Since Ryan Pace’s first draft, he has spoken about the idea of a “cloud” of similarly grouped players. In the case of the 2015 draft, they reportedly had 8 players in their cloud of elite prospects, and all six of the players who went before Kevin White was selected were in said cloud.
Individual players are obviously ranked differently within a cloud, but the concept is valuable for identifying where there is a notable drop-off in value and quickly determining whether a draft-day situation is favorable for a trade.
A likely scenario for this to come up on draft day would be determining a decision to trade back in round one. If, at pick eight, the first cloud is empty and the Bears’ second cloud has several players remaining, it would make sense for them to trade back a few spots, knowing they won’t see a drop off in the value of player available. Perhaps at the end of day two, the Bears will see one player left in a later cloud and decide it’s worth bundling picks to trade up instead of settling from a player in a lesser—perhaps stratocumulus—cloud.
Before I start, I feel obligated to disclose that I’m not an expert draft evaluator. I don’t watch college football during the season, and I’m still developing the skill of picking up the traits needed to succeed in the NFL from a player’s college tape. My opinion comes from listening to and reading most of the people I feel are experts, and creating a synthesis that includes incorporating my own preferences on traits I value and adjusting for biases I’ve noticed in particular evaluators.
In broad strokes, I’ve noticed that NFL evaluators and those who come from the perspective of what teams value tend to be biased towards players with high potential based on physical traits rather than players with sub-optimal physical traits who have more developed skill-sets and more impressive college production. In contrast, PFF and much of draft twitter (or otherwise unaffiliated analysts) seem biased towards players who have tape showing impressive production more than traits showing impressive potential.
I definitely have my own biases, and I’ll try to make them clear as I explain my clouds. In terms of the broad groups above, I am definitely biased towards the proven performers in the early rounds but switch to be biased towards upside players in the later rounds. As an unabashedly optimistic fan, players whose ceiling is “solid backup” don’t really excite me.
Cloud One (2 players):
Bradley Chubb Edge, NC State- the other half of the heart-shaped locket needed to form the elite Flubb pass-rushing duo,
Quenton Nelson Guard, Notre Dame- stop it with any too-high-for-a-guard nonsense. Interior pass rush and interior defense are becoming increasingly important in the NFL and certainly the NFC North.
There’s not much to say about this elite duo. The cumulonimbus of fluffiest fluff, this cloud contains the two top players in the draft, both in positions of need for the Bears. If one of these players falls, the Bears won’t have to think about it. I believe a trade-up for Chubb is a definite possibility if he falls within reach.
Cloud Two (5 players):
Roquan Smith Linebacker, Georgia - if QBs can have “intangibles” so can MLBs. Roquan has larger intangibles than any LB in this draft or last.
Minkah Fitzpatrick DB, Alambama - On the Bears defense, I see Minkah as a nickel CB who plays SS or sometimes linebacker in run packages.
Harold Landry Edge, Boston College - A speed rusher who hasn’t developed a great counter move sounds a lot like Leonard Floyd. But it’s also a profile that tends to get after QBs who like to extend plays. I don’t mind the idea of two of them going after Aaron Rodgers twice a year.
Denzel Ward CB, Ohio State - Fangio likes tall corners because they tend to be better at press. Ward is short, but he’s terrific at press. Don’t overthink the measurables.
Maurice Hurst DL, Michigan - An elite “undersized” interior pass rusher in the mold of Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins may end up being the best value in this draft class.
Here’s where it gets interesting. It’s very likely that all five of these players will be on the board when the Bears are on the clock (if 4 quarterbacks, cloud one, and Saquon Barkley are taken in the top 7.) This is why a trade-back (or up for Chubb) makes a ton of sense for the Bears. If they have a similar 5-Bear cloud, they could trade back to 12 without fear and further if they are willing to engage in a brief dance with lady luck. For me, these players are grouped very tightly, and if I published this two days ago or two days from now, the order would probably be different.
I suspect the biggest surprise here is the inclusion of Maurice Hurst, who some evaluators have as low as a second-round grade on. It breaks my heart to not have Vea listed as my top DL, so please don’t @ me about it. The problem is, pass defense is so much more valuable than run defense in the NFL, and especially when you play the Lions and Packers twice a year. Hurst is the best interior pass-rusher in this class, and he played well against the run in college. The concern that his play against the run won’t hold up in the NFL due to his size (~270 lbs) is legitimate, but I’ll take that downside if I can like up Hurst with Akiem Hicks Leonard Floyd and any mediocre 4th on passing downs.
Hurst wasn’t allowed to perform drills at the combine because of an ekg abnormality. I’m not Hurst’s doctor, so I can tell you what I think about that without violating the Health Information Patient Privacy Act. There are plenty of ekg “abnormalities” that are basically just normal variants and not associated with any increased risk with playing football. Knowing that Hurst’s doctors at Michigan and some pompous nerds at Harvard both cleared him makes me confident that’s all that he has. The fact that a combine doctor would take the conservative choice and send him home without 100% confirmation his abnormality was benign doesn’t surprise me at all.
Cloud Three (6 Players):
Vita Vea DL, Washington - the closest comp to an actual bear to come into the draft in several years. His best bear comp is the grizzly because of his elite hump move.
Tremaine Edmunds LB, Virginia Tech - I’m likely to regret having him this low, but I prioritize instincts and football IQ at the MLB position, and Edmunds hasn’t shown he’s exceptional in these areas yet.
Jaire Alexander CB, Louisville - 2017 injuries are the only reason he’s not in the #1 CB spot. He recently tweeted a flattering draft self-evaluation. That’s the kind of playful confidence I love in a player.
Mike McGlinchey OT, Notre Dame - High floor. Medium ceiling. Good if you’re a draft prospect. Bad if you’re a building for tall people.
Connor Williams OT, Texas - Terrific 2016 followed by difficulty playing through injury in 2017. Some think he should be a guard, but if the Bears see him as a tackle, the value might push him to the top of this cloud.
Saquon Barkley - He’s only at the bottom of this cloud because I don’t want to see Jo Ho replaced.
This cloud basically represents who the Bears could consider if they trade back to the mid-to-late first round. None of these players are likely to fall to the Bears in round two, and the Bears won’t need to dip into this cloud if they stay at eight.
Tremaine Edmunds obviously stands out as a player most think the Bears will consider much earlier. If you have a problem with me putting him here, you can kindly “get off of my cloud.” I already told you I value proven skill and production over projection.
These top three clouds most likely include the player the Bears will pick in round one, even if they do trade back. Next time, Clouds 4 through 6 will present players that could be considered in a late round one trade, possible falling values, and those that should be there for the Bears current only day two pick (39).