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The Bears’ 2015 Draft Class: Midterms

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
The best find of 2015
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ken, the den-master extraordinaire, has been handing out draft grades regularly, and one frequent note has been “it’s too early.” Well, Pace’s first draft class has just finished its second year. It is no longer too early to evaluate the class, because it’s time to hand out midterm grades. In my real life I’m a teacher, and while I have seen many, many students recover from bad midterm grades—or fall hard after getting off to a good start—the reality is that most midterm grades match pretty well with grades earned by the end of a term. Likewise, not a lot of NFL players really surprise teams after two years.

I want to make one distinction as we get started—I am evaluating the player selection, not the players themselves. Imagine a scenario on April 27th where the Chicago Bears can draft any of the following: the best guard of the draft class, an elite running back, or a franchise quarterback. All of these are “good” players. The players might each get an “A” on any system used. However, picking the guard instead of the quarterback at #3, especially for this team, is a worse move than picking the passer.

To consider Pace’s first draft, I am going to use three criteria. First, did the team select the player at a position of value? Second, did Pace select a player who, by all indication, should have been taken in that spot? Third, did it work out on-field? I’m willing to discount injuries a little (unless the player has an injury history), because that’s outside of a manager’s control. However, I do want to know if the player actually delivered.

Pace’s first round pick is worth 40% of his midterm grade, because this is his best chance to add a solid player. Likewise, his second-round pick is 25% and the third-round pick is 15%. The fourth and fifth rounds are each worth 10%. Everything else, added together, is potential extra credit. In real life I don’t give a lot of extra credit, but in real life 6th-rounders don’t usually amount to much, either, especially in the last decade.

Kevin White (40 points possible): White was a wide receiver drafted in the top ten. While I understand that teams do this, it’s a bad value. It’s not just because Antonio Brown (82.9 yards per game, 7 TDs a season) went 195th compared to AJ Green (83 yards per game, 8 TDs a season) going 4th. Instead, it’s the reality that on most teams, a receiver is going to fill in missing yardage. Unless a team has seen its entire receiving corps devastated by injuries, someone is going to get most of those catches, and a 3rd-rounder like T.Y. Hilton, a 2nd-rounder like DeSean Jackson, and an undrafted free agent like Victor Cruz are all likely candidates. Will Fuller (#21) has been turning in 45.4 yards per game; so Jamison Crowder (#105). Wide receiver was arguably a need, so I’ll give it a high F instead of a low F, but it’s still an F.

Second, there’s the player selected. White was exactly the wrong player to take a gamble on. He had limited production due to the nature of his career and was considered more of an athlete than a finished product. However, nobody doubted White’s raw athleticism, and a number of people projected him going high just because of his potential. I want to give this a D, but I’ll settle on a C- in the interest of acknowledging the latent athleticism somewhere in the process.

Finally, there’s production. Ignore the injuries. Focus on what Kevin White did in the four games he played, where he averaged 46.8 yards per game. That would put him on track, over two years of playing every game to this level, the third-best wide receiver taken in the 2015 draft. So, there’s clearly something there. Not a lot (per-game, he was 69th in the NFL behind Devante Parker but ahead of Will Fuller), but at the very least the player, when available, has flashed some dynamism. On the other hand, even on a per-game basis, White had the fifth-best production for the Chicago Bears: D.

The total grade for drafting Kevin White is a D- at 24.67/40 points.

Eddie Goldman (25 points possible): Getting a solid defensive lineman in the second round—even early in the second round—is a good thing. Getting a nose tackle to build around for a team converting to a 3-4 is great, especially because he was able to step in as a rookie. The value grade is a mid-range A. As for the actual selection, Goldman was projected to be a late-first, early-second sort of guy. Pace got him toward the end of that range.

When Goldman was available in the second, it made sense to take him. There’s an argument to be made that a Grady Jarett or a Jordan Phillips would have had the same potential, but there’s nothing wrong with who Pace picked. Call this part a B+. Finally, there’s the issue of actual production. The knock against Goldman coming in was whether or not he could generate a pass rush, and his 4.5 sacks and 6 hurries in his rookie year suggest that he could. He was injured for too much of the 2016 campaign, but without a clear injury history, that’s not on Pace. This is a B+.

