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Balancing Needs with Value; ECD’s Review of the Chicago Bears’ 2020 Draft Class

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Ryan Pace made the most of his picks as needs were addressed with value dictated by his personal boards.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford
He’s a guy who’s dream came true with the Bears’ selection at 43rd overall. Will be be a dream come true for Bears fans at tight end?
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The silence of the sports world finally ended last week as the 2020 edition of the yearly NFL Draft came and went. Plenty of noise was generated by several surprises, both good and bad, from all 32 teams. It’s good to be able to discuss actual sports-related news considering the set of circumstances that has plagued the world in recent weeks.

Now let’s see what Ryan Pace accomplished with his limited stock of picks heading into the first-ever virtual draft.

Pick #1, 43rd Overall: Cole Kmet, Tight End, Notre Dame

Grade: A

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The board could not have been set up any better for the Bears and their needs as they finally appeared on the clock for the first time Friday night. High quality players at Safety, Corner, O-Line, and Receiver all miraculously fell to their lap by the time the clock started in Ryan Pace’s personal war room at home.

My personal favorite, Grant Delpit, was looking like a huge steal to pair with Eddie Jackson in the secondary. For the sake of transparency Delpit was one of the two players I wanted for the Bears in the second round. Take a gander as to who the other guy was...

Instead, the Bears elected to take this year’s top tight end with their selection of a home-town prospect who’s been a Chicago Bears fan for his entire life. Immediately the value of taking the best traditional “Y” tight end instead of the other players available drew the ire of many fans. For argument’s sake Grant Delpit went to the Cleveland Browns one pick afterwords at 44th overall.

And you know what? I am completely fine with this pick. So are others, including the boss man himself.

Considering how big of a mess this position group has been it should come as no surprise to see another tight end added into the mix. This was made more apparent when Chicago released Trey Burton with a post-June 1st designation. That cleared the way for a high draft pick to be spent for this position.

Also, too much attention is being paid to the players of whom were available at 43rd overall instead of Cole Kmet himself. That is a disservice if you ask me.

Kmet consistently graded out as a late first/early second round prospect prior to the beginning of the draft. Based on that he was picked right where he should have been. Of course, the counterpoint is the perception of how shallow the depth at tight end was for this class. In the end, Chicago was provided with the opportunity to hand pick their top player in this position group without needing to trade up.

In terms of player-to-player comparisons, the most common that I have noticed is Kyle Rudolph. Not only were both former players for the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame, they were picked at identical spots. Rudolph went 43rd overall in 2011 to the Minnesota Vikings and Kmet went 43rd overall to the Bears this year.

Other players that are comparable to Kmet include Tyler Higbee of the Los Angeles Rams and former Dallas Cowboys great Jason Witten of the (now) Las Vegas Raiders.

In all, Kmet is a guy who’ll require one to two years of development to reach his potential. Most tight ends do. He’s also set up with a quality coach in Clancy Barone, a guy who’s developed a Pro Bowler for four different teams (Falcons, Chargers, Broncos, and Vikings). Including, interestingly enough, Kyle Rudolph.

He’s a guy who’s able to play a complete game as a tight end. One who has proven himself as a capable in-line blocker as well as a dependable target in the receiving game. Nobody else on the depth chart can do the same for Chicago.

The Bears haven’t had such a good all-round player at tight end since Martellus Bennett, who last played for Chicago in 2014. This position did not have a long term answer on the roster, not with new signee Jimmy Graham entering what will likely be his last big contract in the NFL. Kmet, on the other hand, is that answer.

Kmet will have an impact in year one as an in-line blocker and additional target for whomever wins the job at quarterback. This move is more about finding the long term solution to what has been a major issue. Patience is needed, yet he’ll eventually be a big part of this Bears offense.

Pick #2, 50th Overall: Jaylon Johnson, DB, Utah

Grade: A

NCAA Football: Washington State at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It goes without saying that this is a far easier pick to review in comparison to the selection of Kmet. Where the previous selection was questioned due to positional value vs. BPA, Johnson is a clear-cut case of theft in this year’s draft class. I have seen draft grades as high as top-15, and the general average was between the 20th and 32nd overall picks.

