hope Odunze can post similar production to Amari Cooper over time. That bar might feel high, but such is life when discussing a WR picked in the Top 10.

What do I think of the player? A full report on Odunze (and each of the other members of the class) will be posted on the blog soon, but in short I think he’s well worth the pick. His catch radius is insane, his hands are outstanding, and creates space at the catch point well with physicality and body control. Has the speed to threaten deep. Can struggle to corner on sharp-angle routes and loses his footing occasionally, but he’s diligent in his form and is often able to drop his hips better than should be expected of a 6’4 210lb human. Very good route-runner.

Overall Grade: A — This pick is impossible without Atlanta making the decision they did at #8, but I’ll credit Poles for neither trading up (which would hurt the draft stock he’ll need to finalize a Super Bowl roster) nor overthinking his options here. Rome was a consensus Top 6 player in the draft and the Bears scored him at #9 — I think that warrants credit, especially when that makes Poles has now used all 3 of the Top 10 First Round Picks he’s been given on offense. It’s refreshing to write about a GM that seems to ‘get it’.

That’s about 1200 words — we’ll continue this tomorrow…

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