Ryan Pace and Chicago Bears staff put together a highly effective effort in the 2016 draft. They had multiple needs to fill and did so, for the most part, beautifully. Pace played the board well for value and was aggressive about using draft capital to move up and select players who the staff truly believed in when needed. This combination resulted in very solid draft value for the players chosen, excellent schematic fits for the concepts Chicago utilizes on the field, and additional selections in the draft for added flexibility both this year and next. That, to mix sports metaphors, is a home run result in an enterprise as wild and unpredictable as the NFL Draft.
On the final morning before the draft I prioritized the remaining needs the Bears had to fill in the draft. I based my choices on information available to the average fan (no "insider" team information). My rankings were as follows:
- Cornerback (CB)
- Outside Linebacker (OLB)
- Safety (S)
- Running Back (RB)
- 5-technique/Defensive End (DE)
- Tight End (TE)
- Left Tackle (LT)
- Wide Receiver (WR)
Pace and his staff filled 6 of those 8 needs with draft choices (some with 2 players, like Safety), added 2 quality players outside those needs based on value (Whitehair/G and Kwiatkoski/ILB), and still managed to add a valuable pick (4th round) in next year's draft. I'll break down this tour de force effort, pick by pick and add in scouting reports for the players I did not profile in individual Draftwatch articles leading up to the draft.
Note: Choices will be listed in the Round/Choice within the round/(Overall number of the choice in the entire draft) format.
1st Round/9/(9) - Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia - The Bears checked off their second ranked need with a 1st round choice. The number of talented EDGE players in this class was extremely small so acting quickly assured the Bears of getting their guy. For fans concerned with why the Bears traded up, it has been confirmed since the draft that Floyd definitely was a target of teams ahead of Chicago. Without the trade Chicago would have been left holding the bag without the defender they wanted in the 1st round again, for the third year in a row. Pace was not about to let that happen and acted decisively to ensure Floyd would be rushing passers in a Bears uniform. I wrote about Floyd early in the draft process and most of my takes hold true, even after all the draft scrutiny. I think Leonard has a terrific and diverse skillset but will benefit immensely from being placed at one position and allowed to focus on that single role. Being moved all over the defense at Georgia allowed him to gain valuable experience and understanding, but also stunted his growth as a pass rusher.
2nd Round/25/(56) - Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State - Interior offensive line spots were not listed as a need headed into the draft based on the players who were on the roster. After missing out on some potential draft targets (rumored to be TE Hunter Henry and OT Jason Spriggs) Ryan Pace wisely moved back twice and selected arguably the best interior lineman in this draft. Not only does this give the Bears another young and talented player at the core of the offensive line, it also allows them additional flexibility in next year's draft with the addition of a 4th round choice. This is a prime example of staying true to the value of players on your draft board and finding a way to leverage that value by making a non-need based pick. I wrote about Cody in early March. He is a rock-solid technician with significant strength and power. I expect him to play at a high level very quickly.
3rd Round/9/(72) - Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida - When Chicago was able to select Jonathan Bullard in the 3rd round I was absolutely overjoyed. I actually ran out into my yard and yelled out loud. I profiled Bullard in my last Draftwatch article that posted on the final morning before the draft. My joy stems not only from the fact that Jonathan is a tremendously talented player and an excellent scheme fit within the Bears defense, but also that they were able to select him in the 3rd round. That is the kind of value that builds the core of a competitive roster. Bears fans will appreciate his toughness and skill stopping the run but also his underrated ability to quickly close the gap between himself and opposing QB's. He's a forceful finisher who should provide some explosive highlights during his time in a Bears uniform. Bullard becoming a Bear capped off a very successful first two days of the draft for Chicago.
4th Round/15/(113) - Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia - Day 3 dawned with the Bears incredibly well positioned to continue adding talent. They held three 4th round selections, one in the 5th, two more in the 6th, and a final choice in the 7th. Chicago traded one of their 6th round choices to move up four spots to select Kwiatkoski. It was the first Bears move of the draft that I questioned. It has nothing to with Nick as a player (he's good) but more to with the necessity of burning a 6th round choice to move up only four slots. I didn't feel like Kwiatkoski was in danger of leaving the board in that time frame but the Bears must have. In the end they moved up to ensure that got a player they really liked, and I will rarely fault a team for making a move like that with intention.
