(CBS) — The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night, but as Ryan Baker points out in his draft preview, it will be quiet in Chicago as the Bears will be without a first round pick due to the blockbuster Khalil Mack trade.
However, that doesn’t mean Bears general manager Ryan Pace can’t find some hidden gems in later rounds of this week’s NFL Draft.
Pace’s inaugural draft was far from perfect, selecting injury-plagued Kevin White seventh overall and missing on all but two picks.
Yet, Pace was able to come away with one of the most consistent safeties in the NFL over the past few years in Adrian Amos. The fifth-round pick out of Penn State started 56 of his 60 games as a Bear including all 16 as a rookie. Amos now plays for the Green Bay Packers, but in all fairness, the Packers’ first round safety from the year prior, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, has joined the Bears defensive backfield.
What Amos lacked in explosive play-making ability, he made up for in consistency, racking up at least 62 tackles per season and 13 career tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Clinton-Dix’s aggressiveness may pair better with All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson this upcoming season, but finding a steady safety with the 142nd pick shows some serious late-round talent evaluation from the Bears front office.
The Bears also found some solid defensive depth in the 2016 draft in defensive end Jonathan Bullard and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
However, the real gem of that Bears draft class was running back Jordan Howard in the fifth round out of Indiana. Although Howard was recently traded to the Eagles for a sixth-round pick in 2020, Howard’s production was undeniable, leading him to become a Pro Bowler in his rookie season. In his three-year campaign with the Bears, Howard racked up 3,370 yards on the ground with 24 rushing touchdowns. The old-school power back’s production took a dip in his only year in Matt Nagy’s system, seeing his yards per carry drop to below four for the first time in his career. Howard’s inability to consistently catch out of the backfield and his $2 million cap hit ultimately led to the Bears exploring running back options that better fit Nagy’s scheme. Despite no longer being with the team, Howard’s success as a Bear should provide fans with confidence in Nagy’s ability to find running back talent in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
After Pace traded up from the third spot to the second spot to select Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, it was a foregone conclusion that much of the fan and media focus would be on the new franchise quarterback.
However, the 112th and 119th pick in the fourth-round that year would provide the Bears two of their first All-Pro First Team Selections since Brandon Marshall and Charles Tillman in 2012.
The Bears traded up to the 112th pick to select the ball-hawking safety Eddie Jackson out of Alabama. Jackson could have been seen as a first-round talent had he not torn his ACL before his sophomore year and broke his left leg in week eight of his senior season. He has since proved to be worth the risk. Jackson started all 30 games he has played in for the Bears, missing just two games last season due to an ankle injury. Last year, Jackson made NFL history, tying Deion Sanders for most defensive touchdowns that were returned for 65 yards or more in a two-year span. With his extreme playmaking ability and consistency, Jackson could be setting himself up as one of the best safeties in Bears history.
Joining Jackson in the fourth round of the 2017 draft is the “Human Joystick” himself, Tarik Cohen out of North Carolina A&T. Standing at 5 feet, six inches tall, Cohen’s explosive speed and elusiveness (not to mention outgoing personality) made him an instant fan favorite. Cohen’s numbers skyrocketed in Nagy’s system where his receiving totals went from 353 yards and one touchdown his rookie year to 725 yards with five touchdowns. Cohen’s ability to in the return game earned him honors as an All Pro First Teamer along with his teammates Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson. Along with Jordan Howard, Cohen’s talent in the backfield should reinforce the confidence fans have in Pace’s evaluation of running back talent in the later rounds.
It is a bit early to grade out Pace’s 2018 draft, but one pleasant surprise from the fifth round was defensive lineman Bilal Nichols out of Delaware. The 22-year-old started six games as a rookie, piling up 28 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Nichols still has some development to do, but his early production serves as a nice complement to Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman.
Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but it’s possible for some these late round gems to be mentioned with the likes of other late round Bears Pro Bowlers like 2004 fourth-round pick Nathan Vasher, Lance Briggs, who fell to the third round in 2003, and 2002 fourth rounder Alex Brown.
So while Thursday night might be a little more boring for Bears fans, the following days could produce the next generation of Monsters of the Midway.