As has become the norm at Windy City Gridiron, it’s time to hand out grades for the Chicago Bears’ general manager. This was a good year for Pace and for the Bears, and a lot of critical decisions finally started to pay off. It therefore seems a little harsh to begin with what is probably Pace’s biggest failure to date, the 2015 draft class. However, with contracts set to expire, it’s best to rip off the band-aid, assess the injury, and then move on with better news.
Previously, I graded Pace in different categories, trying to assess not only how well he did in the draft but also what components went into the grade.
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.
This time, somewhat for the sake of variety but mostly for the sake of finality, each player will be graded individually and then an entire grade will be assessed for the class.
Round 1: Kevin White
This point has been endlessly rehashed, but let’s just go through the motions. The Bears were transitioning to a 3-4 defense and there were solid defenders available who would help that transition. Pace didn’t go after any of them. So, while there were available players at positions the team needed more, Pace went for the wide receiver prospect who seemed more likely to be a project than an instant contributor. Finally, through a combination of injury and failure to develop (which might be linked), White has been a total bust. Just under fifty players from the 2015 draft class have caught a touchdown, and none of them are named Kevin White. 40 players have more receiving yards.
The best that can be said is that Pace drafted to replace the void made by his own roster decisions in moving on from Brandon Marshall. He spent a first-round pick on a project receiver, albeit one with a first-round grade from some draft gurus. The project receiver has has the fewest starts and fewest games played of any first round pick from the 2015 draft. This is a classic bust, and a bust means an F. This isn’t even the “high” F of a student who tried hard and simply could not keep up. This is the type of F reserved for a student who doesn’t even turn in the assignment. Grade: F
Round 2: Eddie Goldman
When Pace picked at #39 in the draft, he had already invested in the offense. There were edge-rushers available, like Danielle Hunter (who even fit the “athlete” profile that Pace would later reveal himself to covet), and there were other nose tackles available (like Grady Jarrett), but the fact of the matter is that picking up a nose tackle was a solid move. Going after Goldman, who has been a model of reliability, was a smart move. Pace neither traded up nor moved back, but he let the board come to him. Finally, Goldman was not the best defender in the draft available, and he was not the most decisive player in hindsight. But he has been a reliable anchor for the defense, and only seven Pro Bowlers were drafted after him. In other words, drafting Goldman is a classic B--it was a good move for a second-round pick, just not groundbreaking. Grade: B
Round 3: Hroniss Grasu
Investing in the offensive line? Usually a good move. Doing it in the third round to pick up a player with known chemistry with your Pro Bowl guard? Even better move. Unfortunately, Grasu was underpowered and it showed. He only started 13 games, fewer than 40 players drafted after him. At the midterm, this pick was a C. Now that Grasu is actually out of Chicago and serving as depth for the Ravens, he’s not even that, because while it’s not true that all picks must work out, it is true that a pair of centers taken one round later have definitely played better than he has, and that he’s been matched by...oh, yeah, forget all other analysis--he’s not even on the team at the end of four years. That’s not a passing grade for a third-rounder. Grade: D
Round 4: Jeremy Langford
Langford spent two years on the Bears benefitting from the fact that he was more or less on the field in a system that used running backs well, with a quarterback who leaned on running backs, and before the team discovered that they had a much better running back available. In short, Langford was a marginal contributor for two years before he spent two seasons being waived by the Ravens, the Jets, and the Dolphins. He finally saw a game with the Falcons, but that’s about it. However, he was also a fourth-round pick, and Pace did get utility out of him. While it’s arguable that his production is no better than Grasu’s, it’s not arguable that he was a functional stopgap for the price of a fourth-round pick.
Unfortunately, despite being the 7th player taken in the fourth round, he has played less than twenty-three players taken in the fourth round, and it gets worse when you look at starts. While he was not a complete failure, he was never more than a stopgap, and there were better stopgaps to be found. Grade: D+
Round 5: Adrian Amos
Forget Pro Football Focus. Forget a helmet-to-helmet in the wild card game that apparently would not have been called if #38 played for the Rams. Consider this--Amos is a fifth-round safety who has held down the position for 56 starts. He has been one of the leading tacklers on the team for every year he has been on the roster, and has the 38th-highest Career Average Value, per Pro Football Reference, of any player taken in the 2015 draft. He was selected 143rd. I was taken to task to years ago for calling Amos a B- draft selection, and I agree, but not for the reasons listed by others. I think my first grade was too low. If anyone expects more than a reliable player who leaps more than a hundred spots in draft value from a GM, then that person is unreasonable. Grade: A
Round 7: Tayo Fabuluje.
Fabuluje never contributed, but he was a 7th-round pick. I maintain that getting value after Round 5 is extra credit, not a reasonable expectation.
If all draft picks are weighted equally, then, Pace gets a 68%. That’s the kind of D+ grade that makes a teacher wish the student had studied just a little harder and had done just a little bit of extra homework. If picks are weighted so that the earlier rounds carry more weight, then this falls to an F in a hurry.
Grades for the Class
Taken collectively, the 2015 draft did little to position the Bears for the future. A decent draft class nets three starters are two contributors, and this one landed a pair of starters (Goldman and Amos) as well as two marginal contributors (Langford and Grasu). One of the highest draft picks the franchise had in a decade was turned into one of the biggest busts in entire class, and so the offense was equally unimproved. There isn’t a pro bowler to be found among them, and the team with the 7th-best draft position actually had one of the least successful classes in the league.
To put it bluntly, 2015 set the team back by a year. When the curtain opens on the 2019 season, it is possible that only one player will be left from this draft, and for a team that was supposedly being rebuilt for the long haul, this is bad news.
Holistically, an argument could be made to grade Pace on a curve--not against himself or the league but against other GMs who have inherited another manager’s personnel. Excuses could be made that his biggest reach--White--was an effort to please a quarterback who liked big-bodied athlete receivers instead of polished route-runners. Whatever spin is made, the best grade that can be given to the class is a D, and that’s only because of the way the defense has blossomed and the fact that Goldman and Amos are integral parts of that defense. I am going to split the difference.
Overall Grade: D-
However, Drafting 101 is not the only class that Ryan Pace has taken. Next time, we’ll turn to a subject where this self-professed Pace critic has actually long-defended him, and we’ll see that there are a couple of subjects he has been passing since the beginning.