FanPost

How Many Picks Has Ryan Pace Traded Away?

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If you've ever visited WCG, you might notice that I have some qualms with the way Ryan Pace builds a team. Here, we will examine in detail 1. Exactly how many picks he has traded away, and what value those picks have, and 2. How that stacks on top of the Bears situation with compensatory picks and 3. Exactly how Pace has allocated his draft picks. This is focused on the trading and use of draft picks for draft purposes and does not include the trading of veterans and picks, such as the one for Khalil Mack, though I will reference the Mack trade and others.

Disclaimers

This is not about individual moves, but about strategy. Strategy is stacking moves on top of moves. It's building advantages, and then exploiting those advantages. If you're not interested in strategy, no need to read this piece. Also this is draft strategy. There are other ways to add players to a roster, such as free agency, trades and undrafted free agency. But, Pace said he wanted to build the team through the draft, and I think just about everyone agrees that the most successful teams are the ones built through the draft. I will just say that I think Pace has been fairly typical in free agency, winning on moves like Hicks and Robinson, losing on others like Glennon and Quinn. You win some and lose some in free agency, that's just how it is. He's found some gems in UDFA but my understanding is that most teams tend to find 1 or 2 over 7 years, but if there's information on that I'd love to see it.

With those disclaimers out of the way, let me state that Ryan Pace is not so bad. Before I started looking deeper into Ryan Pace's record of draft trades, I was pretty sure he was terrible, like a bottom-2 GM, but after looking at these moves, and along with Josh Sundebruch's look into Pace's results, I've come away thinking that Pace is probably more like bottom 5 or 6 than bottom 2. I don't have the information on this, but I really think Pace is not a bad drafter, probably in the average range in terms of how well he hits on his picks. He just doesn't draft well enough to overcome all the picks he trades away, leading to below average results, and after 7 years, that's about all that really matters. Josh already showed that the results are below average, and I'll just add that after you take 3 years to rebuild a team, I expect more than one winning season and I expect more than an 8-8 type of team. We should have had a run of legitimate championship contention the past 2 seasons instead of a pair of 8-8 finishes, and I'm irrationally pissed off about it.

Back to the facts, Pace has given himself a sizable disadvantage in terms of numbers of picks, and especially at certain position groups. Even if the disadvantage is not as much of as a disadvantage as I thought, it still puts stress on Pace to give each position groups enough picks to be successful. Instead, he's made some against-the-grain choices in terms of emphasizing certain positions like ILB and RB, and he's thereby been forced to go very thin at positions like OT and CB, so it's no surprise that those positions look weak this year. Let's have a look:

1. Draft Day Trades: -8 total picks

- 2016: Trade away Picks 11 and 106 for Pick 9 (Leonard Floyd)
- 2016: Receive Picks 56 (Cody Whitehair), 117, 117 and 124 for Pick 41.
- 2016: Trade away Picks 117 and 206 for Pick 113 (Nick Kwitkoski)
- 2017: Trade away Picks 3, 67, 111 and 70 for Pick 2 (Mitchell Trubisky)
- 2017: Receive Picks 45 (Adam Shaheen), 115, 119 and 197 for Picks 36 and 221.
- 2017: Trade away Picks 117 and 197 for Pick 112 (Eddie Jackson)
- 2018: Trade away Picks 56 and 105 for Pick 51 (Anthony Miller)
- 2019: Trade away Picks 87, 162 and 125 for Picks 73 (David Montgomery) and 205
- 2020: Trade away Pick 125 for Pick 155 (Trevis Gipson)
- 2021: Trade away Picks 20, 164, 2022 Round 1 and 2022 Round 4 for Pick 11 (Justin Fields)
- 2021: Trade away Picks 50, 83 and 204 for Picks 39 (Teven Jenkins) and 151
- 2021: Receive Picks 217 and 250 for Pick 208.


