The Chicago Bears last two drafts have shown us one thing about Ryan Pace: he’s not afraid to make a bold move in the first round.
Pace’s last two drafts included surprising trades up. The Bears moved two spots to pick linebacker Leonard Floyd in 2016, and they famously traded up one spot to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky last year.
However, many fans and analysts feel the Bears will make the safe play this year. Picking a defensive back or middle linebacker would receive a solid “golf clap” and choosing a stud offensive lineman like Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame at No. 8 is the logical move if he’s available. Even trading down would be lauded to help fill a roster with a fair number of holes.
But this is round one of the NFL draft, and unpredictability reigns supreme every year. Whether a highly-touted player falls or a team gets itchy, something always happens that leaves us shocked.
Given Pace’s track record, something just might be brewing at Halas Hall. Here are a few bold moves that would be surprising but make perfect sense for the Bears.
Selecting Saquon Barkley at No. 8 if he falls
At first blush, this might seem like a frustrating move. Why would the Bears ever pick a running back when they have much bigger needs? After all, Jordan Howard has been a solid back and Tarik Cohen is a good change-of-pace option. There wouldn’t be a need to select a guy in round one, right?
As I wrote about earlier this month, Howard is someone the Bears could easily move without having a ton of remorse. The trade rumors since the start of the offseason make perfect sense when you think about it. His lack of receiving skills look like a liability in Matt Nagy’s offense, and he finished as one of the worst receiving backs among the top 10 rushers in the league.
Barkley, on the other hand, looks like the perfect fit for Nagy’s offense. He’s a legitimate threat as a runner, gaining over 3,800 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns in 38 games at Penn State. And he’s also a legitimate threat to catch the ball, amassing 102 catches for just under 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Unlike other run-of-the-mill backs, his elusiveness and vision are what make him a transcendent blue-chip prospect worth a top 10 choice. He is someone who fits the mold of running backs like LeVeon Bell, Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott: the guys you win “because of” on Sundays.
Given the creativity Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich envision, a player like Barkley would give them endless possibilities to open things up. Could you imagine plays where he and Cohen are in the backfield together? Even the thought of him taking the field with new acquisitions like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton should get anyone pumped.
The biggest downside to selecting Barkley would be his contract. Unlike Howard, who was drafted in the fifth round, Barkley’s rookie deal would be significantly higher. At No. 8 he would have a cap hit of roughly $3.4 million in 2018, compared to Howard’s cap hit of around $692,000.
Another con in this scenario is it doesn’t fill the Bears’ primary needs. Pass rusher, defensive back, offensive lineman, inside linebacker and receiver are bigger voids than running back. And with a draft very deep at the position, Pace could always find Howard’s replacement in the later rounds if he chooses to trade the second-year back.
Still, the idea of picking a player as skilled as Barkley would be very bold. And it could gain another mid- or late-round draft choice by trading Howard.
Trading up for Bradley Chubb
Come on! You know right Pace can’t help himself. As we documented earlier, he’s made a reputation of doing this on day one of the last two drafts. So why not go for three in a row?
Of the potential names on the board, Chubb is the only one that would make the most sense moving up for. Pass rusher is a clear need for the Bears, and he is a shining example of blue-chip talent. He is head and shoulders the best edge rusher available in this year’s draft.
Chubb racked up 10 sacks each in his last two seasons at North Carolina State and could’ve had more on a stouter defense. At 6-foot-4 and almost 270 pounds, he has the quickness, power and disruptiveness that should translate well to the NFL.
The Bears defense is solid but clearly lacks a playmaker who can get consistent pressure and double-digit sacks in his sleep. Chubb has that potential and could raise the play of guys like Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and, most importantly, Leonard Floyd.
Floyd has shown flashes, but his lack of size makes beating double teams consistently a challenge. Having Chubb take some of those double teams away could open the door for Floyd to get more shots at sacking the QB.
Realistically, the Giants, Browns and Broncos all have legitimate reasons to take him in the top five. But it also wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that those first five picks shake out as follows:
- Browns – Quarterback
- Giants – Quarterback
- Jets – Quarterback
- Browns – Saquon Barkley
- Broncos – Quarterback
In that scenario, no trades have occurred, and the Colts are sitting at No. 6, with the Buccaneers lurking behind at No. 7. Chris Ballard has a lot of holes to fill in Indy, including pass rusher. However, he would have a lot to gain by snatching an additional pick and a valuable player.
