At the outset of this year’s Combine, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was about two months removed from hiring Matt Nagy (who turns 40 on Tuesday). But Pace was very, very clear about what was critical in their relationship, and what is now of the absolute highest priority as the Bears swing onto final approach for Nagy and Pace’s first draft together.
“I think when mistakes are made in organizations, it's when the personnel department and the coaches are not on the same page,” Pace said. “That continuity is important; that chemistry is important. I think it's already naturally existing with us in the concept dialogue that we have, and I think you eliminate mistakes when you do that.
“If you share a vision for a player, then it helps eliminate some of those mistakes.”
But with the Bears on the clock at No. 8 next Thursday evening, will there be a true shared vision of the player whose name will be on a card carried up to the Commissioner?
Differences of opinion are inevitable, and desirable. If everyone in the room thinks alike, then at least half of them probably don’t need to be there.
The 2018 draft presents some intriguing decisions, but also contain a very solid positive: “There are some positions that align this year that are very deep in this draft that happen to be positions of need for us,” Pace said.
But the process of factoring that “need” in with player grades and position values has to arrive at agreement and consensus. Whether coaches in 2015 wanted edge rusher Vic Beasley but Pace and the draft board dictated Kevin White; or whether coaches wanted Deshaun Watson last year and Pace targeted Mitch Trubisky – those sorts of thing are difficult to establish conclusively in hindsight, and don’t really matter unless coaches are being handed players they deem less than optimal for their purposes. Only the results on the field ultimately matter.
Pace and staff will go into next weekend with a fully formed “cloud” of players graded as worth the No. 8 pick of the first round (and for the No. 7 pick of Round 2, and so on). Since that cluster of desirables will have been arrived at in concert with Nagy and his staff, some characteristics of their experiences are worth noting.
Studying Nagy, Pace draft “roots”
This may be Nagy’s first draft experience as a head coach. But between his time in Philadelphia and Kansas City, he has been around 10 drafts and learned from Andy Reid (in both places) what it takes to build a winning team. Of those 10 combined seasons, Nagy has been through exactly one losing year.
Pace was a member of the New Orleans front office from 2001-2014. During those 14 years he experienced only one season with fewer than seven wins.
What do the histories of the two centermost figures in Bears football operations have common on draft weekends, in particular with round one’s? And even more in particular, with selections of offensive linemen and front-seven defensive players, given the prominence of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith?
O-line’ing for Nagy, Pace
During Nagy’s decade of observing Reid’s team-building under various general managers, only twice were No. 1 picks used on offensive linemen: guard Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ 2011 selection at No. 23 and a bust; and Eric Fisher, the first-overall pick of the 2013 draft, a tackle and solid performer, coincidentally the same draft in which Kansas City selected current Bears guard Eric Kush in the sixth round.
In Nagy’s 10 drafts, his bosses took only one offensive lineman (KC guard Mitch Morse, 2015 Round 2) higher than the fourth round. That includes two-time Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, Philadelphia’s sixth-round pick in 2011.
Down in New Orleans, Pace and the Saints were going offensive line No. 1 just once in 14 years – tackle Jamaal Brown, 13th overall in 2005. The Saints did use No. 2's on the offensive line – center LeCharles Bentley, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tackle Charles Brown. But the Saints had their biggest scores later: guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod in fourth rounds, guard Carl Nicks in a fifth – all three eventual Pro Bowlers and core elements of New Orleans’ Super Bowl champions. A key for the Saints was offensive line coach Aaron Kromer; the Bears believe they have that grade of O-line coaching firepower in Harry Hiestand.
Through his three Chicago drafts, Pace has not ignored the offensive line, addressing with at least one pick every year, in a fashion consistent with his New Orleans model: one offensive lineman in a second round (Cody Whitehair, 2016), one in a third (Hroniss Grasu, 2015), one in a fifth (Jordan Morgan, 2017) and one in a sixth (Tajo Fabuluje, 2015). Not a high success rate but fitting a pattern in line with his and with Nagy’s from KC and Philadelphia.
Conclusion: Using the No. 8 overall pick on a guard/Nelson would run contrary to what Nagy and Pace have seen as a successful construction philosophy in their previous draft experiences.
Pace traded up in 2016 to ensure getting Georgia rush linebacker Leonard Floyd with his first-round pick. He also has staffed coordinator Vic Fangio’s front seven with a No. 2 (nose tackle Eddie Goldman), No. 3 (defensive end Jonathan Bullard) and No. 4 (linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski), plus five DB’s in Rounds 4-6.
Front-seven talent was a priority with the Eagles during the time of Reid/Nagy: Philadelphia drafted five defensive linemen or linebackers within Rounds 1-2 in the five drafts from 2008-12.
During Nagy’s five Kansas City years, the Chiefs had seven picks in Rounds 1-2. Three of the seven picks were invested in the defensive front seven. Additionally, the Chiefs used three third-round picks on cornerbacks. Meaning: Reid and Nagy may be rooted in offense, but they and their GM’s (John Dorsey 2013-16, Brett Veach 2017) fully grasped the import of reaching for an elite defense.
Conclusion: The 2018 draft contains talent at the top of Round 1. Both Nagy and Pace come from cultures that made quarterbacks and offense a priority (Trubisky, Drew Brees, Pat Mahomes, Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith). But the top need for the 2018 Bears is pass rush, that typically necessitates a top-10 pick, and Nagy and Pace come from organizations that have acted on that priority.