To ensure improve competitive parity, former Eagles owner Bert Bell had a radical idea for the NFL in 1935: instituting a draft of amateur players from college to give every team a shot at relevancy. With established financial powerhouses such as the Bears, Packers, and Giants taking firm control of the league without any prior system in place, this was a logical step early iterations of a professional football organization needed to take. A year later in 1936, with nine teams and nine nine-pick rounds, the inaugural NFL Draft took place. Decades later, the NFL has turned the draft into an industry of hyper analysis, intense scrutinization, and simultaneously one of the most relevant and irrelevant pieces of the football news cycle. It’s become a season away from the actual games played on it’s own.
Where the Bears sit in this, is a history of drafts, with ironically 81 to choose from. Some franchise defining, such as the 1983 and 1963 Drafts, and others almost entirely forgettable like many from the modern era. With general manager Ryan Pace and company ideally on the precipice of contention and ending a seven-year playoff drought, the franchise’s hopes rest in turning the 2018 Draft into another hit.
Here’s a perspective look at how the Bears have previously done at each of their 2018 Draft slots over the past 81 years. Note, that as the NFL expanded in size intermittently over the years, not each of these slots are in the same spot as they are in the present day. These selections merely correspond with the exact number, regardless of the talent pool or league size.
No. 8 overall (First round)
- David Terrell, WR (2001): An All-American for Michigan in the 2000 college season, Terrell was a slam dunk pick for the Bears in the early new millennium. The former Bear was a physical marvel at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds and looked like a seamless fit. Unfortunately, he would play just four seasons with the Bears, amassing 128 total receptions, 1,602 yards, and nine touchdowns. After being cut by Chicago in the mid-2000’s, he had failed comeback attempts with the Patriots and Broncos, then forever being seen as one of the biggest draft busts in Bears’ history. In 2013, he was charged in a domestic battery case, and was acquitted a year later.
- Dennis Lick, OT (1976): A Chicago native who went to high school at Illinois football powerhouse St. Rita, Lick lasted six seasons in the NFL before cutting his career short just before the Bears’ rise in the 1980’s. Though, he did have the pleasure of blocking for Walter Payton through some of the best years of his career before that. Lick, in retrospect, had a solid stay in the NFL, starting 74 of 79 games and was selected as a Second-Team UPI All-Pro in 1977.
- Wally Chambers, DT (1973): Another similarly hailed slam dunk pick at the time, Chambers made the most of his four years with the Bears as one of the first terrorizing interior lineman football had seen. He was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1973, a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1975 and 1976), four-time All-Pro, and three-time Pro Bowler (1973, 1975, and 1976). A small school prospect out of Eastern Kentucky, this is likely a pick the Bears’ scouting staff from that time still pats itself on the back on. If only the NFL had officially tracked sacks for individual players before the 1981 season.
- Jim Dooley, WR/RB (1952): To tremendous credit, Dooley could be seen as one of the most versatile athletes in Bears’ history. He started his NFL career on defense and garnered five interceptions as a cornerback. For the next eight seasons after that, he was the key cog in Chicago’s passing offense when available, becoming known for his trademark speed. He missed most of two seasons in 1955 and 1956 to serve in the U.S. Air Force. A subsequent retirement from play, over decade long coaching career from assistant to head coach in the 1960’s, and consulting job in the early 1980’s eventually followed.
- Les McDonald, WR (1937): Before the forward pass became a legitimately consistent weapon across pro football: a season of 261 yards, 16 receptions, and three touchdowns in McDonald’s peak season with the Bears in 1939 was an accomplishment. Unfortunately, McDonald didn’t receive much of a chance long term, lasting a shorts three seasons in Chicago without a mark.
No. 39 overall (Second round)
Eddie Goldman, NT (2015): A stout defender for a national championship Florida State team in 2014, Pace didn’t hesitate when he decided to take Goldman to anchor his defense in his first draft as general manager. Since then, the 24-year-old has steadily grown into one of the most underrated defensive linemen in football. He’s arguably the most important defensive piece the Bears possess due to his ability to swallow double teams and penetrate gaps at an elite level. Early ankle injuries have been forgotten after a strong 2017 season, and a Pro Bowl appearance or few feels inevitable. He figures to be a key contributor in the coming years for a budding Bears team, pending a contract extension, of course.
Mark Bradley, WR (2005): Injuries were the story of Bradley’s Bears career as he could never gain traction after they slowed him as a rookie. He did have moments here and there with the Bears, including three touchdowns in their NFC Championship 2006 season, but could never reach his potential. For Bradley’s entire NFL career over five seasons, he didn’t even eclipse 100 total receptions or double digit touchdowns.
