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Maximized impact; Duerrwaechter’s assessment of the Chicago Bears’ 2019 draft class

Our resident Optimist Prime reviews and critiques the small yet loaded class selected by Ryan Pace.

NFL Combine - Day 2
Their first overall pick of this year’s draft class is expected to contribute in a big way for the Bears this coming season.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The wait is over. After what felt like an eternity between free agency and the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, we have our rookie draft class solidified and finalized for the Chicago Bears. Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his scouts can have their long deserved vacation/break with most of the roster build-up completed.

For those needing a refresher, Ryan Pace traded the Bears’ first round pick for the right to secure outside linebacker Khalil Mack’s contract from the Raiders. Prior to that, Pace utilized the 2019 2nd round pick to move up for wide receiver Anthony Miller during last year’s NFL draft. This resulted in the Bears not having a pick until the 3rd round of this year’s draft.

I find that to be perfectly fine.

Despite being such a small class due to Ryan Pace’s aggressive 2018 offseason campaign, this group is filled with solid players who all can contribute immediately. And, staying true to form, Pace aggressively traded up in the 2019 draft to secure a player he wanted the most. What’s more, is there are no more glaring holes on the Bears’ roster.

Make no mistake. They’re ready for their run at the Super Bowl.

1st Round, 24th overall: Khalil Mack; Outside Linebacker; Oakland Raiders

Grade: A+ to the infinite power

He is a Hall of Fame caliber player that destroys offensive coordinators careers who’s locked up in Chicago for the foreseeable future. There’s no need to discuss this (trade) further.

2nd Round, 56th overall: Anthony Miller; Wide Receiver; Memphis (2018)

Grade: A

Miller led the Bears in touchdown receptions during his rookie season in 2018. Had he not been injured early in his campaign, he could have broken many rookie receiving records. His future is extremely bright.

3rd Round, 73rd overall: David Montgomery, Runningback, Iowa State

Grade: A+

First, watch this video below.

Say what you want about trading away future assets to move up a whopping 14 spots in the middle of the draft. As the video above exhibited, Ryan Pace got his guy no matter the cost.

Not only do runningbacks matter in the NFL, this was the one real question mark left on the Bears’ starting offense even after free agency. They just did not have a guy who earned Matt Nagy’s complete trust in his total gameplan on offense. What’s more, is he wanted a player who can step in right away as the featured back on all three downs.

Problem solved.

David Montgomery is precisely the type of back Matt Nagy has been seeking; a good all-round back who contributes in the ground and air. Montgomery consistently draws comparisons towards Kareem Hunt given their respective production and play styles in Matt Campbell’s offense at both Toledo and Iowa State. I happen to see a bit of James Connor in terms of playing style, where Montgomery might be slightly smaller, yet just as tough if not tougher.

Like Hunt, Montgomery isn’t the fastest player clock-wise; instead he possesses tremendous explosiveness and short area quickness to hit the holes hard both inside and out. That’s more important than raw speed alone. Plus, he’s a willing pass blocker and a natural receiver out from the backfield. His work ethic and “never die easy” mentality when toting the rock is second to none in this year’s stock of backs.

If you’re looking for any room for improvement, it’s that he could be just a bit more physical when merging in pass protection. Also, his footwork in that area could be refined. Then again, the same could be said for every back in this year’s class. So, in complete honesty, I have zero issues with this selection.

This is by far the best pick in this year’s draft for the Bears. As I predicted in a piece I wrote earlier this offseason, barring anything catastrophic, he’s Matt Nagy’s guy at runningback for the foreseeable future. And he’ll be a damn good football player.

4th Round, 126th overall: Riley Ridley; Wide Receiver; Georgia

Grade: A-

You can never have too many weapons on offense.

This, truly, is a case of Ryan Pace picking the best player available on his board. Receiver wasn’t a position of need, where Ridley projects as a true possession receiver at the next level. He runs fantastic routes, and that’s a critical element when transitioning into the pros as a receiver.

The one slight knock I have with this selection is that I feel he won’t be a huge contributor for the 2019 season. He can become a solid player this year, and will be a good addition over time; yet I don’t feel it’s likely to happen this year. His lack of breakaway speed does factor in with his projected time for development.

