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2017 Bears Draft: Grading the project class

The Bears maintained they picked their best players available. In due time, they could be correct. Let’s grade their incoming talent.

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NFL Draft Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The mock drafts of players the Chicago Bears would supposedly select in the 2017 NFL Draft were effectively ripped apart over the weekend by general manager Ryan Pace and his staff.

Not to say that that’s bad necessarily. Everyone has a different ideal in mind of a solid or smart player. For Pace and company, it’s more unconventional. It’s that Pace and his scouting department clearly have a different way of evaluating players and fit for their roster. Which, their view also isn’t necessarily correct right now, either.

And that’s the best way to sum up Chicago’s 2017 draft class: A head-scratcher that’s incomplete.

Did the Bears get better in 2017 with the selections of a project quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky? Or with a pick of a project tight end from a small school in Adam Shaheen? Or with the choice of a safety with two major leg injuries in the last two years in Eddie Jackson and or a small school running back in Tarik Cohen as well as a guard in Jordan Morgan? Eh, hardly.

Did the Bears of the future in 2018 and beyond get better or go on a path to contention? Maybe.

We won’t know for a little while what to make of Pace’s evaluations over this past weekend. For now, let’s consider upside and value and grade each pick of the Bears’ 2017 draft.

Overall grade: C+

The sentiment behind giving this Bears class a C+ is that I can see the projections that the team is currently waxing poetically about. I can see the star quarterback that Trubisky can become as he launches darts to his star tight end that Shaheen may be in due time. I’m just not sure right now how their games will translate as heavy project players along with the rest of their class companions such as Cohen. This is why you wait two to three years on any draft to really assess.

Some will find it odd that the Bears didn’t pick one likely starter for 2017 and to that I say, it’s clear they’re not all the way in on wholly competing next year, which is okay. It’s about player development and playing the board as it lies while your potential franchise quarterback in Trubisky develops. There’s still young talent such as Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair to watch grow up while the team comes together, that’s for sure.

This small school and long-term approach - that not many have attempted - may in the end pay off with tremendous dividends, or blow up in flames for Chicago. It doesn’t mean it’s incorrect because you can’t fill in the blanks on what the Bears saw, though. It’s commendable that they’re doing it their way. There’s a marked plan here that they believe in. They almost assuredly won’t regret having the audacity to build a team along this model. I don’t know how extensive the timeline is (two to three years?), but this merely average grade skyrockets if the organization stays patient, I’m certain.

(First round, No. 2 overall) The Trubisky trade in reality wasn’t egregious: B

When I graded this Trubisky deal off of immediate reaction, it was purely because I wasn’t certain of what assets the Bears could recoup. After trading down with the Arizona Cardinals in the second round to recoup mid-round assets, Chicago’s deal to move up to No. 2 overall then effectively meant they only gave up one third-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in that context.

And considering what other teams have given up for their respective franchise quarterbacks in trades for Robert Griffin III, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz in recent years with heavy treasure troves of first-round picks, the Bears got their man under center for a huge bargain. I don’t buy the “they were fleeced” idea. I don’t buy that other teams weren’t interested. In the end, even while Trubisky’s a project with good franchise traits, it wasn’t that ludicrous to move up one slot and give up a few mid-rounders for that type of player.

This selection and trade up to get their man in the junior Trubisky from North Carolina (hmm ... where has that worked for a Chicago sports team before?), took initiative and I applaud the Bears for that boldness. That kind of aggressiveness is what this franchise needs more of.

(Second round, No. 45 overall) Adam Shaheen might be “Baby Gronk?”: B

I love the Shaheen pick. I advocated the Bears needed a young tight end in this draft class early for the entire process and they now have their man long-term to develop. The 6-foot-7, 278 Shaheen played against Division II competition at Ashland but runs like a man possessed given his natural athleticism and freakish size. He’s going to need to refine his blocking and strength while acclimating to the NFL, but he’s set up well to do just that given the Bears’ rebuilding situation.

Shaheen may not contribute much year one, but I do think he can be Chicago’s Jimmy Graham in time. It was wise of Pace to invest in a position where they only currently have a 32-year-old injury prone Zach Miller, more of a blocker in Dion Sims, and some other less talented projects such as Daniel Brown. Who knows, maybe Shaheen is even used a little bit as a receiver in 2017 to get his feet wet. Couldn’t hurt as a playmaker.

