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Checking in on the Class of 2015

Not a lot of players make it beyond three years in the NFL. Ryan Pace’s first draft class is about to finish its third year. Do fans think that he did enough, leaving aside the injuries to a single high-profile pick?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
The gem of 2015?
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago fans are in that horrible state of football limbo where the season is not over even though at this point, the Bears are more fighting against draft position while playing for pride and/or development. If they do well, they might be able to serve as spoilers. That seems increasingly unlikely. However, 3-9 tends to lead to Mock Draft time of year, even if college players are still fighting for bowl appearances. Before fast-forwarding to April, then, it’s time to hit rewind.

After 45 weeks of football, the players drafted in 2015 have had a chance to leave their mark on the NFL. It is true that many of them still need to develop, and it’s equally true that some will go on to have distinguished careers for years. However, more than halfway through their third season in the NFL, many of these men have basically defined what their career will be. First-rounders have a combination of talent, investment, and prestige that keeps their dreams alive a bit longer, but after the first round the falloff can be dramatic.

Only 73 players drafted after #32 have made their way onto a roster as a primary starter at a position for at least one season. That’s just under a third of the 224 players taken in that draft, and it’s a bit over two per team. At the other end of the spectrum, 29 picks haven’t even appeared in a game. It’s not too early to say that the former group has succeeded at something few ever accomplish, and it’s certainly safe to say that the latter group is probably disappointed about how things went in the NFL.

To use an example from the Bears, Tayo Fabuluje is presumably content enough to be playing with the Baltimore Brigade, but it seems unlikely he’s about to stage a return to the NFL. Fellow offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson (taken by Minnesota two spots after Fabuluje) has been on injured reserve twice and has been on six teams and was most recently waived by Seattle in September. Kennard Backman, taken 30 spots after Fabuluje (by the team from Cheeseland), is probably not a step away from becoming a household name, having already spent time on the Packers, Patriots, and Lions without a current job playing football.

Thus, while it is “too early” to know all of the details, the broad strokes of players’ careers have settled into place, by and large.

The stars

Landon Collins (#33), Tyler Lockett (#69), and David Johnson (#86) have all earned All-Pro honors. Jay Ajayi (#149) and D.J. Alexander (#172) have both earned Pro Bowl honors. As a side note, it might be “meaningless” these days, but even including the first round only 13 players from the 2015 draft have earned the honor in any form, and being in the top 5% of a group of elite athletes seems pretty meaningful to me. It probably seems even more meaningful because the Bears do not have a player in that group.

Likewise, Danielle Hunter (#88) has notched 23.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. Frank Clark (#62) and Preston Smith (#38) both have 17+ sacks and at least 3 forced fumbles as well. Jordan Hicks (#74, 7 interceptions and 14 PDs) and Kwon Alexander *#124, 5 interceptions, 19 PDs, 4 forced fumbles, and 6 sacks) are all also strong contenders for the title of “star.” Stefon Diggs (#146, 171 receptions and 2155 yards with 12 TDs) is looking like a strong pickup. Reports are mixed on Donovan Smith, so it’s probably a good idea to leave him out for now. However, even without him that’s eleven players taken outside of the first round who have clearly emerged not just as solid starters but as true impact players for their teams coming out of the 2015 draft.

Those players are on teams that are “building through the draft” by finding play-makers.

The solid contributors

If the Bears were to have a 2015 selection who qualified as a “star,” it would have to be Adrian Amos. Only 5 players taken after round one have started more games than him, and while many around these parts might disagree, he is consistently rated as a solid safety by others. On the other hand, his most recent interception was also his first. He is a player who clearly needs support, and he would probably not be considered a difference-maker on his own. While it’s tough to call Amos a star, he is certainly no worse than capable contributor.

Consider this--only 39 players taken in rounds two through seven have managed to start in at least half of the available games, and two of those were taken by the Chicago Bears (Amos and Eddie Goldman). Now, an obvious rejoinder is that it’s easier to start for a weak team than a strong team, and the Bears have been plenty weak. While that might be valid, it’s fair to point out that even weak teams sometimes don’t find players in the draft, and that Amos and Goldman are capable.

Even counting first-rounders, only 10 players from 2015 have recorded more sacks than Goldman, and if he’s not a pro bowler, he’s a solid enough player. Amos and Goldman alone are enough for the Bears to stay even with their peers after the first round, even if they don’t really pull ahead. They provide the “two players” an average team seems able to secure in later rounds.

The rest

If anyone wants to make an argument that Jeremy Langford is anything more than a guy who had a position handed to him during injury, a quick glance at the fact that he’s still a free agent should give pause. In fact, he’s a classic example of the argument mentioned earlier in that he logged so much use because of need and not because of his actual talent. Hroniss Grasu is another player who has seen action due to the roster he’s on, but who frankly has displayed the weaknesses that were feared for him coming out without a lot of strengths to counterbalance them. Depending on how you want to count things, he is either the third or fourth Bear to log time as actual starter, but with 10 starts out of 42 possible, and with his problems handling the full duties of his job, it’s obvious that he is not a true replacement-level player.

As mentioned, Fabuluje is out of the league.

What this means is that technically, the Bears did keep up with their peers when it comes to 2015 draft selections. After the first round, they found two actual starters and a pair of placeholders. However, things get problematic when their performance is compared to the standard that was set for the draft by the man making these selections. There are not true impact players. There are not dynamic playmakers. There are guys who do their job, pretty well, most of the time.

In other words, after the first round, the Bears’ 2015 draft class is pretty average.

Is it enough?

In my own estimation, leaving aside the Kevin White injury, all the Bears did in 2015 was tread water. Without a playmaker, and without exceptional depth, they just managed to hold their place compared to the other 31 teams. There is no “good” here, so much as there is “typical” performance.

However, now it’s your turn, and it’s time to consider this--the Bears are looking at another high draft position, just like 2015. If it turns out the same as 2015 but the first-round pick is just another solid starter--not a star, but a contributor--would that be a success?


If the 2018 Draft only found comparable talent to 2015, would it be a success?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (18 votes)
  • 54%
    No, but 2015 plus one more starter is fine.
    (268 votes)
  • 40%
    No, 2015 was a failure, even leaving aside Kevin White.
    (198 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (details below)
    (10 votes)
494 votes total Vote Now

Note that virtually every stat came from the incomparable Pro Football Reference.