Total: -5 picks from 2016-2020, then another -3 picks in 2021 for -8 total and that's over 8 years. Included in what we've traded away is a first, two thirds, plus a bunch of picks Rounds 4-7. It's true when Why Your Team Sucks says that Pace "has traded away an entire draft class, and it doesn't even include the first round pick given up for Khalil Mack". My best guess is that Pace would try to trade down and recover picks next year, but you just never know with him.

I calculated the average value of the picks given up (not including 2021 since we don't yet know what they are) to be 141, or an early 5th rounder, we used pick 142 on Adrian Amos as an example. It's not as high an average pick as I thought we were giving up, though part of my thinking was influenced by the first rounder given up in the Mack trade, which isn't included here. The average will probably climb to the 110-115 range, or a late 4th rounder, with next year's picks in Rounds 1 and 4. Eight late 4th rounders is an entire draft class, more on this later.

For one, while I think it's exciting to have a wheeling and dealing GM like Pace, and it seems like the right thing to "be aggressive" and "get your guy," and I certainly am glad he went up and got Justin Fields, I'm against trading up and the hyperactivity overall. The best gunslingers weren't the most aggressive, they were the ones who let the other guy fire off a wild shot while they kept their cool, took aim and fired off accurately. You might miss an opportunity here or there by staying put or trading down, but there's lots of data that says it will work out in the long run, and 8 years is a pretty long run in the NFL. So I consider the amount of trading up activity to be a negative, not a positive, but that's just my opinion. What is also my opinion is that there are some great moves in there. Collecting 3 picks and still getting Whitehair was genius -- Pace should have done stuff like that every year and stacked picks instead of the other way around. If we could just bottle the times he traded up for Jackson, Mooney and Fields, and outlawed him from his other trade ups, we'd be in much better shape!

What is fact is that we've effectively been without one high fifth rounder per year. This is about strategy, and strategy means you can't just isolate those good moves, or one bad move like the trade up for Trubisky. You have to take all of it into account, and over a period of time to see how it plays out. It has played out. For the right to draft Fields, Jenkins, Mooney, Montgomery, Miller, Jackson, Kwitkoski and Floyd, we have given up an entire draft class, complete with a comp pick thrown in between Rounds 4 and 5 AND we've made some other trade downs to recover picks. Seven 4th rounders averaging 113 would be the equivalent to the entire draft class for a team drafting roughly 17th overall, and we have 8. Even if these are all fourth/fifth rounders (they're not), fifth rounders matter, these are potential starters, depth players, special teamers and future comp picks.

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Darnell Mooney was taken in the 5th round

2. Compensatory Picks: -4 total picks

I should have started here, because comp picks has a lot to do with the backdrop Pace walked into. I started with trades just because it's more interesting, but they were done in the context of the comp pick situation that we're about to delve into.

To a large degree, this is a problem that Pace inherited, not created. It takes time to draft your own guys, see them leave the program and get contracts elsewhere, and be rewarded with comp picks of your own. In fact in 2021, Pace got 2 comp picks, about the average for NFL teams. So you might see this starting to change.

But, even if it isn't Pace's fault, it's still Pace's problem to deal with. And the problem is, from 2015-2021, teams averaged just over 8 comp picks while the Bears only received 4. At least one time, Pace cost himself a comp pick with his roster management when he signed Mike Glennon, offsetting the comp pick the Bears would have received from Alshon Jeffery, to add insult to the gaping headwound that was Glennon. Other than that, I know of no specific time when Pace's moves cost him comp picks, but there are probably things he could have done to maximize the comp picks received. It's also a reward for good drafting and Pace has had enough time to show more comp pick rewards than he has, though like I pointed out above, it could start changing now.

It doesn't really matter if it’s his fault or if it will change. What does matter is that from 2015-2021, we had 4 fewer comp picks than the average team. Those picks tend to come later, so let's say they're 6th rounders like they were last year. So if you're faced with the problem of fewer picks, then it matters even more when you're trading picks away. Seems obvious to me that if you had fewer comp picks, you would try to mitigate this disadvantage by adding picks, but Pace has meanwhile been subtracting them.