(Fourth round, No. 112 overall) The red flags of Eddie Jackson: C

It’s easy to understand why the Bears appreciated what Jackson brought to the table as a true center fielding free safety. He’s explosive and possesses good range and instincts around the ball. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to score every time, either on defense or even as a punt returner. For that kind of player, you trade up a few slots as the Bears did, no questions asked.

But I can’t bring myself to be comfortable with his two previous leg injuries in the last three years - one a torn ACL in 2014 and the other a broken leg this past fall of 2016. Jackson also isn’t a sure tackler by any means and could leave himself susceptible to more punishment at a higher level. The Bears must be insistent that they’re perfectly fine with his career trajectory and health, but then again they also think Kevin White is still absolutely going to be great.

(Fourth round, No. 119 overall) The “Human Joystick” that is Tarik Cohen: B

Cohen is 5-foot-6 and ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at this year’s Scouting Combine. He’s also just 179 pounds. If you’re that small, you better be a great athlete, so Cohen’s lucky. It’s more than fair to compare him to the electric, similarly minute Darren Sproles and continue along this Pace-Saints building connection.

I’m not as concerned with who he played at North Carolina A&T because the kind of athleticism he has transfers over provided if used correctly. Which, in Chicago’s offense, he’s the change-of-pace back that’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball just his comparison Sproles. The Bears needed a backfield compliment to their workhorse in Jordan Howard and Cohen’s upside is an excellent fit in that regard.

(Fifth round, No. 147 overall) “No, the Bears are not moving Kyle Long to tackle,” Jordan Morgan: C

This is the one pick of the 2017 class that I can’t really put my finger on. The Bears didn’t really need to invest in on the interior offensive line with entrenched Pro Bowl-level starters in Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, as well as quality depth in Eric Kush and Hroniss Grasu.

Morgan can be worked over and is solid in the running game, but where’s his fit on the roster? How long is it going to take to make him a solid contributor? If he’s the replacement for Sitton eventually, fine. But right now the Bears probably could’ve taken a player that would contribute more immediately in the vain of Jackson rather than the other projects. Not too much fault for a late-round pick but nevertheless a question.

Project due at end of semester

Overall, I’m not going to blame the Bears and Pace too much for this class. They have more time than anyone would care to admit in this rebuild, well, at least Pace does. I’m not so sure about head coach John Fox and his staff. Their future doesn’t look too promising.

If brought along well, ultimately most of this class can become star-level contributors on a contending team and that’s the ideal in a scouting department that looks outside the box. It never hurts to try new things for new variety.

I’d still have liked if Chicago could have addressed edge rusher at some point in this offseason, given Pernell McPhee’s health and Willie Young’s age, but the cumulative front seven depth and talent is still there on this roster. Can’t neglect youth forever there, though.

Here’s a round-up of some national analysts’ opinions on the Bears’ 2017 class.

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: C

My grade on the Bears is lower than some might like because I don’t think they needed to move up to take quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Obviously if it works out, he’s a franchise quarterback and my opinion is totally irrelevant. But to me, they unnecessarily gave up a third-round pick in a deep draft.

Chicago smartly then got some draft capital back moving from No. 36 in the second to 45 to get Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen. Although he played against inferior competition, he should be a good player for Chicago. I like pairing Shaheen with Trubisky. They could develop a Tony Romo/Jason Witten-like rapport in Chicago.

Alabama safety Eddie Jackson was a nice pickup in the fourth round, assuming he’ll be fully healthy. The Bears had to find talent in the secondary, and he should help at safety. Running back Tarik Cohen will have value as a special teams player who can spell Jordan Howard. The Bears needed to get a cornerback and passed on the position totally.

Mel Kiper, ESPN: C+

Chicago's class is all about quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The question is whether the current coaching staff will get to experience it. The Bears gave up a decent amount to move up just one slot in the draft to assure they'd get Trubisky, and passed on a couple of really good defensive players in Jamal Adams and Solomon Thomas. I said on Thursday night that I get why they targeted Trubisky, but I don't understand giving up what it took to move up one spot. Chicago gave up pick Nos. 3, 67 and 111 this year and a third-round pick in 2018 to San Francisco. That's just a huge haul for the 49ers, who you'll find on the opposite end of these grades. So now you have a case in which Mike Glennon appears to be getting a one-year audition as starter, and the Bears will bring along Trubisky slowly, but there are bigger needs elsewhere on the roster. And with only five picks total, it was tough to fill those.

In the rest of the class, Chicago added Division II tight end Adam Shaheen, one of my favorite players in the class. At 6-foot-6, 278, Shaheen is a mammoth target who dominated the GLIAC but will have a learning curve. Converted corner Eddie Jackson should compete with Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps at safety, and I like Tarik Cohen and Jordan Morgan as developmental guys with high ceilings. But, again, it's tough to have a higher grade with only five picks.

