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Ryan Pace doesn’t have any selections in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, but based on his track record, that shouldn’t prevents the Bears’ GM from uncovering some talent on Day 2 or 3 in late April.
In his previous four years running the Bears’ drafts, Pace had 18 picks in Rounds 3-7. Four of them were full-time starters by the end of last season — S Adrian Amos, RB Jordan Howard, S Eddie Jackson and DE Bilal Nichols — and Tarik Cohen was an All-Pro return specialist, the Bears’ change-of-pace running back and leading pass catcher.
Three other players selected by Pace in the third round or later started at least one game for the Bears last year: DE Jonathan Bullard, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski and S Deon Bush. Two were core special-teams performers, S DeAndre Houston-Carson (also the No. 4 safety) and ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe.
Partly because of Pace’s hit rate in the later rounds, the Bears built a team that produced a 12-4 regular-season record and an NFC North title in 2018 yet still boast one of the league’s younger rosters.
“It's nice to be able to walk into a depth-chart (meeting) and not see green magnets (indicating problem areas) over the whole board,” Pace said last month, when the makeup of the roster was broached. “We can kind of fine-tune and tweak as we go forward. We've got a lot of young guys, we have a lot of guys under contract, and we've got a lot of guys hitting their peaks right now.
“But, as we approach this offseason, we're still going to be aggressive. We're always going to be pushing it. That's the challenge to our scouting department to always be improving our roster and that will be the focus.”
The Bears’ first pick this year isn’t scheduled until 88th overall, but Amos (142nd overall), Howard (150th), Jackson (112th), Nichols (145th) and Cohen (119th) were all drafted well after that, as were Kwiatkoski (113th) and Bush (124th), along with Houston-Carson (185th) and Iyiegbuniwe (115th).
The Bears also have their own picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds, plus the Eagles’ seventh-rounder, which they got in return for DB Deiondre Hall. They’re missing their sixth-rounder from the Khalil Mack trade.
With no glaring needs on either side of the ball, the Bears won’t be forced to address any specific position, although secondary would become a priority if Amos and nickel CB Bryce Callahan leave in free agency. Pace and his scouting staff discovered Callahan as an undrafted rookie out of Rice in 2015, and he wound up starting three times as a rookie and 29 times in four years with the Bears, including 10 games last year and in 2016.
The CB class is above average as well and also provides very good depth, although it is not considered especially impressive when it comes to players with the quickness and cover ability to play in the slot.
If the Bears decide they can’t afford to keep Amos, they could give Bush, one of their three fourth-round picks in 2016, a chance to win the job. He started six times as a rookie and twice last year when Jackson was sidelined with a sprained ankle. This year’s crop of safeties is a strong one with excellent depth, and starting-caliber players could be available into the fourth round.
If Amos does depart, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pace and Co. add a quality player at that position later in the draft -- all four of the Bears’ safeties last year were chosen after the third round.
Ryan Pace’s Draft Selections in Rounds 3-7
Round 3: C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Round 4: RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Round 5: S Adrian Amos, Penn State
Round 6: OL Tayo Fabuluje, TCU
Round 3: DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida
Round 4 LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia; DB Deon Bush, Miami; DB Deiondre Hall, Northern Iowa
Round 5: RB Jordan Howard, Indiana
Round 6: S DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary
Round 7: WR Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Round 4: S Eddie Jackson, Alabama; RB Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T
Round 5: OL Jordan Morgan, Kutztown
Round 4: ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, West. Kentucky
Round 5: DL Bilal Nichols, Delaware
Round 6: OLB Kylie Fitts, Utah
Round 7: WR Javon Wims, Georgia