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Moves on top of Moves

I can defend each and every one of Pace's draft trades, but the trades, on top of the disadvantage in comp picks, have created deep fissures in the team foundation. Where it nets out is, Pace has had 12 fewer picks than the average team, and it's just such a major disadvantage that it requires really, really excellent drafting, and that has to include allocation to all the key positions. It's almost an impossible task, and one that Pace hasn't been up to, being only an average drafter who will over-allocate some positions based on the players available when he's drafting.

12 fewer 5th and 6th rounders. Now those probably aren't a bunch of All Pros, but Amos, Howard, Nichols, Mooney, Trevis Gipson and Larry Borom all came from the 5th round. This isn't throwaway junk right? Out of 12 players, there would likely have been another 2-3 good, cheap starters in there, and by now one or 2 might have left and even provided comp picks, so it's almost a double whammy when you're trading so many picks away. Plus, there would be several more players among the 12 who would provide depth, play special teams, and fill out the roster. I mean look at this year's 6th rounders: You don't really think Dazz Newsome, Khalil Herbert and Thomas Graham Jr. are all junk do you? (Edit: Well, Newsome and Graham got cut, so maybe they are! But they will likely stick around the PS) It's quite possible that all 3 are assets for the next 4 years, even if they don't get another contract with the Bears. It would surprise nobody if at least one of them turned out to be a solid starter or good rotation player. Meanwhile, we're trying to get by with an offensive line built with UDFAs like Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, so you can feel exactly where we're missing all those extra draft picks.

Another way to think of it: I couldn't find the exact chances of a 6th rounder becoming a solid player, but let's say they're around 17%, or one out of 6. If you roll a standard 6-sided dice, your chances of rolling a 6 are only 17%. But, if you roll 3 dice, your chances of rolling at least once 6 are 42%, and there's even a small chance you'll get more than one 6. I would guess 42% is close to your chances of succeeding with a 3rd or maybe 4th rounder. So, yes, late round picks matter. They don't matter as much as early picks, but they are not throwaway junk.

Where I think we will really feel those missing picks this year is special teams. There are probably enough special teamers in those 12 picks to fill out 2 or 3 of the 4 phases. When we suck on special teams this year, don't blame coordinator Chris Tabor. He doesn't have squat to work with.

2B. Other trades:

- Received a Round 5 pick for Brandon Marshall and a Round 7 pick
- Gave a Round 6 pick for Khari Lee
- Received a Round 6 pick for Jonathan Bostic
- Received a Round 6 pick for Jared Allen
- Received a Round 4 pick for Marty Bennett
- Gave a conditional Round 7 pick for Dontrelle Inman, I don't think they paid it
- Gave two Round 1 picks, a Round 3 pick and a Round 6 pick for Mack, a Round 2 pick and a Round 7 pick
- Gave a conditional Round 7 pick for Eddy Pineiro, I have to think the conditions were met
- Received a conditional Round 7 pick for Deoindre Hall, I don't think they got it (washes out with Inman)
- Received a Round 6 pick for Jordan Howard
- Received a Round 7 pick for Adam Shaheen
- Gave a Round 4 pick for Nick Foles
- Flipped picks for Anthony Miller, getting a 5th for a 7th

2 Big Things:

1. Pace has done a nice job in this area of recovering picks for departing players, most recently getting a 5th Rounder for Anthony Miller and a 7th. I don’t know how it compares to what other GMs do with veteran players, but it appears to be a good job to me. And, to Pace's credit, he only gave up one net pick for Mack, but it was a first rounder.

2. Using Jimmy Johnson pick value, that one first rounder is worth way more than all the other traded picks combined. So in terms of veterans-for-picks, Pace netted out +1 pick, but a big negative in overall draft value. So even though Pace did some nice work here to recover picks, he gave up that and more to get Mack. Whether you like the Mack trade or not, losing a first rounder weighs especially heavily on top of the deficit of -12 picks.

3. Draft allocation by position

And so when you've already got -12 picks, and you're missing a first round pick because you traded for Mack, it becomes especially critical how you allocate the relatively few picks that you do have.