Mike Brown, S (2000): The last picture of stability the Bears had at the safety position, even Brown had his issues maintaining an early career All-Pro level. From an Achilles injury, a Lisfranc fracture, to a torn ACL, Brown would miss 39 starts from 2004 to 2007, after starting his career with a perfect 64 for 64. In his full time return in 2008, he wasn’t the same, and would be eventually released and replaced by Danieal Manning. His two All-Pro appearances in 2001 and 2005 as well as countless memorable plays have not been erased. Nor has his place as one of the consistent excuses (for his absence) many still use for the Bears losing Super Bowl XLI to the Colts.
Marcus Spears, OT (1994): A second round pick, Spears’ hopes of latching on with the Bears came and went in the blink of an eye. He didn’t play a snap in each of his first two seasons, and would only play in nine in 1996 before eventually leaving for the Chiefs and Kansas City. There, unfortunately for the Bears’ sake, he went to be on a consistent starter for almost seven years. A theme that would be a common refrain for much of the franchise’s draft picks over the next approximate quarter century: they went on to greener pastures after leaving Chicago.
Ben Bendrick, RB (1949): Search Bendrick on the all-encompassing Internet, and there isn’t even an established database of his career. No statistics. No biography. Just when he was drafted and that he was selected by the Bears. Though, perhaps that is fair, as the fourth rounder (at the time), evidently contributed no meaningful offensive statistics. At least not enough to make a dent.
Ed Stamm, OT (1943): Similarly to Bendrick, Stamm never played a recorded game as a professional. Therefore, he has no logs of ever stepping foot in the NFL. With the league smaller and having less media attention, it’s doubtful the Bears received much criticism for missing on these high picks. Could you imagine the backlash Pace and company would feel in a 32-team behemoth in 2018?
Charlie O’Rourke, QB (1941): Before the Bears became infamous for being a symbol of quarterback failure, they had some of the most talent at the position in the middle of the 20th century. Hall of Famer Sid Luckman can attest to that fact. In a little go-around, “Chuckin’ Charlie” O’Rourke wasn’t a part of that label. He started a lone game and appeared in 11 for one of the rare early 1940’s Bears team that didn’t win a championship in 1942. Immediately after, he’d transition to start for the Los Angeles Dons in the now defunct All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
No. 105 overall (Fourth round)
Henry Melton, DE (2009): A testament to the coaching ability of former head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the Bears successfully turned a college running back at Texas in Melton, into one of the most feared interior defenders in the NFL. Melton’s athleticism, which had him actually return a kick for 20 yards in a 2009 preseason game, were a huge boost to that process. Eventually, once becoming a starter in 2011, Melton would make the 2012 Pro Bowl after a season of 7.5 sacks and 13.5 overall in two years. What looked like a bright future, was cut short by a torn ACL in 2013 and he’d never be the same. The Bears elected not to bring Melton back after that.
Darnell Autry, RB (1997): A bright college star who led Northwestern to a 1995 Big Ten title and 1996 Rose Bowl berth, Autry couldn’t find the same success with the Bears. The one time Heisman finalist accumulated a total of 318 rushing yards, 59 receiving yards, nine receptions, and one touchdown in one season in Chicago. The talent he had as an amateur never matched up as a professional.
Joe Johnson, CB (1991): Some NFL careers end before they ever start. A fourth round pick by the Bears in the early 90’s, Johnson had no place with a roster that already had an entrenched Donnell Woolford and young talents growing. Naturally, he would never see any official action.
James Thornton, TE (1988): The 1988 Bears would play out the last remnants of the championship team three seasons prior by making it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. “Robocop” Thornton, appropriately named for his stocky 6-foot-2, 242 pound physique, played a key part in that revival. In four seasons with Chicago, Thorton started 57 of 64 games. He caught 1,059 yards and 75 passes (this was before the advent of using tight ends as real weapons in the passing game), as well as five touchdowns. He was a serviceable starter for a Bears team that couldn’t afford to worry about it’s tight end.
Kevin Butler, K (1985): Before the rise of Robbie Gould, Butler was the Bears’ all-time scoring leader. Before the rise of new Bears’ kicker Cody Parkey (as an Eagle in 2014), Butler held the rookie scoring record in 1985. He was of the most underrated kickers to ever play in his time. For an offense that relied on it’s running game first, he was a crucial cog to the consistency of the Bears in the 1980’s. His legacy was passed onto his son Drew Butler, who punted for the Cardinals from 2014 to 2016.
Ed Reynolds, OT (1962): It’s unheard of for eighth rounders to become contributors in the modern era simply because the eighth round doesn’t exist anymore. We now call these kinds of players “undrafted”. But back in 1962, Tulane’s Reynolds fit this bill and similarly to a lot of undrafted free agents now, never saw a snap with the Bears.
