Emma: Ryan Pace Is Betting On Himself

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) Conviction, by definition, is a strong persuasion or belief. It’s firm and often can be bold.

This word, conviction, was used over and over again by general manager Ryan Pace as he outlined this 2017 Bears draft class — from the bold move of taking North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to the pick of Kutztown lineman Jordan Morgan.

Pace trusted his scouting acumen and those around him in a draft that raised many eyebrows around the league.

“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said of Trubisky, offering sentiments that would ultimately reflect upon the entire class. “There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here — I want to be great, and these are the moves you have to make.”

Let there be no doubt who’s in charge of rebuilding the Bears. Pace has bet his future as a general manager on the upside of his draft picks.

There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, but there are some picks safer than others. Pace and the Bears chose to live dangerously.

Trubisky had to be the Bears’ guy. They were willing to part ways with picks to just ensure he would be theirs, refusing to settle for another quarterback or a defensive player. Pace and his brass worked with Trubisky and his party to tightly seal away their secret. Trubisky is now the future of this franchise.

Adam Shaheen was the tight end so coveted. He looked like a man among boys on film, just embarrassing the Division-II competition. It was a surprising pick, though that would prove to be a trend. Shaheen’s upside is impressive.

Alabama safety Eddie Jackson is probably the safest pick of the bunch, and he’s coming off a broken leg. He says he should be ready for training camp. The Bears would love to see him emerge in their secondary after Pace traded up to get him in the fourth round after a run on defensive players forced his hand.

Running back Tarik Cohen, “The Human Joystick,” went seven picks later. He stands at just 5-foot-6, and his film is impressive. But Cohen hails from North Carolina A&T, and the MEAC isn’t exactly the SEC. He could be the next Darren Sproles or the next Garrett Wolfe.

Morgan was the final pick of the class. He earned the Gene Upshaw Award as the top Division-II offensive lineman. With no picks in the sixth and seventh rounds, Bears fans were able to Google facts about Kutztown.

What’s the letter grade for this class? An “I” for interesting? Maybe an “O” for odd? How about an “H” for huh?

Those are the reactions from outside of the war room at Halas Hall. Inside those walls, there was surely jubilation. Pace and his scouts have been hard at work for months to construct this draft board. It didn’t look like anyone else’s, nor should it. After all, this is Pace’s project.

With his first draft pick as general manager, Pace chose West Virginia receiver Kevin White, despite just two seasons of major college competition. Last April, he moved up two picks to select Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, another player the Bears believed they just had to have. They then went best player available in the second round in 2016 and chose center Cody Whitehair instead of filling a position of need.

Then in need of a quarterback, Pace passed on Dak Prescott three times in that fourth round and instead went with defense — linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, safety Deon Bush and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall. He moved in the fifth round for running back Jordan Howard.

Pace is acting upon his plan to build the Bears a sustainable situation after years of flux. He didn’t draft with a fear of what could happen after 2017. That would’ve brought the Bears LSU safety Jamal Adams or perhaps Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas instead of a redshirt quarterback.

It’s quite possible that none of the Bears’ five draft picks are starters this season. That’s OK, because this is a long-term rebuild. Each of these players will require a year of grooming — more than your average rookie.

Fans often don’t know the names of third-day draft picks, but it’s rare to not know of the school’s existence. But the Bears did their work from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

We won’t truly know this class until several years from now, like we won’t know what the Bears will become until Pace’s plan unfolds.

The Bears could’ve worked with the conventional approach this draft, taking a defensive end in the first round, selecting a safety in the second, maybe a quarterback in the third or fourth. They could’ve drafted players from Notre Dame, USC, Texas and Nebraska. It all would have seemed so crisp. The fan base would have nodded in agreement.

But Pace stuck to his convictions, believing something great will come. It’s admirable and quite a gamble.

If it all goes wrong, somebody else will be left cleaning up his mess.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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