  • I've looked at both the total number of picks used each year by Pace, but also the Jimmy Johnson Value (JJ Value) of those picks.
  • It's 2021, so I consider Nickel a starter and that's 3 starting DBs total, but I only count 2 DL to be starters since the Bears typically take a DE off the field in nickel, which is more than half the time. If you think about it, it's essentially the same whether it's 3-4 or 4-3 defense: There are 2 interior DL, 2 EDGE rushers and that means 2 non-rushing LBs per team to go with the NB.
  • Then I divide the total picks and total value of the picks by the number of players who occupy a starting position, resulting in Picks/Starter and JJ Val/Starter, respectively.
  • Final ranking is by Jimmy Johnson pick value per starter. There are other charts, that I tend to agree with, that assign more value to late round picks than the Johnson chart does, but the JJ chart does enough to weigh picks based on pick number.

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This is an objective statement about Pace's draft priorities, and let me remind you that he's starting from a big deficit in picks.

Perhaps starting spot is too narrow a view? I'm maybe discounting those scatbacks and Y Tight Ends and such, so let's look at it by roster spot -- this is a predicted Bears 53-man roster. I realize the Bears current 53-man roster doesn't look quite like this, but this is still a fair estimation of a typical roster, with 2 QBs and a 9th OL since you don't normally build for 3 QBs, and excluding 3 picks for kicker, punter and long snapper, so 50 spots total:

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So we end up with 4 metrics we can use to assess prioritization: Picks per Starter, JJ Value per Starter, Picks per Roster Spot and JJ Value per Roster Spot. As it is in general, the truth is not found in any one of these metrics but rather by using all of them, however I rank both tables by the JJ Value -- per starter in the first table, and per roster spot in the second.

Looking at the Picks/Starter versus JJ Value/Starter means that even though Pace has drafted 6 running backs for one position, by far the most, the draft value of those picks means he has only a middling allocation towards the running back position. Have a look at the data and come to your own conclusions before I influence you with mine:

  • There is a near-ridiculous level of investment in QB, mostly because of the Trubisky pick and obviously now with Fields, but I'd also argue that it's the right thing to do. Of course, if we had the QB, we could have invested more at other positions but Teams with franchise QBs don't frequently change regimes, so GMs typically don't inherit good QB situations. What's important to note that Pace knew he didn't have a long term QB when he took the job, so he knew he had to spend a lot there, and obviously, he whiffed on the first one, so it's his own hole to dig out of.
  • The Bears have spent much more draft capital on offense than defense, but it's almost entirely because of the QB position specifically. Take out QB, and draft capital has been about even on the 2 sides of the ball. I think Pace has actually done a pretty decent job in that regard, though, setting QB aside, it had been defense-heavy until this most recent draft that brought Jenkins, Borom and Newsome.
  • In the second spot after QB is surprisingly TE, partly a function of a limited sample size. Just two, Round 2 picks is enough to make TE the second most invested in position, though it goes down a bit when you consider the 4 roster spots, falling to 5th biggest priority. I don't think there's anything excessive about the 2 picks spent on TE but when you're already short of picks to begin with, this kind of thing matters. When you have all of your picks, you can go ahead and take a couple of Round 2 swings at TE, but when you're -12 on picks, maybe you try to get away with TEs taken in later rounds, not because you don't value TE but because you're trying to make sure you've got enough at offensive tackle. If you're going to prioritize TE, you'd have to de-value something else, like RB, but that isn't really de-valued either, so it ends up being OT that gets pushed down. People say TE takes longer to develop, but if that's true that means you get less value out of a TE on a rookie contract, which suggests you'd be better off using a later pick. Again, if you've got all your picks, go ahead and invest heavily in TE but we didn't.
  • The No. 3 spot of ILB -- No. 2 on the roster spot list -- is similar to TE in the way in that just one high pick skews the result in Roquan Smith. I don't know that Pace prioritized ILB so much as he thought Roquan was the BPA where he was drafted. But still... desperate for help at EDGE, Pace went on to draft another ILB in Round 4 of the same draft in Iggy. It made no sense at the time and it still doesn't. Also, I'd argue that Pace didn't deprioritize ILB as much as he should have. Sure, Roquan looked like the BPA, but if you're passing on a great 3-4 ILB, honestly so what? You can find another ILB later like, say, Darius Leonard in Round 2, or even Iggy in Round 4. I know Iggy failed but again, so what? Find someone in the mid rounds or a cheap vet the next year -- look at Alec Ogletree. How easily can offenses really target your ILB2 anyways? Further, Pace has invested dollars at the position, signing and re-signing Danny Trevathan. Is this a Bears thing, that we have to have linebackers and running backs at the cost of other positions?
  • Then you have OLB and WR. It makes sense to invest in OLB and WR the way Pace has, but when you stack it on the need for big moves at QB, and the high picks at TE, and the high investment at ILB, what's left for the offensive line? We're already halfway through Pace's priority list. To dive a little deeper into OLB/EDGE, it's probably where the team has invested the most overall with the possible exception of QB, and that's probably as it should be. It's the 4th-highest draft priority on both charts, which is high, and that doesn't include the first round pick for Mack, nor the contract for Mack, nor the contract for Quinn. That position has to be the highest monetary investment on the team, to go along with a high draft priority. That's about right IMO. I wish we were spending less money, but it's all an over-correction for Floyd not being a better pass rusher. I do think "over correction" is a major pattern in Pace's work. He buys Jimmy Graham because he messed up with Trey Burton, because he messed up with Adam Shaheen. He buys Khalil Mack AND Robert Quinn because he messed up with Leonard Floyd.
  • RB is tricky because the metrics say some different things. In terms of picks per starting spot, it's at the top, but then when using JJ Value per roster spot, it's near the bottom. Even with the results of the second chart, you also can't ignore how many actual picks that were used (6), nor that that you can potentially get by with only 3 RBs on the active roster plus another practice squad type, which would change the second chart and move RB back towards the middle. The middle is probably the best estimation of how RB has been prioritized by Pace, especially when including the contract to Tarik Cohen and even the one to Mike Davis, so I think we can call this a solid, mid-tier priority. Now, it's not like running backs don't matter, but as long as the offensive line is making holes, you can find guys in the late rounds or even off the street to run through those holes. You can get by with a committee, and when you invest so many picks, you end up cutting capable enough guys like Raheem Mostert and Kerrith Whyte along the way. It's not like being 6th-8th in RB priority is terrible, but when it's above offensive line, it kind of is. Again, is this a Bears thing? Well, back in 2016, when I already was being very critical of Pace, people said I wasn't appreciating the improvement to the defense and run game. So maybe defense and run game is a Bears thing that I just have to accept.
  • But, I wouldn't mind if DL was more of a thing that it appears to be, coming it at 7th on both lists. I wouldn't mind if it was above TE and ILB, and above RB on all lists and not just some. Now interestingly, DL comes in as low as 7th on both lists, but it's a position of strength. This is what it looks like when Ryan Pace is successful. He hasn't used many picks on DL, but he's hit on all of them in Goldman, Nichols and now Tonga. Plus, his one big FA add and later key veteran retention, Akiem Hicks, has delivered time and again. If he could just hit on every pick and veteran contract every time at every position, like he did at DL, then we'd have a really good team. In truth he's lucky this position has been this strong given the lack of investment, but that sort of offsets some bad luck he's had at other position groups. But, are you really happy seeing DL so far down the list?
  • And, why can't offensive line be a Bears thing? It certainly was back in 1985. Meanwhile, OT was the 11th priority out of 11 before this most recent draft, with the picks of Jenkins and Borom, but you still can't tell me than 8th/9th-most is the right investment for a position as highly paid and critical as offensive tackle . It should probably be 2nd or 3rd. It's also not like Pace has spent big bucks there, with Leno and Massie both mid-priced vets. Is it any wonder we're struggling there? It's not like it's just bad luck with injuries, though the injuries are a factor in why the 8th-most invested-in position is one of the worst. Pace painted himself into a corner, then put all his eggs in the Jenkins basket to get out of it. It was a risky move the whole time. You have to take risks somewhere, but with your future tied up in a rookie QB, you don't take the big risks at offensive tackle.
  • The thing is, not only is OT 9th, but even interior OL is only 8th and the picture doesn't change much when using roster spots. You're talking about two Round 2 picks, a failed Round 3 pick in Hroniss Grasu (anyone know if he's active?) and then a bunch of late rounders. I understand the idea of having a strong interior OL and not necessarily investing as much in OT, but that's not a strong interior, at least in terms of investment. Even the money isn't there, with Whitehair the only pricey veteran contract of the bunch, while the other vets are the super cheap kind.
  • Then you get to CB. As the NFL has evolved, it's arguably the second most important defensive position to pass rusher. It has been one of the 2 absolute lowest priority positions under Ryan Pace and it's not a position where you can just find late picks or cheap vets who can fill it. Now, Pace inherited Kyle Fuller and re-signed him, plus he added Prince Amukamara in free agency and re-signed him, so at one time, this was one of the best groups in the league and it hasn't been a glaring need. But, this current group is the one Pace has built himself, and it features a 2nd rounder across from a 5th rounder, with a bunch of late rounders vying for the nickel spot and filling out the rest of the roster. With only a minimal amount of money spent on vets, this looks to be a position of weakness and it's not like there were even injuries or missed picks, there just never was much draft investment.
  • Finally S. I'd argue Pace got this right in terms of the priority. You can find safeties late in the draft, or find cheap, capable vets like Gipson. You can even convert some fading corners to S. Finally, you can hide your weak safeties a bit if you have good CB and NB play. At the same time, the lowest priority of a team with so few picks is really, really paltry. With only 4 safeties taken in total, and 2 of them starters, there's almost nothing left for special teams, especially when you consider corner is another big special teams position and we haven't had a lot of those either. Pace could have invested many of those late picks he traded away in S, have improved special teams, and it would still be the lowest ranking position.
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The Big Deal