As it stands, the receiving corps is stacked with Allen Robinson II, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller at the top of the depth chart. Also, players like Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, and Cordarrelle Patterson are all likely to be targeted frequently as well. There are so many players to feed on this offense.

Patience will be needed with this pick, as he’ll need to continue his craft of running crisp routes for him to consistently gain separation at the NFL level. I won’t be surprised to see him eventually factor in the Bears’ long-term plans along side Anthony Miller from 2020 and beyond, though.

6th round, 205th overall: Duke Shelley, DB, Kansas State

Grade: C+

There was a need to create more competition at the nickel position regardless of Buster Skrine’s addition in free agency. They elected to wait until the 6th round for that need to be addressed, and they selected a real “boom or bust” prospect.

Shelley’s strength comes in his speed and ability to mirror receivers in coverage. Much like D.J. Moore from years past in Chicago, he’s not afraid to get in anyone’s grill while pressing off on the line of scrimmage despite his 5’9” frame. Technique-wise, he’s rather solid, and his tenacity will fit in Chuck Pagano’s defense.

What I have a problem with is his tackling. It needs to get much better if he’s looking to compete for a starting job, whether that’s inside in the slot or outside on the boundaries. Also, he’s a bit stiff with his hips, as his game speed and lateral speed doesn’t resemble his respectable 40 time of a 4.46.

Look for him to compete on special teams, and eventual figure his way into the rotation at nickel if all goes well. His work ethic and desire to get better will drive him to perform better than what his draft status dictates.

7th Round, 222nd overall: Kerrith Whyte, Runningback, FAU

Grade: B+

This was the most surprising pick for me. Even though fellow draftee Montgomery figures to consume a lion’s share of the load in the backfield, and players like Cohen and Davis are backing him up, Pace elected to double dip into the deep pool at runningback. And it’s not necessarily a bad pick.

Whyte brings speed to the position. A ton of speed; he ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash and his game speed is arguably quicker. He’s also a great kick returner, becoming the first player in the program’s history to return a kickoff for a touchdown, and totaling 2 between 2017 and 2018. Also, where he played in Devin Singletary’s shadow for most of his collegiate career, he still produced large numbers as the primary backup.

His vision, on the other hand, isn’t all too great. Too many times did he get himself into trouble while being reluctant to wait for his blocking to develop up front. I didn’t notice him much in pass protection, not that FAU actually relied on their backfield to contribute as often as other offenses do in college.

I see Whyte being a rotational player who’ll pair nicely with Cohen in speed-oriented packages while being a possible player to add in the return game on special teams.

7th Round, 238th overall: Stephen Denmark; DB, Valdosta State

Grade: B

“Who?” That’s what a majority of fans on my timelines tweeted/posted/etc once the name was announced. I happen to know exactly who this player is.

First, he hails from Valdosta State of the Gulf South Conference in DII football. That is a rival program to my alma mater, University of West Florida. He started his collegiate career off as a receiver before converting into a huge corner at 6’3” and 220+ pounds. His physicality and athleticism became a mismatch in coverage against receivers and even tight ends.

Denmark is definitely a big “project” as well. He did have problems when breaking on the ball as his backpedaling wasn’t exactly fluid. What’s more is he does need to learn how not to not be as handsy in coverage, as he would have drawn quite a few flags under NFL officiating. Both of those concerns are correctable with coaching, albeit it will take time.

He’s a special teams player at this current point in time who has a tremendous ceiling based solely on his measurables. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Final Thoughts

Where I am somewhat surprised to see no linemen in this haul, offense or defense, Ryan Pace did what he could do to maximize the value of his handful of selections. Again, draft picks shouldn’t be used exclusively to find cheap talent. Use them to their fullest effect, whether that includes a trade or not.

There really aren’t any true reaches with this group in my opinion. The levels of contribution for each player will be different, and any of these players could exceed expectations. This will be a class that’ll take at least 2 full seasons to evaluate.

Oh, and I’m personally glad the Bears didn’t draft a kicker. That was the one move I absolutely hoped to avoid at any cost; kickers have arguably the highest bust rate of any position when it comes to the draft. Just continue signing guys and let them compete for the job.

That is unless Robbie Gould becomes available....#BringRobbieBack.