The likely reason for his fall was due to medical concerns involving his right shoulder. He spent the entire 2019 season playing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The fact he was still able to play at such a high level — he was named an All-American in 2019 — speaks volumes to his toughness and how high his ceiling is. Provided his surgery went well earlier this spring, I do not see this being a real issue.

What does Jaylon Johnson bring to the Bears, one might ask? Aggression, intelligence, and lock-down ability while being a thumper on the perimeter of the Bears’ secondary. He’s not just an ideal replacement for Prince Amukamara, he’s an upgrade. I expect him to win the battle at camp and be the co-starter at Corner with Kyle Fuller to form a fairly strong duo in coverage.

For those in the audience who want comparisons, the most common is Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks. Personally, he looks more like a young Vontae Davis to me. Oh, and Johnson could not have been given a better front seven to make their life easier in coverage.

This is an outstanding pick for Ryan Pace. Period.

Pick #3, 155th overall: Trevis Gipson, EDGE, Tulsa

Grade: B+

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It was an incredibly long wait for us Bears fans until Chicago was on the clock again. They were not set to pick until #163 — more on that pick later. Out of nowhere Ryan Pace sends a 2021 4th round pick in a rare inter-divisional trade between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.

I really want to say this was a surprise to see Ryan trade up in the 5th round for an edge player. Then again, none of us should; every draft since 2016 has seen the Bears aggressively move up for players the team wants badly enough. The depth at OLB was not ideal behind Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.

Trevis is an interesting pick because he played almost exclusively as a true down lineman instead of an outside linebacker while at Tulsa. It’s already been confirmed by the Bears that he will be an OLB for Chicago’s base 3-4 alignment, with the potential to kick inside at 5-tech in a “NASCAR” package.

In my own evaluation Gipson has a lot to work on while he converts into a linebacker in the NFL. Primarily, his hands and footwork are all over the place. Once he learns how to consistently swat linemen off and keep his base underneath, he’ll be a very tough player to handle.

That’s why I also am high on this pick. His motor is non-stop, which is intensified by his violence when merging on the line of scrimmage. The effort really shines in his film, I don’t recall any occasions where he was loafing on the field. His combination of size, power, and speed present Chuck Pagano a golden opportunity to develop a potential diamond as the 3rd OLB in the rotation.

The one comparison that makes the most sense....Roy Robertson-Harris. Where this is opposite of what happened with RRH, they both have limitless energy that converts into raw power when they rush the passer. Both players offer versatility between OLB and DE thanks to their respective skill-set. Pernell McPhee is also a similar player in terms of play styles.

If Gipson has a good training camp this summer, then expect him to get a sizable amount of snaps in obvious passing down situations.

Pick #4, 163rd Overall: Kindle Vildor, DB, Georgia Southern

Grade: C-

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow the Bears succeeded in keeping their original 5th round pick in their deal with the Vikings which net the Bears Trevis Gipson. Here I thought Chicago would finally take either a vertical threat at receiver, or a player to compete at guard on the O-Line.

Neither of those happened.

With their second fifth round pick Ryan Pace selected another player to add into the mix at corner. To Vildor’s credit he was fairly impressive at the Senior Bowl in Mobile this year. The most common theme in his notes is that he’s savvy in coverage where not a lot of plays develop past him in the secondary. His athleticism and decent length allows him to time up most breakups rather well.

By the way Georgia Southern is not a D-2 school as some have complained. They are a D-1 FBS school in the Sun Belt conference that has seen a few athletes become big time players at the professional level. Just to correct that misconception.

My biggest pet peeve with Vildor’s game has to be his lack of willingness as a tackler. It drove me nuts while coaching D-linemen and LBs when a play happened in the secondary and a DB just didn’t want to get dirty. He has a bad habit of shying away from contact between the whistles. That needs to be fixed before he should be entrusted with a role in various nickle or dime packages.

Robert Alford is the closest comparison I could find for Vildor. Even then, that’s a bit of a stretch to be completely honest.

As it stands Vildor will have a chance to start off on Special Teams in punt and kick coverage units. When he proves himself as a willing tackler, he’ll be ready to compete for snaps at DB.

Pick #5, 173rd Overall: Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane

Grade: B+

NCAA Football: Houston at Tulane Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Just when we thought the Bears’ activities in the 5th round were over, Ryan Pace pulled off a repeat performance. This time, he sent both of his 6th round picks to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for their 5th round pick and two 7th round picks. I literally asked myself, “this has to be for a receiver, right?”

