The Athletic’s Dane Brugler went back and handed out grades for the 2016 NFL Draft, which is the proper time to hand out draft grades; three years after the picks are made.
Immediate draft grades are silly, as these players have yet to play a snap as a professional, but everyone does them, and everyone reads them. While I’m a vocally against doing immediate draft grades, my curiosity to see what the experts have to say about the Chicago Bears’ draft class leads me to search the interwebs as soon as possible.
The 2016 class was Chicago general manager Ryan Pace’s first with his full scouting staff in place, and it was also the first where we got to truly see his aggressive nature.
Here’s a reminder of the draft class from that season, with the five players in bold being ones that still play in Chicago.
1 (9) Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
2 (56) Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
3 (72) Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
4 (113) Nick Kwiatkoski, LB, West Virginia
4 (124) Deon Bush, S, Miami (Fla.)
4 (127) Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa (Eagles)
5 (150) Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana (Eagles)
6 (185) DeAndre Houston-Carson, DB, William & Mary
7 (230) Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan (CFL)
Hall and Howard were both traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in separate moves, and Braverman was recently signed by the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
That’s a solid draft class for Pace and his scouts, and Brugler gave the class a B. He tabbed Whitehair as the best pick of Pace’s class, and here’s what he said about that selection.
While Floyd has been a reliable contributor on defense, Whitehair was the best pick from the Bears’ 2016 haul, especially considering he wasn’t a top-50 draft pick. In three seasons, he has started all 49 games, primarily at center while also filling in at guard.
Whitehair just made his first Pro Bowl at center last year, but early reports from OTAs has him moving to left guard. I expect him to make the Pro Bowl again at his new position, becoming the third Bears lineman to make it at two positions.
He had the recently traded Howard as Pace’s best value pick from the 2016 draft.
In three NFL seasons, Howard has produced 3,370 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns, missing only one game. He wasn’t an ideal fit in Matt Nagy’s offense and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018, which is why he fetched just a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick when the Bears traded him to the Eagles this offseason. However, Howard has certainly outplayed his draft position.
I was a fan of Jordan Howard, and I hope he does okay in Philly, but anyone that believes he’ll be their “bell-cow” is in for a surprise. The Eagles spent a second round pick on running back Miles Sanders from Penn State to help set up their own running back by committee room.
Brugler had Jonathan Bullard as his biggest miss.
Bullard has been a solid rotational piece, seeing action in all but two games the past three seasons. However, he has only five career starts with minimal production, including just two sacks. Bullard has been solid, but you expect more out of a top-75 draft pick.
Bullard lost playing time to Roy Robertson-Harris and rookie Bilal Nichols last year with only 28% of the snaps on defense after seeing 41% in 2017. Bullard seems to have settled into a nice rotational role on Chicago's defensive line, but he’ll never live up to the “steal of the draft” label he got by a lot of pundits after he was taken.
However, does that make him the biggest miss of the class?
Adam Jahns, formerally of the Chicago Sun Times, but now working the Bears’ beat for The Athletic, also chimed in on Chicago’s 2016 draft.
Beat writer’s take: The 2016 NFL Draft was the first time that the league experienced the aggressive, targeted approach of general manager Ryan Pace. He traded up from No. 11 to No. 9 to select outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The Giants were believed to be high on Floyd, but the Bears leapfrogged them at No. 10. Instead, the Giants took cornerback Eli Apple, who was traded to the Saints in October of the 2018 season. Floyd might not be a top-tier rusher, but he still has value because of his athleticism and versatility. The acquisition of superstar Khalil Mack — and his massive contract — didn’t stop the Bears from picking up Floyd’s fifth-year option for 2020.
The Bears’ best picks from 2016 are arguably center/guard Cody Whitehair (second round) and running back Jordan Howard (fifth). But Whitehair, who has started every game over his first three seasons, is the only one of the two who will be a long-term fixture for the Bears. Howard ran for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons under former coach John Fox, but he didn’t fit coach Matt Nagy’s offense. After a 2018 season full of career lows, Howard was traded in March to the Eagles for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2020. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson are regulars on special teams. — Adam Jahns
Jahns always brings something interesting in his stuff, and bringing up how Pace snagged Floyd from the Giants is a story a lot of fans aren’t aware of.
I think Floyd is going to have his best year as a pro in 2019, and I also think the Bears will try to sign him to a long term extension sooner rather than later.
What are your thoughts on the Brugler’s grade and on what Jahns had to say?