By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Pseudonyms of an NFL Draft room will be commonly used come draft day, creating the impression of great chaos between men in suits screaming and sweating over their notebooks. That won’t be the case at Halas Hall.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his trusted team will be seated in front of a television, their phones ready and a big board sorted by positions nearby, but there won’t be any colorful arguments leading up to their placement at the 11th pick.
“There’s not a lot of talk about the players you may select,” Pace said Wednesday. “That’s pretty obvious.”
Speaking to the media on Wednesday at Halas Hall, Pace has his scouting work done. The draft board is also set in stone, barring any last-minute injury or legal transgressions.
What preceded Day 1 of the NFL Draft on Thursday were months of scouting, meetings, film study and evaluation. And the most important part of the process happened behind closed doors inside the Bears’ facility. It was a meeting of the minds.
When Pace became the Bears general manager in January 2015, he quickly went to work building what he views as a dream team of scouts, a group of unheralded evaluators with whom he holds great trust, yet those who constantly differ in opinions. As a matter of fact, it happens all the time.
Constantly, the Bears’ scouting team conducts arguments and debates over prospect beliefs. Pace hired scouts who are united in philosophy yet independent in their scouting convictions.
The Bears have built an ideal scouting democracy, in which countless voices are heard. The heated discussions to the strengths and weaknesses of each prospects and the team’s needs create a sound draft board.
“We always talk about a passion,” Pace said. “I can tell when guys are passionate about certain players. You’re never going to have a complete consensus on a player, especially when you got 10 reports, but we feel it out.
“The key (was) building a strong staff, and just having confidence in those guys, empowering those guys.”
Pace’s top scouts are director of player personnel Josh Lucas, the No. 2 in command, plus director of college scouting Joe Douglas and director of pro scouting Anthony “Champ” Kelly, each of whom were highly touted coming to Chicago. The Bears have what can be considered one of the NFL’s best young front offices in place, led by the 39-year-old Pace.
Count Lucas, Douglas and Kelly as rising stars in the NFL scouting business.
The Bears are thorough in their scouting approach. Pace dispatches the rest of the Bears’ extensive scouting team all across the country for pro days and workouts, then takes it a step further by sending John Fox and his coaching staff to offer their opinions. After all, Fox’s fingerprints are all over the makeup of this roster.
At Notre Dame’s pro day in March, new receivers coach Curtis Johnson was leading passing drills while coaching up potential first-round pick Will Fuller, while running backs coach Stan Drayton took notes on the sidelines as a list of Fighting Irish talent — running back C.J. Prosise included — sprinted by. Off to the side, offensive line coach Dave Magazu worked with highly touted offensive tackle prospect Ronnie Stanley in one-on-one drills.
Just getting the scouts a glimpse of prospects isn’t nearly enough for Pace and his Bears brass. They want a hands-on scouting view from a variety of different perspectives, then they combine it all with comprehensive reports — sometimes up to 10. From there, the Bears brain trust opens discussion to create a firm draft board.
A key to that was Pace getting a better grasp to his scouts’ and coaches’ specific evaluation strengths, something that took time and has better developed with a year of continuity for the new regime.
Pace truly trusts his personnel to bring the Bears the most informed decisions.
“It just gives you confidence and makes you sleep a little bit better at night,” Pace said. “I know not only their skill set — it’s a talent — but the work you put into it, it’s a grind.”
Ever since Pace took over as general manager, the Bears have identified four values that they seek in players — competitiveness, toughness, passion and football intelligence. Those must be the underlying aspects of each prospect, holding true through those key collaborations that make up a draft board.
The Bears brass left no stones unturned leading up to the draft, conducting an extensive scouting process that covered every prospect worth consideration. They even met with some prospects who would be considered off the board, looking to confirm why those individuals were ruled out, either for football or non-football reasons. On the day Chicago signed Jerrell Freeman, adding the inside linebacker alongside Danny Trevathan, the Bears hosted Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland at Halas Hall.
Hundreds of prospects were viewed by the Bears in workouts or met with the team’s executives in some capacity. Character is ever so important to Pace and Fox, which made the meetings critical. That process includes the key phone calls to those surrounding a prospect’s life, people who can offer context to their background and makeup.
Come Thursday night at Halas Hall, there will be no more debates of prospect rankings or who’s the guy when commissioner Roger Goodell puts Chicago on the clock. Pace and his Bears brain trust have put in the detailed work to be thoroughly prepared for their pick.
“It’s a grind,” Pace said. “They understand the importance of it. This is the lifeblood of the organization.”