So, you may say, what's the big deal about investing a lot at TE and ILB and sort of a lot at RB? They're important positions right? Pace didn't invest big in DL but he still pulled it off.

The big deal is when you're already -12 picks to start with, and you don't have a QB and you whiffed on one so you have to use some picks there... moves on top of moves on top of circumstances. You can defend each and every draft trade and draft pick Pace has made, there isn't one I think was a dumb move, but...

The big deal is, Pace simply didn't have the picks to over-allocated to positions like ILB and RB or even TE. You don't get to pick an Iggy in Round 4 because you think he could be a good special teamer when you don't have the picks to spare on special teamers. You definitely don't get to take Kmet to be a Y who only plays 2 downs. You have to make every pick count. He robbed Peter to pay Paul. He robbed OT to invest in ILB.

The big deal is, we've been 8-8 the past 2 seasons, not the contender we all thought we'd be when Parkey's kick doinked, doinked, and fell short. We've had a below average offense for the last 5 seasons under Pace.

The big deal is, when you gamble at 4 key positions like OG/C, OT, DL and CB, you're going to get burned somewhere, and this year, it appears to be OT and CB, with neither getting great help from interior OL or S, because those haven't been heavily invested in either.

The big deal is, only 2 non-starting safeties, along with the light investment in CB, leaves your special teams really thin of the kinds of players who usually play special teams.

The bid deal is, I'm adding this up, and Justin Fields just isn't going to be enough unless he's a superstar who lifts all boats, right away as a rookie. Otherwise, it's going to be a rough year, mostly due to a frightfully constructed roster. Hopefully Fields can hit that stride next year and bring everyone along with him. Of course, I hope it's with a new GM, one who gives himself enough resources to surround Fields with the protection and targets he needs to become a true franchise quarterback.

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This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.