The total grade for drafting Eddie Goldman is an A- at 22.5/25 points.

Hroniss Grasu (15 points possible): First, let’s admit that Grasu was forced into activity by less-than-ideal circumstances, and let’s remember that he was likely expected to be able to develop a bit more before starting. Getting a center in the third round is okay, especially for a team that needs to revamp and rebuild its line (after all, he clearly added vital depth), so I’m going to give this one a B-. I need to be a little less generous on the player picked, however. Two lines from his draft profile stand out: “Not a leverage winner in short-yardage situations. Needs additional weight.” The pick made Kyle Long happy, but I assume that’s what the big contract extension was supposed to do. This is going to be a C+.

Alternately, I could see giving the drafting of a center in the third round a C-, but then giving Pace credit here, so it all washes out. The player himself was responsible for half a sack over eight games according to Lester, but he also averaged an offensive penalty every other game. He seems like a capable but not exceptional center, at least when he can play. Call it a C for being an acceptable role-player.

The total grade for drafting Hroniss Grasu is a C+ at 11.63/15 points.

Jeremy Langford (10 points possible): I have not been a Langford fan, and so I want to approach this pick with caution. First, picking a running back in the fourth round makes perfect sense. Second, picking a running back for the 2015 Bears, who needed a young running back, was a solid move. This is a B+. Second, the player picked was projected to go in the fourth round and that is, in fact, where he went. Langford had speed, but as noted heading into the draft, Langford “Broke very few tackles this year and churned out pedestrian yards after contact.” Yup. He added speed and (potentially, given his history) receiver skills to a team that was going to need that. This a B- or a C+, in that on paper he seemed like what the Bears needed to replace Forte; I’ll go B-.

On field, despite breaking free a few explosive plays, Langford had the worst Yards After Contact among NFL running backs in his first season. In his second season, he (thankfully) got moved to the bench more as the season went on. As much as it made sense to draft him, the play just wasn’t there: D+.

The total grade for drafting Jeremy Langford is a C+ at 7.83/10 points.

Adrian Amos (10 points possible): This one will probably be the most contentious, but I want to evaluate the player as what he is, not what we wish he might be. First, picking a safety in the fifth round for a team that needed depth at secondary was a smart move. The defense obviously needed another defensive back, as proven by the way he was forced to step in. This is a B+/A- move. I’m going to score it like an A- because I’m going to hit Pace later on. Second, Amos carried a third- or fourth-round grade, and he was a well-regarded player.

One note from his draft profile sounds familiar: “Takes suspect angles against run from high to low and when lined up near line of scrimmage.” There were some other safeties on the board who might have shown some of the ball-hawking ability the Bears have needed, but this was not a bad choice, and it made sense to try to get the athletic guy and to hope he might develop. I call this a B. Remember when I said that I was going to ding Pace? Here it is…yes, Amos has played great for a fifth-round defensive back forced into action. Yes, he plugged an essential role for the team for two years.

Now, imagine he had been the 20th player on IR and Pace had needed to find a street free agent. It’s probably a little worse, but only a little. Amos is a mediocre player on the field, even if he was the mediocre player the Bears really needed at that time. This is a C-.

The total grade for drafting Adrian Amos is a B- at 8.17/10 points.

There is no extra credit for Pace, so all told, his first draft gets a 74.8.

That’s a midrange C, and it’s actually higher than I thought it might be (it’s actually higher than my own “shoot from the hip,” un-researched opinion in some of the boards). The whiff on White is balanced out by competent drafting across the board save for Goldman, who was a real hit.

Here’s the problem, and why Pace’s critics both have a point and need to consider the whole perspective: a “C” is a decent placeholder grade. It lets a team stay on course, but doesn’t change its fortunes up or down. The 2015 Bears needed to have their fortunes changed. They needed at least a B, and they didn’t get it. Pace’s first draft class passes, but that’s it.

All stats come from Pro Football Reference, except for draft profiles.