Maury Youmans, DE (1959): As a rookie, Youmans was the starter opposite Hall of Famer Doug Atkins. Ho-hum. As a four-year NFL veteran, shoulder injuries and knee infections likely derailed what would’ve been a solid professional run: one that included a championship for the 1963 Bears. Youmans unfortunately missed 20 of 42 starts in three seasons with the Bears. If there’s any consolation, the Syracuse college star has an amazing name that should be appreciated more.
Tony Adamle, LB (1947): Adamle is a unique case in this history, because he was drafted by the Bears, never played for them, but actually went on to have a successful career. That’s because he left school at Ohio State and decided instead to join the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC, rather than play for the Bears in the NFL. More horrible fortune for Chicago considering that Adamle went on to be a First-Team All-Pro in 1951 (once the Browns joined the NFL), a two-time Pro Bowler overall, and played on two NFL championship teams as a fullback and linebacker. A swing and a miss that was never in the Bears’ control.
No. 115 overall (Fourth round)
An opportunity to make original picture history!
Emile Fritz, OG (1947): A World War II veteran, the former Vanderbilt product in Fritz enrolled in college again at Maryland shortly after his service. There he’d play for Paul “Bear” Bryant who helped turn him in an honorable mention All-American in 1946. The Bears would take Fritz in the draft in the 13th round (unheard of!) in the spring, but he’d never enjoy play for them.
No. 145 overall (Fifth round)
Sam Fewell, OT (1961): The politics to sports cross! After playing in the NFL with the Bears for three seasons, and eventually making a cameo season appearance in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes, Fewell elected to become a politician. From the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s, he was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. In 1994, Fewell was charged with conspiracy as an attorney.
Verne Gagne, WR (1947): From college football star, to straight to the mat, Gagne was drafted by the Bears but given an ultimatum by owner George Halas to choose between football or wrestling. It couldn’t be both. At the time, wrestling was a far more lucrative gig than some of the contracts handed out in football today, so it was an easy choice. Gagne went on to be one of the first most recognizable wrestling stars. A future WWE Hall of Famer in 2006. Whether he would have had that kind of recognition in the NFL will never be known.
No. 181 overall (Sixth round)
Dan LeFevour, QB (2010): An answer to a trivia question “Who is one quarterback that some people eventually thought could be a viable backup down the line to Jay Cutler”, LeFevour never saw playing time with the Bears. He never made their roster either. The team, much to the terrible example of the Smith tenure, waived the young LeFevour and signed Todd Collins to be the third-string quarterback in the 2010 preseason. Chicago had hoped he would stick on the practice squad, but the Bengals would pounce on waiver claims the next day. What could’ve been, or so was told.
Chris Harris, S (2006): Ask yourself this: how many modern sixth rounders in the NFL actually manage to carve out a career? Tom Brady will forever be the exception to this rule as perhaps the greatest quarterback ever, but otherwise, finding value this late in the draft is next to impossible as a roll of the dice. Which is why the Bears finding Harris in this fashion, who spent two separate successful stints in Chicago, is impressive. While he wasn’t a star on either of the last two Chicago playoff teams in 2006 and 2010 (though, he was acclaimed as such as a Second-team All-Pro in 2010) he was a consistent tackler with a penchant for making the big play: such as an interception in Super Bowl XLI.
Willie Holman, DE (1968): Much like Chambers years later, most of Holman’s success as a pass rusher wasn’t able to be properly documented because the NFL didn’t keep track of sack and pressure numbers in his playing days. Despite that, Holman didn’t miss a start through the first four years of his career, and more than lived up to the hype considering his original late draft position.
Sid Hall, C (1951): Coming out of Pacific college in the early 1950’s, Hall would never suit up for the Bears’ offensive front. Yet another extremely late rounder that didn’t have the benefit of timing.
No. 224 overall (Seventh round)
Roderick Butler, RB (1964): Butler never made it through off-season activities and has no recorded NFL statistics in obvious light of that.
Ken Reidenbach, OT (1952): A light swing and a light miss in regards to Reidenbach, it was difficult to get something out of a 19th round pick for anyone.
Jimmy Gatewood, RB (1948): Ditto goes for most 24th rounders like Gatewood and finding a roster spot in a limited in scope NFL.
Visco Grgich, OG (1946): An exception to the 24th rounder mandate, Grgich was drafted by the Bears in the 1946 NFL Draft, but decided instead to play for the 49ers due to his roots from Santa Clara. Grgich would go on to make three All American Football Conference All-Pro teams in San Francisco, and one Pro Bowl once they joined the NFL. Find his trading card from above on Amazon, if it suits your fancy (and wallet).
Whatever the Bears’ history is at any of their 2018 Draft slots, they would do well to add some positives to their permanent record books. Both for immediate success on the field, and posterity when one takes a look back years down the line. Nothing will be lost on the Internet now.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.