In his three years as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace, along with his staff, have utilized data from the scouting combine to add some valuable building blocks through the draft.
Pace and Co. are a long way from completing the Bears’ multi-year rebuilding project, but they have the eighth overall pick in April’s draft, which comes with the expectation they will take another big step in the process. A high pick and the pressure to hit it out of the park with that selection make combine evaluations more important.
There are three hundred and thirty-seven players participating in the NFL’s job fair that begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. More than a few could make an instant impact at No. 8 for a Bears franchise that has suffered through four consecutive seasons of 10 or more losses.
Testing for strength, speed, agility and explosion is the most important part of the process for many participants. But for others, it could be the interviews, the medical exams or the measurements (height, weight, hand size, arm length, etc.) that are more vital.
Because they hitched their wagon last year to quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick, the Bears have no need for any of the four or five quarterbacks who will be drafted in the first round. Most, if not all of them, will be overdrafted because of the importance of the position. Even better for the Bears, four of the seven picks in front of them could be used on quarterbacks, leaving more talented position players for Pace.
The Bears have enough needs that they truly can select the best player available. But it’s expected they will have more focus on offensive players at the combine and in the draft. Their emphasis will be on players who can either protect Trubisky or help him run a more potent attack than he did as a rookie, when he lacked weapons.
Who are players the Bears might scrutinize at the combine with the idea of selecting them at No. 8?
Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson would be a plug-and-play starter on a Bears O-line that recently shed starting guard Josh Sitton and his $8 million salary. Ohio State’s Denzel Ward could be an upgrade over Kyle Fuller or Prince Amukamara if one or both starting cornerbacks leave via free agency, though that wouldn’t be a need if the Bears retain both starters.
Versatile Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is a prodigy. Just 19 years old, he’s got the size and growth potential to play any LB position in any NFL scheme and racked up 32 ½ tackles for loss over the past two seasons.
North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb would be an ideal complement to Leonard Floyd, and Alabama safety/cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the best player in the draft, but neither is expected to last until No. 8.
The Bears have a total of seven draft picks, including a second-rounder (39th overall), but they are without a third-rounder as part of the bounty they surrendered to move up one spot to select Trubisky.
But the Bears have an extra fourth-round pick gained from trading down in Round Two last year before drafting tight end Adam Shaheen 45th overall. So they’ll have the fifth and 15th picks in Round Four this year (105th and 115th overall) and single picks in the fifth (145th overall), sixth (181st) and seventh (224th).
Pace has done some of his best work in the middle rounds, including fifth-rounders Jordan Howard and Adrian Amos and fourth-rounders Nick Kwiatkoski, Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen.
Coming off a 2017 season in which they had arguably the NFL’s weakest cast of wide receivers, the Bears will pay special interest in Indianapolis to that position. This year’s crop of pass catchers is considered especially deep, even if the talent at the top isn’t spectacular. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is generally considered the top wideout, although the consensus is he isn’t worth the eighth pick.
But, according to many draft analysts, there are wide receivers with the potential to become starters in the NFL who will be available through the end of Day Two (Rounds Two and Three) and possibly into the early part of Day Three.
The overemphasis on Combine 40-yard dash times is sometimes justified when it comes to wide receivers. All eyes will be on the stopwatches when Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, USC’s Deontay Burnett and LSU’s DJ Chark take their marks with a chance of running in the 4.3s. Nearly every year one or more wideouts shoot up draft boards based on 40-times, like Washington’s John Ross last year, whose Combine-record 4.22 vaulted him to No. 9 overall.
Medical exams are game changers for some prospects, and this year, Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller could be one of them. He’s a bit undersized but piled up 191 receptions, 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns the past two seasons, although he ran a limited route tree in the Tigers’ offense. Miller missed the Senior Bowl because of a foot injury he sustained in Memphis’ bowl game, and the status of that could make a huge difference in where he is drafted.
The Bears, like every team, will be focused on edge rushers in Indy, knowing they’re almost as overdrafted and important as quarterbacks, and the good ones will disappear quickly in the draft. While 40 times are important here as well, teams also value 10-yard splits. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas clocked a 1.56 last year at 273 pounds, one reason he was the third overall pick.
LSU’s Arden Key is one of the most talented edge rushers in this class, but the interview process may have more to do with where he’s drafted because his football character is in question after a 2017 that raised multiple red flags. His sack total plummeted from 12 to four and there was an even more precipitous plummeting of his intensity. He left the LSU program for four months last spring, citing personal reasons, had shoulder surgery and gained about 30 pounds.
The Bears and 31 other teams will have to weigh those concerns against the potential of getting a player who could produce double-digit sacks as a rookie.