That’s where Pace might be able to strike.
Let’s be clear, it would have to be the right move. Giving up a load of picks in this or next year’s draft would be very foolish. However, there is a trade that Pace could offer to make Ballard listen:
- Bears receive: 6 pick (1,600 points*)
- Colts receive: 8 pick (1,400 points*), No. 105 pick (84 points*) and Jordan Howard (185-96 points*)
*Draft pick values per Pro-Football Reference Draft Value Chart
This trade would require a leap of faith. Using the draft pick values above, you’d have to hope Ballard likes Howard enough to deem his price at a late third or high fourth-round pick. If so, that would make a leap from eight to six reasonable without hemorrhaging draft assets.
Trade value for running backs can be iffy, especially when gems are available in the later rounds. For example, the Eagles gave up a fourth-selection to acquire Jay Ajayi last season. Howard’s solid production should warrant similar value, if not slightly more.
Howard would fill an obvious need at running back for the Colts, and gaining a fourth-round pick is nothing they would scoff at to help rebuild their roster. Moving back two spots in round one should still give the Colts plenty of options to fill needs, especially on defense or the offensive line.
Sometimes, you have to crack some eggs to make a delicious omelet. And Chubb is a one hell of an omelet that the Bears are craving. Losing Howard might seem painful initially, but Pace does have a knack for finding late-round gems at running back.
Not to mention, moving Howard and acquiring a late-round option would reset the clock financially. Howard has just two years left on his deal. A rookie runner picked late in the draft would give the Bears four years of a protected player at a cheap price.
But most importantly, they gain a blue-chip edge rusher who can be a defensive staple for years to come.
Trading back into the late-first round
Imagine this scenario while watching the draft on Thursday. The coverage is slowing down with only a few picks left. You’re having a few beers with friends, praising or knocking Pace’s selection at No. 8. All the sudden, you look up at the TV and see the Bears on the clock.
In all honesty, this bold move is the least likely because it would be costly. However, the perfect storm could get Pace and company back into the first round.
First, there would need to be a player that takes a massive tumble. In this case, a name like Calvin Ridley is worth monitoring. He’s projected to land somewhere in the mid- to late-first round, and the Bears most likely are going to be in the market for a rookie receiver to replace Cameron Meredith.
If Pace has someone like Ridley slotted significantly higher than any other receiver or second-round prospect on his board, moving back into the late first round to pick him would be a wise move.
Second, the Bears would have to hope a player like this is in a major freefall, one where he slips past No. 25. Why? It might not take a major haul. Pace probably isn’t looking to mortgage a lot, including picks from future drafts.
Currently, the Falcons, Saints, Steelers, Jaguars, Vikings, Patriots and Eagles sit at 26 through 32, respectively. Each of those picks are valued at:
- 26 – 700 points
- 27 – 680 points
- 28 – 660 points
- 29 – 640 points
- 30 – 620 points
- 31 – 600 points
- 32 – 590 points
The Bears No. 39 pick in round two is valued at 510 points, so Pace would have to chip in their top fourth-rounder (No. 105 – 84 points) might be enough to seal a deal with the teams at No. 30 through 32. If not, a future fifth or sixth-rounder could sweeten the deal with those teams or the ones that sit higher.
Regardless, this scenario would mean that these teams don’t value the player you want, which is a very big leap of faith. In the example with Ridley, he would fill receiving holes for the Jaguars and Patriots as well. If the player is Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, assuming the Bears opt for someone other than an offensive lineman at No. 8, there is sure to be competition if he falls.
But this is the “perfect storm,” and it’s not completely unrealistic to see astute front offices like the ones listed above to trade back and gain draft currency. It also isn’t crazy to see why a general manager like Pace would consider risking picks to secure a highly touted prospect no one expected would be available.
Bold moves are what make the first round of the draft intriguing for both diehard and casual fans alike. If the Bears end up in any of these possible situations, Pace will be the talk of Chicago the entire weekend.
And the debate will rage on between supporters and detractors until the season kicks off.