The Bears paid a lot for a bridge QB in free agency, and now they've paid up to get the QB on the other side of that bridge. John Fox has a major challenge ahead of him, because he probably won't get much from this class in the short term.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: D

They made a strange move to give up so much to move up a spot to No. 2 overall and draft North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. They could have stayed in their third spot and landed him, but gave up too much to move up a spot. If he's a star, they will be laughing at all us. But why give Mike Glennon that contract if this was what you planned to do? Second-round tight end Adam Shaheen from Ashland is a big, physical tight end. But this is all about Trubisky and that trade.

Chris Burke, SI: C-

Either the Mitchell Trubisky gamble pays off big-time for the Bears, and no one cares about the ransom paid for the No. 2 pick, or it flops and a new regime will have to deal with the fallout. Second-round TE Adam Shaheen could help Trubisky or Mike Glennon in the passing game—he’s an ultra-athletic 280 pounds. RB Tarik Cohen (Round 4) is a heckuva lot of fun, too. The Bears need those playmakers, because the defense might be rough again next season. GM Ryan Pace spent just one pick on that side of the ball: No. 112, after a trade up, for S Eddie Jackson. That’s a good player and a solid value, but also one of the few defensive positions the Bears already addressed this off-season.

Nate Davis, USA Today: C-

GM Ryan Pace will have to hold his breath ... for a few years. He's deservedly invited heavy scrutiny – even if the recent boos at the United Center were unwarranted – after forking over four picks, including a 2018 third rounder, to move from No. 3 to No. 2 in order to guarantee the services of Mitchell Trubisky. (It should be noted Pace recouped some of his mid-round picks by later dealing the 36th selection to Arizona.) Trubisky may yet blossom into this draft's best quarterback, though he'll need major seasoning after starting just 13 college starts – a figure usually not predictive of professional success. His selection also looks odd on the surface after Pace signed free agent QB Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million pact in March. However Glennon's contract has a financial escape hatch in 2018 if Trubisky supplants him. Second-round TE Adam Shaheen from Division II Ashland is also a project. He’s 6-6, 278 pounds with sub-4.8 speed, but he may also not be ready to play. Round 4 S Eddie Jackson might be Chicago's most valuable rookie in 2017.

Chad Reuter, C+

The Bears weren't satisfied with Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future, so they picked up Mitchell Trubisky. They gave up a 2017 third- and fourth-rounder, and a 2018 third-round pick to get him. That's not terrible in terms of what other teams have given up to get their quarterback of the future; other teams have given up first-round picks to pick their guy. They had to move up one spot to get him, though, because other teams were looking at that pick -- or at least that's what San Francisco told them.

Adam Shaheen wasn't a big name, but older Bears fans might think of Mike Ditka's game when they see the young man blow up defenders. Chicago took a chance on Alabama safety Eddie Jackson early in the fourth, hoping he returns from injury and can improve his tackling. Tarik Cohen is a tough tackle at running back, and it will be interesting to see if he gets special teams work.

Evan Silva, Rotoworld: F

The Bears’ extremely ill-advised, desperation-driven one-spot climb for Trubisky cost them pick Nos. 67, 111, and a 2018 third-rounder. At UNC, Trubisky spent two years backing up Marquise Williams, who couldn’t beat out “Joe Callahan” as a Packers camp arm last year. In round two, Chicago dropped from No. 36 to 45 to add Nos. 119, 197, and a 2018 fourth-rounder. They wasted No. 45 on D-2 Frankenstein lookalike Shaheen. Ballhawking safety Jackson was my favorite Bears pick, although Jackson enters the NFL with significant injury concerns, and moving up for him cost Chicago the No. 197 pick in exchange for just a five-spot climb.

Fellow fourth-rounder Cohen is a fun guy to watch, but he has almost no chance to make an NFL offensive impact at 5-foot-7, 179. Remember Garrett Wolfe? 60% of the Bears’ draft came from sub-Division-1 schools. Ultimately, the class will pay off if Trubisky turns into a franchise quarterback. Yet there is absolutely no way 13 college starts provide enough evidence to suggest Trubisky is a good-probability bet. It’s more likely that this was the worst draft in the entire league.

Some wary belief in this teetering class, no doubt. Only time will tell for Pace and these Bears on their long-term track for an attempt at success.

Now, give us your opinion on the Bears’ 2017 draft class.


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Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.