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Grading Ryan Pace, Part 2

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Three Ryan Pace Decisions I’m Ready to Judge Now

Just before the season started, I talked about what I would be looking for when it came time to grade Ryan Pace [LINK]. Now that the Bears are six games into what is almost certainly a losing season (a 1-5 start gives little cause for hope), I wanted to see if there were any places that I felt comfortable passing judgment on Chicago’s GM. The more I looked at comments on threads and the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that there are three places that I feel can confidently judge Ryan Pace already.

First, Adrian Amos.

The last time I mentioned him, people suggested that in order really judge Amos, we would need to compare him to other players in a similar position (guys drafted late by poor teams). I agree. We can start with raw numbers. In 2016, 2015, and 2014, a total of 195 players have been drafted in each round with picks #110 through #174 (in other words, within 32 picks in either direction of #142 Adrian Amos). Exactly four of those players (the top two percent) have started in every game available to them: Dak Prescott (6 of 6), Adrian Amos (22 of 22), David Parry (22 of 22), and Russell Bodine (38 of 38). In fact, only 16 of them have even started in two-thirds of available games (or about 8%). Of particular note, only nine of those sixteen have accumulated those starts after being drafted by teams with losing records (three per year), so it seems like there is no real tendency for one of these players to get a starting position simply because he went to a worse team.

Next, we can look at other accomplishments. Of forty-six defensive backs drafted in 2015, only two have started all twenty-two games (Amos is one of them. Only five have recorded a sack (Amos is one of them). Many more have managed turnovers, of course, but even here Amos does have a forced fumble to his credit. Only one defensive back from his entire draft class has a higher Career Average Value (as calculated by Pro Football Reference) than Amos, and that’s first-rounder Marcus Peters. For a player selected in 142nd to be in roughly the top ten percent of a draft class at his position by any measure—let alone multiple measures—is remarkable. For a team faced with “a bare cupboard” like the Bears were, he’s the kind of pick a GM needs to make.

This was a fantastic decision by Pace in what is otherwise up-and-down drafting.

Second, Brian Hoyer.

I don’t want to start a debate about the starting quarterback position. I really, really don’t want to start a debate about the starting quarterback position. I do suggest that you check out Lester’s thoughts, though, if you want that debate [LINK]. However, I suffered through the Clausen experience. I winced when Connor Shaw went down. Whatever someone might think about Hoyer’s merits as an NFL starting quarterback, signing him as a backup has proven to be a great move. Are the Bears winning? No. Hoyer was not signed to be the player who picked up the team and snatched victory out in close games. The man has six fourth-quarter comebacks to his name (one more than Josh McCown and four fewer than Mark Sanchez), and his career touchdown percentage (3.7%) is not going to cause defenses to tremble.

However, Hoyer is playing exactly the kind of safe, measured football that a backup quarterback is supposed to play. He isn’t taking chances, and he’s doing his best to keep the team in the game. Ryan Pace had a starting quarterback on his roster and he had a developmental player in Connor Shaw. However, he also had a chance to sign a player with nearly a thousand career passing attempts in an NFL where every practice snap and every rep is a precious commodity. Signing Hoyer was a move that created depth and security, and the Bears injury toll this season has validated Pace’s judgment in bringing him in.

This was another solid move by Ryan Pace.

Third, failing to draft a quarterback. I am not going to call out Pace for failing to go after any specific quarterback here. I am not suggesting that Pace should have moved heaven and earth to trade up to get Wentz or Goff. I am not expecting Pace to grab Prescott when every other team also passed on him at least three times. Instead, I am approaching this one philosophically. Since Pace took over the Bears, twenty teams have drafted twenty-two quarterbacks. Half of those have actually played in an NFL game at this point. If history is any guide, only half of those will be worth considering as an actual starter when the dust settles. However, let’s consider the nature of the NFL for a moment.

A developing quarterback needs to have some sort of stability in an offensive system (Exhibit A: Chicago’s own Jay Cutler). If Pace had drafted someone in 2015, then said quarterback could, in theory, have had 1 year with Gase and then 1 year with Loggains running what is (supposedly) a version of Gase’s system. If Loggains lingers for another year, that would offer at least two years of stability (and maybe a third, depending on how we consider the Gase-to-Loggains switch). Instead, anyone drafted in 2016 will either be coming into a system new to the team (if Loggains is fired) or a system that might be on its way out the door (if Loggains is retained by a team that continues to lose).

To give his hypothetical quarterback a chance, Pace really needed to get this guy into a system and have him begin to develop while there was still some chance of continuity. Pace is now handcuffed moving forward. And, of course, this assumes that the first quarterback Pace drafts actually works out (when all draft picks are, at best, iffy propositions). This is Pace’s biggest failing so far, and unless he gets really lucky, it could be a mistake that wipes out any other good move he has made.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think Pace simply waited too long to make what might be the most important decision of his career.

*Unless noted otherwise, all stats come from Pro Football Reference