Indeed it was. A fairly fast and potentially dangerous one, too.

The drops and a smallish frame are why he dropped all the way to the 5th round in a historically deep draft class for receivers. Otherwise, given his pure capability as a burner and lightning-quick weapon on offense, he’s well worth the risk. His film has “playmaker” written all over it.

The biggest attribute Mooney brings to Matt Nagy and his offense is a player who’ll get deep quick while busting out big plays underneath. His 4.38 speed and level of suddenness in his breaks makes it easy for him to slip past DBs at the second level. For a guy his size — 5’10” and 176 lbs — he adjusts well to off-target throws and has made some ridiculous catches while climbing the ladder.

As I previously mentioned his drops and size will likely limit him to being a slot receiver at the next level. In a way he looks a lot like Taylor Gabriel, where he’s not as sure handed as “Turbo” but he’s also more explosive in short yardage situations. I want to compare him to Johnny Knox as others on the net have, yet Mooney has no credible special teams experience to discuss.

In a receiving trio of Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Darnell Mooney the Bears will have quite a large amount of versatility between each player. The fact as to how well Mooney projects as the needed speed demon in this offense is why I love this selection.

Pick #6, 226th Overall: Arlington Hambright, OG, Colorado

Grade: B

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

To conclude the draft, and in large part thanks to the Eagles, the Bears selected a pair of offensive linemen with back-to-back selections in the 7th round.

Hambright was the first of these two linemen selected. The 6’4” 307 lb specimen from Colorado is fairly athletic for his size. He timed an official 4.92 in the 40, although I am not a big believer in linemen running the full 40-yard dash. Instead, within the first 10 yards is what I’ve learned to fixate, and his quickness off the snap is downright nasty.

He has adequate strength and can pull in any zone-based protection scheme, which is what Chicago is looking to return to instead of...whatever last year’s hybrid could be called in a PC manner.

Like most linemen drafted this late he’s a project for Juan Castillo to work with over time. His footwork was a bit too slow and appeared to be lazy at times once a full second passed the first whistle. He’ll bite on stunts and games by the D-line as well.

If I had to name a player of whom he resembles, it would have to be a slightly shorter version of Chris Williams when he kicked inside at Guard.

Pick #7, 227th Overall: Lachavious Simmons, OL, Tennessee State

Grade: Incomplete/Null

Remember the last time the Chicago Bears drafted a player late from Tennessee State? History was kind for Jim Finks, as he selected Richard Dent with the 203rd overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. To say that’s a robbery is an understatement.

Fast forward to 2020 and Ryan Pace is looking for the same kind of luck. In this case Lachavious Simmons is a prospect who’s got good size (6’5” 290+ lbs) and athleticism to build off from.

Unfortunately I could not find any good film on this player aside from this nice video I pulled on good ole YouTube.

Based on that one video, he looks like a pretty nasty player with a meanstreak to fight for a chance on an NFL roster. He’s also going to face significantly better talent at the pro level. Again, I do not have enough on-hand to provide a detailed opinion on this pick.

Here’s to hoping that history repeats itself for Tennessee State Tigers on the Chicago Bears roster!

In Summary

I feel Ryan Pace and his scouts did a fairly good job in balancing needs with value throughout the draft.

The safety position is the one need that did not see any new players added. This could mean a veteran is being eyeballed, or that they’re comfortable with Deon Bush and others fighting for their chance at a starting role. I’d also like to see a more defined and developed option added to compete at right guard, unless Germain Ifedi blows everybody away as his physical talent suggests. And, well, why not add a developmental guy at quarterback?

By the mathematical rule of averages this entire class grades out as a B+. Some aren’t as sold on Kmet as I am, and I feel that’ll change once we see him in live action. Likewise, I wasn’t a big fan of seeing Kindle Vildor picked in the 5th round. Jaylon Johnson is the biggest gem of this class, and is one of the biggest steals in the entire 2020 draft.

On paper, from free agency to the draft, the Chicago Bears are a better team than at this point in 2019. And, well, at least they addressed their needs. Unlike a certain neighbor/rival up north who decided to trade up for a QB and take another RB while ignoring their biggest holes.