Ryan Pace is more than just the reigning Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year for 2018, an award voted on by his fellow league executives. After four full seasons on the job with the Bears, he is a general manager with a track record.
Teams’ performances in free agency can be tricky to evaluate, but suffice to say, the Bears made their quantum leap last year in large part because of the performances of players former free agents, such as Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Lynch, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Bobby Massie, etc.
However, the overwhelming majority of experts I trust will tell you the draft is the true test of top NFL execs and success there is the best way to build a successful organization.
It’s also the easiest aspect of a general manager's job to evaluate — as long as you wait at least two, sometimes three years to give each draft a grade.
Pace now has three drafts that we can accurately grade. How has he done?
2015 – 1st Round – Kevin White, 2nd - Eddie Goldman, 3rd - Hroniss Grasu, 4th - Jeremy Langford, 5th - Adrian Amos and 6th - Tayo Fabuluje.
Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs): Cam Meredith, Bryce Callahan.
As the seventh overall pick on Day One, White was a significant bust. Grasu was also a miss, and Fabuluje never played in the league.
Langford showed promise early before he was waived but continues to stick around the NFL. Goldman, Amos and Callahan all became quality starters, and Meredith was a solid No. 2 or 3 receiver before tearing his knee.
When you miss badly in the top 10, we can’t grade this any higher than a "B-minus," and a "C-plus" may be more reasonable.
2016 – 1st Round – Leonard Floyd, 2nd – Cody Whitehair, 3rd – Jonathan Bullard, 4th – Nick Kwiatkoski, 4th – Deon Bush, 4th - Deiondre Hall, 5th - Jordan Howard, 6th DeAndre Houston-Carson, 7th – Daniel Braverman
UDFAs: Roy Robertson-Harris, Ben Braunecker.
Floyd has been a late bloomer – after being mostly slowed early by injuries – but appeared to play up to his top-10 status the second half of last season. Whitehair and Howard became starters as rookies who have been to Pro Bowls. Bullard and Robertson-Harris are solid contributors. With the exception of Braverman, everyone else in this group has become at least key backups and special teams performers and remain in the league.
That’s a solid "B-plus," and an "A" if Floyd and Robertson-Harris continue to improve.
2017 – 1st Round – Mitch Trubisky, 2nd – Adam Shaheen, 4th Eddie Jackson, 4th Tarik Cohen, 5th Jordan Morgan.
UDFAs: Isaiah Irving, Raashad Coward, Tanner Gentry
Trubisky arrived as an NFL starting quarterback in just his second season and appears to have a lot of room left to grow. Shaheen has been slowed by injuries and was probably always going to be a three-year guy coming from Ashland Universiy. But Jackson and Cohen were both first-team All Pros in just their second seasons, Morgan is still in the league with the Jets and Irving and Coward have shown real promise.
Already a "B-plus" at worst, probably an "A-minus," and a certain "A" if Trubisky takes another step.
Talk about a sea change from the second half of the Jerry Angelo regime and the Phil Emery years. It makes it easy to see why Pace is currently rated the best in the business by some who should know.