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The young Bears must step up in 2020

The Chicago Bears didn’t fare very well in the recent ESPN under-25 rankings...

NFL: SEP 05 Packers at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace has often played the trade up game in his drafts, because it seems that in some instances he values quality over quantity. He has conviction in a prospect, so he aggressively goes after him while giving up some other draft picks in the process.

It’s a sound plan of attack when it works, but there are no guarantees in the NFL Draft.

Moving up for a player he and his scouting staff truly believe in is a nice theory, but considering there are no sure things when evaluating prospects it’s something he should do in moderation.

In an inexact science like the draft, fewer picks equals less potential at finding young talent, so it amplifies the importance of the young players you do pick to be play makers.

Right now the Bears are in a situation where they are lacking young difference makers, but 2020 will provide an opportunity for guys like David Montgomery, Roquan Smith, Bilal Nichols, Riley Ridley, James Daniels, and this year’s rookie class to make all their mark on the franchise.

In a recent ESPN/Football Outsiders article from Scott Spratt, they ranked the teams based on their under-25 talent for the 2020 season, and for the second year in a row the Bears ranked a disappointing 27th.

Here’s what they had to say about Chicago's youngsters.

Blue-chip players: Roquan Smith, ILB; James Daniels, C

Notable graduated players: Tarik Cohen, RB; Anthony Miller, WR; Rashaad Coward, RG; Adam Shaheen, TE

Misreading of the market aside, the Bears’ decision to trade for veteran quarterback Nick Foles this offseason makes sense for a team that already pushed all-in for short-term competitiveness with the Khalil Mack trade in 2018. After losing their 2019 first-round pick and 2020 first- and third-round picks, the Bears fell to 27th in the under-25 rankings the past two years and added just tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson prior to the fifth round of this year’s draft. Kmet, at least, was the class’s consensus top tight end, and he could add a badly needed receiving option for whichever of Foles or Mitchell Trubisky ends up starting. Graduated wide receiver Anthony Miller hasn’t provided as much value as expected, catching just 85 passes with below-average offensive efficiency (-3.1% DVOA). And 2019 fourth-rounder Riley Ridley was a nonfactor in his rookie season with just seven targets in five active games.

Trading picks for an established star like Mack is worth it only if the team can win, and in two years with Mack the Bears have one playoff appearance. Pace gambled that Mack would be the final piece of of his championship puzzle, but his previous quarterback gamble did him in last year.

If the QB situation improves in 2020 the Bears will be back in the postseason.

Here’s some more from ESPN;

Nevertheless, the Bears aren’t completely bereft of young talent. Center James Daniels solidified his blue-chip status with a second straight season with a blown block rate below 3.0%. With a solid 19.9% broken tackle rate, running back David Montgomery teased potential that his poor -13.0% rushing and -5.5% receiving DVOA rates mostly obscured. I think it’s fair to primarily blame the Bears’ bottom-four run-blocking offensive line (3.86 adjusted line yards) for his inefficiency. Linebacker Roquan Smith continued to show tremendous versatility with a 64% run stop rate and a 54% coverage success rate, both in the top 30 at his position. And Bilal Nichols has 18 career starts with modest production that could prove critical with defensive tackle Eddie Goldman opting out of the 2020 season.

Some fans are down on Daniels, but here’s a guy that was a 20-year old rookie that had his position changed during his second year, so I expect year three to be a big step up for him. On my recent appearance on Robert Schmitz’s Run Pass Opinion show, I mentioned that Daniels was still maturing as an athlete, and if we’re to believe the recent pictures...

... Daniels has added some muscle to his 6’3”, 305 pound frame.

Montgomery should benefit from a better Daniels at left guard, but he’ll also benefit from a less jumbled running scheme. Montgomery is another guy that spent the offseason reworking his body...

... and when combined with all the time he put in with the Footwork King again this offseason, he’s primed for a breakout.

Besides the under-25 players mentioned above, Chicago needs a few others to show up in a big way in 2020 too. Guys like cornerback Kevin Toliver II, kicker Eddy Piñeiro, inside linebacker and special teamer Joel Iyiegbuniwe and rookie outside linebacker Trevis Gipson all need to come through this year for the Bears.