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Chicago Bears: Way too early 2019 NFL Draft grades

The 2019 NFL draft is over and the priority undrafted free agent period has cooled down. So, now we go through the exercise of giving out way too early “grades” on players that have never touched an NFL field!

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After 11 months of grueling preparation for most teams and draft analysts, the three-day event that is the NFL draft has officially come and gone. It was a fast and furious weekend in the football world, even if the Bears didn’t make their first selection until late Friday evening.

In the Ryan Pace era, many weren’t used to not seeing the Chicago Bears make a first or second round selection. But because of the pair of trades that gave them Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller, they found themselves playing the waiting game more than most teams.

“Grading” this draft for the Bears was a little more difficult than usual. Yes, they only made five picks and none before the middle of the third round, but there are multiple factors to consider here.

  • The trades and production of both Mack and Miller.
  • The quality of players they were still able to find with limited picks.
  • Pace absolutely killed the undrafted free agent portion of this exercise.

With this in mind, I’m going to try and fairly evaluate what they did this weekend, without focusing too much on what they did this past season to put themselves in the position they were.

(#73) Third Round: RB David Montgomery (Iowa State)

NCAA Football: Baylor at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

*Bears traded #87, #162 and a 2020 fourth rounder to Patriots for #73 and #205

After just two running backs going in the first two rounds of the draft, a run started in the third round and it was apparent that Pace felt the need to trade up to land his guy. A few picks before Montgomery, the Rams shocked quite a few people and took Darrell Henderson (Memphis), which left just Montgomery and Damien Harris as the only top-tier running backs left on the board.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the value Pace gave up to move 15 picks, but at least he kept both of his second rounders for 2020.

As far as Montgomery goes, I had him graded as my fourth running back and most major publications had him graded as a late second or early third round pick. So in terms of the value of the player, it was a good pick. In terms of fit, he’s also a very good pick. Most will focus on straight line speed, but ignore the fact that he’s well-rounded. He can catch, he can run inside or outside zone and is a good pass protector. On top of that, he has some of the deadliest cuts coming out of the draft and led the FBS in broken/missed tackles over the past two years.

He was also regarded as one of Iowa State’s top leaders and was called a “culture changer” once head coach Matt Campbell took over the program. He’s exactly the type of pick that Pace loves to make and one that should pay off from Day 1.

Montgomery Grade: B+

(#126) Fourth Round: WR Riley Ridley (Georgia)

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Starting off Day 3, it appeared that there would be maximum value at the defensive back position. Yet, as the picks started to fly, that depth started to dissipate and Pace found himself in yet another situation where he took the best player available on his board. That happened to be Ridley, who was projected as a second round pick by most publications.

Riley is the brother of Calvin Ridley, who was the Atlanta Falcon’s first round pick in 2018. Calvin had a break out year and some believe that Riley possess a similar skill set and ceiling. The biggest difference between the two? Riley’s production was not nearly as prolific at Georgia as his older brother’s was at Alabama.

The 21-year-old fits the profile of a player with all the tools to be successful at the NFL level, yet has not come close to reaching his full potential. That can be viewed as a good or bad thing, but in the case of the Bears, they saw opportunity. The main reason to be optimistic? Ridley’s route running is something that will help him transition much easier.

With any mid-round pick, there’s always going to be a sense of risk, but the fact that Pace was able to land Ridley at this point in the draft should only mean good things for the Bears down the road.

Ridley Grade: A

(#205) Sixth Round: CB Duke Shelley (Kansas State)

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly so, this was the first pick that I caught myself asking “Who?”. This is coming from an Oklahoma Sooners fan, who watches the Big 12 every weekend. Then I remembered that I rarely focus on defense because it is indeed the Big 12.

So I had to turn back to the tape to get a better idea of exactly who the Bears got and I have to say, I’m impressed. Shelley is smaller (5’9, 181 pounds) and as Pace confirmed in their concluding presser, he will play in the slot as a nickel back. He’s an aggressive player that isn’t afraid to press off the line of scrimmage and most importantly, he’s a hard hitter.

He may take some time to develop, but it seems as if defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has a “type” at defensive back and that’s feistiness. Expect Shelley to develop into a bigger role as time goes on.

Shelly Grade: B-

(#222) Seventh Round: Kerrith Whyte (Florida Atlantic)

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Day 3, I thought running back was either a position they’d address again in the late rounds or use some of their resources to pull in a top priority undrafted free agent. Turns out, the Bears were thinking along the same lines and decided to target another speedster with big play ability in Whyte.

Most people are probably aware of Devin Singletary, who was the FAU’s leading rushing and primary back. But Whyte was the guy that made a lot happen in a lesser capacity due to his speed. He ran a sub 4.4 time at his Pro Day after being snubbed for the combine and has big time ability as both a part-time runner and pass catcher.

The team already has Tarik Cohen as a play maker and Cordarrelle Patterson is another guy that fits in that role as well. Even so, Whyte could prove to be a valuable pickup and is also an excellent special teamer that can return both kicks and punts. This is one of the more underrate selections in the final few rounds of the draft.

Whyte Grade: A

(#238) Seventh Round: Stephen Denmark (Valdosta State)

It wouldn’t be a Bears draft without Pace going with at least one small school player. This year, it’s a physical freak in Denmark.

Honestly, I still have zero clue as to where Valdosta State is, but I do know it’s a Division Two school and one that I wasn’t aware of until earlier today. Even so, Denmark’s testing numbers were off the charts. He’s a converted receiver and just transitioned to cornerback within the past year.

He’s a raw player with a lot of physical ability. His height and overall length made him attractive, but he’s going to be a project and one that the Bears will have to be careful protecting. I don’t see a big role in Year 1, but he’s also someone that may not survive waiver claims on the practice squad. His development over the next few months will be very interesting to monitor.

Denmark Grade: B-

Priority Undrafted Free Agency

I’m not going to get too heavy into this because there are 31 names that have either been signed or are being brought in on a tryout basis for next weekend’s rookie mini-camp.

With that being said, I’d like to highlight a few names as to why I truly believe Pace blew the doors off this portion of the draft process.

  • WR Emanuel Hall (Missouri)
  • TE Dax Raymond (Utah State)
  • OL Alex Bars (Notre Dame)

How these three players went undrafted is somewhat baffling to me. Now, obviously we see this happen each year, but especially for a player like Hall, I was shocked when he was still on the board heading into Day 3, much less into this portion of the process. Hall had many projections in the third round due to his speed and overall ability.

Raymond comes from a smaller school and the production wasn’t overly crazy, but he was still someone that he should have had his name called on Saturday, even if it was later in the day. Bars also fits that mold, but I would imagine that Harry Hiestand had a decent amount of pull in bringing him in. This may some hyperbolic, but I truly believe Bars can be Kyle Long’s replacement in a year or two. Health is the key for him, but if healthy, he’s a third or fourth round interior lineman.

UDFA Grade: A+

Overall Grade

Again, the Bears found themselves without a pick in the first two rounds and that needs to be taken into account. But even so, it’s hard not to like what Pace was able to do with limited resources. In a lot of ways, he took a few ingredients and turned it into damn-near a full draft worth of acceptable and borderline good talent with the help of his undrafted group.

Guys like Montgomery and Ridley are going to contribute on Day 1, while others like Whyte will play roles and that’s completely fine. Pace’s track record speaks for itself, especially in the middle rounds and undrafted portion.

All in all, I came away pretty impressed and more than satisfied with what they ended up acquiring and for that, I have to give this a good grade.

Overall Grade: B