In my film work before the draft I saw a hardworking player with good football intelligence and a strong desire to hit. He reminded me of the old school LB's that used to get churned out of "Linebacker U" (Penn State) year after year, so I wasn't surprised in the least to learn that Nick was raised in Pennsylvania. After the Bears drafted him I went back to his film and picked up on some elements that I missed the first time around. Most notable is that he's a very good zone pass defender. In today's pass-happy NFL that kind of skill could make the difference between him being a success or failure as a pro.
4th Round/26/(124) - Deon Bush, S, Miami - Bush has been heralded as a big hitter and intimidator with one major caveat; "when healthy". Staying on the field will be the first and largest challenge for him in his pro career. If he manages to do that he can hopefully be the tone-setter Chicago envisioned him as.
I know the cupboard was virtually bare of starting safety talent at this point in the draft, but I really started to feel like the Bears were straying from the value-based picks they'd stuck to so rigorously during the first two days. Bush's tape is not terribly impressive. He's a good (not great) athlete with nice size but is far from a consistent football player. He likes to lay the big hit but fails to wrap up, allowing for broken tackles and yards after contact. He is not good in man-to-man coverage and he hesitates when reading plays by the offense negating the effectiveness of some of his physical talent. I know the Chicago coaches must have seen something they really liked from Deon but I didn't, and it was the first pick by Chicago I truly disagreed with.
4th Round/29/(127) - Deiondre' Hall, CB, Northern Iowa -Chicago proved in this draft that all their talk about wanting players with "length" was not just talk. Hall is the most direct embodiment of that philosophy, as he sports the longest wingspan of any cornerback measured at the combine this year. On tape Hall is a player searching for a position. He switched back and forth between CB and S at Northern Iowa and didn't look completely comfortable at either spot.
Hall is an aggressive, physical player who can press and enthusiastically oppose the running game; both hallmarks of CB's in a Vic Fangio's defense. He has good awareness of the play when he is positioned on the outside of the field but seems to lose some of that when he moves inside to safety. In the short throwing zones he can blanket WR's with a combination of a physical jam at the line and his impressive reach to deny throwing lanes. He's a good runner but loses contact with his man farther down the field or when asked to play off in zone. That tendency allows a lot of comeback completions in front of him, just past the 1st down marker. At safety he looks uncomfortable with angles to approach run plays and bites on too many play-action fakes.
I think Hall has the tools to compete at corner and will get every opportunity to crack the starting lineup there. There were certainly other corners I preferred still available when Hall was chosen, but with the front office's stated affinity for length Hall was the obvious choice in their eyes.
5th Round/11/(150) - Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana - I called out the need for an additional RB heading into this season as Chicago's fourth draft need overall. Regular readers will know I really like both Kenneth Dixon and Jonathan Williams as running backs available in this draft. I was certainly disappointed when the Bear's passed on Dixon for the entire 4th round but I certainly understood why when they selected Jordan Howard. Howard is a hammer and provides a much different running style than the backs Chicago has on its roster. In truth, I‘m sure Ryan Pace thought Dixon's skills were probably too similar to Jeremy Langford's. Howard provides a downhill power running force who will punish defenses and successfully convert short yardage opportunities.
The most underrated part of the Howard selection is how well he fits the offensive scheme Chicago employs. The zone blocking approach John Fox prefers will allow Howard to thrive. He is a one-cut runner who chooses his spot, then plants and drives forcefully through the hole, often running over would-be tacklers. He has enough speed to turn small opportunities into long gains. His hands are not what I'd called "natural" (he looks like he's fighting the ball when he catches it) but they are surprisingly effective. He runs decent basic routes and turns upfield quickly after the catch to maximize any gain he can. I can see him as a starter this season if his pass blocking progresses quickly enough to make Jay Cutler feel secure on play-action dropbacks.
6th Round/10/(185) - DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary - Chicago probably leads the league in defensive backs with hyphenated last names. Despite the confusion that may cause I believe the selection of Houston-Carson in the 6th will be looked back on as great value. DeAndre has good size and was a 3-year starter at cornerback before moving to Safety as a senior. He played very well in both spots. On tape Houston-Carson is a very physical player who not only hits but wraps up well too, bringing his target to the ground.
