By Laurence W. Holmes–
(CBS) Before I start my analysis of the Bears’ draft class, I’d like to put a couple points on the record:
1) Scouting NFL talent is an inexact science. It’s difficult. I understand that, and I understand the danger in making pronouncements on a draft before a couple of years have passed.
2) Bears general manager Ryan Pace scored some victories in the 2016 draft: Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair and Leonard Floyd played well. He’s earned some draft capital.
With that being said, this was an arrogant draft by the Bears.
If I were coach John Fox, I’m not sure I’d be happy with the events of the last three days. After two losing seasons that seemingly had the franchise looking like it was going backward, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of help on the way for this upcoming season. Most of Chicago’s five draft picks seems to be about the future. That’s the general manager’s job, but a head coach is trying to win every week — especially a head coach who’s in his 60s and is probably on his last stop in the NFL in that position.
The picks that Pace made signaled an emboldened general manager who’s been given a mandate by ownership to not worry about a quick fix. As an overall strategy, I’m OK with that. One of the criticisms around the league right now is that there isn’t enough time to get organizations turned around, and if you make too many firings, it puts you in a really bad cycle that’s difficult to get out of. Perhaps Fox is here for the long haul too, but lack of talent isn’t his only problem — which is a column for a later date.
It’s going to be difficult for most of the draft class to dress on game day.
When I watched tape of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, I saw a good athlete who can chuck the ball. He’s still raw and will need time to acclimate to the professional game. Could the Bears have gotten him without giving up multiple picks to move up from No. 3 to No. 2 overall? We’ll never know, but Trubisky better be great because this team needs bodies.
If you’re Fox, are you going to have Trubisky as your backup on game day? It’s hard for me to see that. Will you dress three quarterbacks? Perhaps, but it’s not like the Bears are flush with talent. Every spot on the 46-man game-day roster is precious, and the Bears aren’t in a position to have luxury actives.
Tight end Adam Shaheen, the team’s second-round pick, has a clear path to making game day roster. The Bears’ tight end spot is need of an infusion, but he’s making a big jump from bullying Division-II players to lining up and blocking grown men in the NFL. It wouldn’t shock me if his development took some time.
Fourth-round safety Eddie Jackson’s path to the active roster is pretty clear too. Even with the the money the Bears spent on the defensive backfield in free agency, it’s still a position group that’s ripe for a fresh body. Defenders from Alabama are usually pro-ready.
Running back Tarik Cohen, also taken in the fourth round, is another player who’s going to have to deal with a jump up in competition. There are NFL players in the MEAC and SWAC, but Cohen is also fighting a battle against size. He’s 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds. How he’s deployed will be interesting.
Offensive lineman Jordan Morgan, taken in the fifth round, feels like a player you stash on the practice squad. He’s another player making the transition from Division-II to the NFL.
Nolan Narowcki wrote this at in his evaluation in this year’s draft guide: “Senior Bowl struggles clearly showed the need for a year of seasoning, though has upside to continue developing and work habits to fend for a starting job in Year 3.”
Also, it’s not like the Bears are hurting at guard. It’s probably their strongest position group with Josh Sitton and Kyle Long and then Whitehair’s versatility.
It’s now the third year of the Pace-Fox era, and that’s my biggest problem with this draft. For a team coming off a 3-13 season, you would think there were more immediate needs Pace would want to address.
When I look at the Bears’ board, I see a quarterback who they’re hoping won’t play this year. I see three project players in Shaheen, Cohen and Morgan. And I see the Bears taking another questionable medical risk in Jackson, who previously tore his ACL and has a rod in his leg.
This was the draft of a team that had room to groom players, a draft of a team that was looking toward the future and not the present. If that’s the case, fine, but it’s been seven years since the Bears made the playoffs and five years since they’ve had an above-.500 record. If this is a quiet rebuild, I wonder how Fox feels about it and how the organization justifies raising ticket prices.
I’ve seen some praise for Pace being bold, I’d rather him pick his spots with that boldness. We’ll look back on 2017 as the draft that made or broke this regime.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.