By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — As a veteran scout, Ryan Pace runs his draft room with an important rule: stand by your scouting convictions.
Months of scouting culminates in making an extensive draft board, with input from countless executives, scouts and coaches adding to a team’s collective files. Pace cherishes this process, looking for maximum information that leads to a defined system of strong convictions.
Day 2 of the NFL Draft saw Pace abide firm to his philosophy, with a fascinating fall down the second round. The Bears moved from the 10th placement in the second round (41st overall) down 15 spots to the 56th slot. Chicago first swapped with Buffalo for the 49th pick, then traded down again with Seattle to the No. 56 selection.
Now, the Bears own three picks in the fourth round, getting an extra one from each swap, as well as a 2017 fourth-rounder from the Bills.
“I’ve never walked out of a draft room with a group of scouts more excited because of what we can do with the additional picks,” a tired Pace said after a busy day of action at Halas Hall.
So, what went into the Bears’ multiple movements in the second round? Yes, those convictions.
Friday opened with some terrific talents on the board — Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith, Noah Spence, A’Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Kevin Dodd, Chris Jones, Hunter Henry, Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland, Mackensie Alexander, Von Bell and more. It was the byproduct of a wild first round, one that left NFL executives drooling all day. Chicago had many ways to upgrade its roster. The Bears even tried to move up in the second-round order, though those trade talks never became promising.
Many of the Bears’ top targets were gone by the time that 41st pick came to the board. The Bears’ draft board said not to reach, so they traded down to the 49th placement and picked up two fourth-round picks from the Bills (No. 119 overall and a 2017 selection). Buffalo selected Ragland, an instant upgrade to its defense and a player who wasn’t needed for the Bears, who brought in two linebackers in free agency.
Then came a surprise, when the Packers swooped in on the Bears and took Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs with the 48th pick.
“It really didn’t effect us,” Pace said of the Packers’ move.
The Bears had the opportunity to draft Reed, Alexander or Bell at No. 49, but — again — Pace wasn’t sold. The general manager didn’t want to reach for a prospect he wasn’t sold on. Once more, Chicago moved down, this time seven picks to the 56th selection. In came a third fourth-round pick for this 2016 draft, the 124th spot from Seattle.
Finally, the Bears were ready to make their second-round pick, after missing out on some players for whom they valued and some they had no interest in taking. Chicago’s pick was Cody Whitehair, a four-year starter at guard with Kansas State. What seemed to be a surprising move was made for the Bears to create competition on the offensive line.
Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu told Whitehair he should be ready to compete.
“I’m just excited to be a Bear,” Whitehair said.
Many scouts gave Whitehair as a first-round grade and viewed him as the top guard available in the draft class. The Bears stuck with their guns on a player they valued highly.
“A guy we really liked in this whole process,” Pace said.
“This is what you’re looking for in an offensive lineman. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s instinctive.”
Shortly after drafting Whitehair, the Bears were on the clock again, picking at No. 72. The Bears had missed out on a run of defensive linemen — Spence, Robinson, Dodd and Jones — but their persistence paid off.
Versatile Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard was waiting for the Bears at the 72nd spot. He’s an explosive defensive end who will play the 5-technique in Vic Fangio’s base defense and can move inside as the 3-technique in sub packages.
“I’m going to give you all I got when I’m out there,” Bullard said.
Fatigue was clear on Pace’s face following the action of Day 2. He was worn down from three rounds of work.
What’s clear about Pace is how he’s not afraid to move up or down to abide by his rule and stand by his convictions. That work in scouting prevails with each pick and decision in the draft. That led them to jumping in the first round for Leonard Floyd, an outside linebacker they were pounding the tables to get.
The Bears are through three rounds of this draft feeling great about what’s been accomplished.