The quality that sticks out the most to me is how quickly he diagnoses plays and then moves forcefully forward to stop them. DeAndre is an active player at safety who is not at all "flat-footed". This allows him to make stops closer to the line of scrimmage and results in shorter overall gains by the offense. I can see him in a starter's role at safety much sooner than Deon Bush who was drafted two rounds earlier. Add in Houston-Carson's prodigious success on special teams in college (he blocked 9 kicks) and I think you have a player who is a virtual lock to make the roster and contribute, despite his less-than-lofty draft selection position.
7th Round/9/(230) - Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan - Based on the reactions when he was selected by the Bears and since you'd think that Braverman was the second coming of slot receivers and destined for the Hall of Fame. I don't know that I've seen one review of this pick that has not been overtly positive. The outpouring of love for this choice made me question my own eyes enough that I went back to his film to see if I was missing something major. My second viewing didn't reveal anything that makes me stray from my initial take on Braverman: I believe he's a fringe NFL prospect that will have to show impact in two phases (offense and special teams) and overall improvement to have any shot of success on an NFL roster. I fully aware that is not a popular stance but I'll explain my reasoning behind it.
Braverman is very small. At 5'10" and 177 pounds most prospects are considered too small for the NFL. Braverman has been able to escape this critique by being highly productive at the college level. His tape is fun to watch but if you dig down and look for NFL skills, you'll find some holes in what he brings to the table besides his lack of stature.
His tape is a series of contradictions. He shows very good hands in catching balls away from his body on some plays but on most of the others he's a body catcher; meaning he lets the ball into his frame rather than snaring it sooner. That's a minor difference but in the bigger and faster NFL it can often be the difference between a catch and dropped ball. He'll also need to use those very good hands of his more often because his catching radius is dramatically smaller than the rest of the Bears WR's.
Braverman has sneaky straight-line speed (4.47 second 40-yard dash at his pro day) and it gets put to good use on plays where he finds a hole in the defense and exploits it. Everyone lauds his suddenness and separation but on tape it takes Braverman a while to accelerate. Simply put, his change of direction slows him down. His ability to dodge in the very short area (1-3 yards) is good, but after dodging he has to rebuild his head of steam to get up to speed. That hesitation may prove deadly for a receiver working inside routes at the pro level.
Many of Braverman's biggest gains in college did not come off primary read throws. They came off plays where things broke down, dragged on for 4 or 5 seconds and he was able to get free on his second or third move downfield. Although those plays do occur in the pros they happen much less often and as a result his production numbers will not be inflated by them. All in all Braverman faces an uphill climb to NFL success and will have to surpass a player directly in front of him with very similar skills and some proven NFL production (Marc Mariani).
A word about the reality of the NFL Draft
Ron Wolf is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, largely based on his success evaluating players. Wolf was happy with a draft class if he "hit" on 33% of the players he chose. That means two thirds of a good incoming class did not turn out to be quality contributors at the NFL level. If you apply that filter to the Bears most recent effort you'll be confronted by a stark reality: 6 of the 9 players they selected in the draft will likely do very little during their time in the league.
I tend to think the Bears are in need of a talent influx and have multiple opportunities for young players to seize hold of. Combine that with me not wanting to rain on anyone's draft-glory parade (it is one of my favorite times of the football year after all) and I'm willing to modify the exercise. Let's be optimistic. Let's say Pace exceeds Wolf's target and "hits" on half of this class. That would be 4.5 players.
Your homework for the offseason is this; pick 4 players you think will make it, 4 players that you think will not amount to much (for the Bears) and 1 player you're not sure will or won't... we'll call him your "fence player". Then share them in the comments section below.
No matter how you slice it Pace and the Bears did very well in selecting players that fit their systems and finding value throughout the entire draft. The additional choice (4th round) in next year's draft is simply icing on the cake. If they simply could have found it in their collective hearts to choose Kalan Reed (CB, Southern Mississippi) instead of letting Tennessee trade back into the last spot of the draft and land him as Mr. Irrelevant, I could have gone into the rest of offseason almost completely satisfied. But that, fearless readers, is a story for another time.