Bears

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

When reflecting on the 2017 NFL draft, the Shakespearean quote, “what’s past is prologue” comes to mind — a concept suggesting that previous events set the stage for what is happening in the present. During that 2017 draft, the decisions made by both the Bears and Saints helped reshape each franchise. Chicago’s bold moves shook the branches of the NFL tree, and the Saints, albeit indirectly, benefited greatly, as well. Another chess piece involved in the framing of this drafting drama was the San Francisco 49ers, as they were able to ride a wave of additional picks to revitalize a depleted, listless organization with talent and depth.

The 49ers aside, this Sunday matches two teams that garnered the most from the 2017 draft, Chicago and New Orleans. Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats), let’s examine the impact of the Bears’ draft day machinations.

The Browns, 49ers and Bears were the first three teams slotted to make selections in 2017. Once Cleveland chose DE Myles Garrett with the first pick (and not a quarterback) Bears GM Ryan Pace made his move. Despite San Francisco being a spot ahead of Chicago, Pace was determined to choose the next player. Aggressively, he swapped the Bears’ third overall pick with the 49ers second spot to select QB Mitchell Trubisky, while also sending the Bears’ 67th and 111th picks, and a 2018 3rd rounder (70th) to San Francisco.

According to Pace, “...when you have conviction on a guy you can’t sit on your hands.” Either emboldened by his selection of Trubisky, or because of the surrendered picks needed to acquire him, Pace continued making trades to widen his draft options. The Bears traded their second (36th overall) and seventh (221st overall) round picks that year to the Cardinals for their second (45th overall), fourth (119th overall) and sixth (197th) round selections, and a 2018 fourth round pick (115th overall), to boot.

In addition to those moves, Pace shipped out his 117th and 197th overall picks in a trade with the Rams to move up to the 112th spot (fourth round). When the dust settled, Chicago possessed one pick in the second round (45th overall) and two picks in the fourth round (112th and 119th overall), along with their original 5th-round selection (147th overall). The key players taken from these moves were QB Mitchell Trubisky (with the No. 2 pick), TE Adam Shaheen (45th), S Eddie Jackson (112th), and RB Tarik Cohen (119th).

Initially, because the Bears relinquished several mid-round picks to move up just one spot (arguably for a player that may have still been available), the general consensus was that Pace got fleeced by 49ers rookie GM John Lynch. Perhaps to support a colleague, Lynch stated afterward, “Kudos to the Bears, they saw a player they wanted at a really important position.”

Clearly, the 2017 draft for Pace and the Bears was about securing a franchise quarterback to build around. But in the process, Pace landed two all-pro talents in Jackson and Cohen, as each made their first Pro Bowl in 2018, with Trubisky making the trip as an alternate. No “fleecing” here!

Ironically, Pace’s 2017 draft moves created a “butterfly effect” — when a small localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere — by strengthening his former employers, the New Orleans Saints. When the 49ers traded away the 67th overall pick they received from the Bears to the Saints, New Orleans used that spot to select RB Alvin Kamara. Kamara went on to become the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and has already garnered two Pro Bowl selections early in his career. New Orleans had two first round selections that year, choosing CB Marshon Lattimore (11th) and OT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd). Both players have been starters since being drafted, and in 2017, Lattimore was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Another significant draft-day selection was S Marcus Williams at the 42nd spot. Williams, too, has been a starter from the very beginning of his pro career. Undoubtedly, these core four players fortified the Saints’ roster infrastructure and propelled them to division championships each of the past two seasons. 

However, buried within the trade minutia between the Bears and 49ers is another move that may have saved the Saints from themselves: San Francisco traded their 34th pick and the 111th pick (formerly the Bears’ selection) to the Seahawks for Seattle’s first round choice (31st overall) and drafted LB Reuben Foster. The Saints had the very next pick at No. 32, and needed serious help on their defense, having finished dead last the previous season.

The Saints, in need of a pass rusher, were eyeing DE Takkarist McKinley, but the Falcons traded up and drafted him. Reuben Foster’s stock was dropping, due to off-the-field concerns, but his talent was too hard to ignore. So the Saints primed themselves to select him, until the 49ers moved up (armed with Chicago’s fourth round pick ) and grabbed Foster. Having both defensive interests taken ahead of them, New Orleans ‘settled’ on the next best talent off their draft board, OT Ryan Ramczyk. Well, Foster was released by the 49ers in just his second year and is currently on IR with Washington. Ramczyk, on the other hand, has been an anchor for an offensive line that pass blocks for Drew Brees and run blocks for Alvin Kamara. Thanks, Chicago! Sure, it’s great to speculate on what-ifs… If the Bears don’t make that trade with San Francisco, do they possibly take Kamara at 67th instead of Cohen at 119th? Or, could another team have shot up to the second overall pick to take Trubisky instead of Chicago, leaving the Bears ‘settle’ on QB Deshaun Watson? Could the Bears have had a backfield of Trubisky and Kamara... or Watson and Kamara?

Regardless, the Bears did a good job in 2017, which paved a path towards an even more successful 2018 campaign, as evidenced by a division title, playoff appearance and multiple postseason accolades. Yet, this season the Saints are thriving at 5-1 without Drew Brees, while Chicago hovers precariously with a 3-2 record. Why is that? Talent! The Saints (with Chicago’s unwitting aid) drafted better in 2017. There is a metric (AV — approximate value) that gives a numeric rating to players, approximating their value to their own teams. A player’s AV can be influenced by the number of starts they have, big plays they’ve made, awards they’ve won, etc.

The Saints’ players taken in the 2017 draft have significantly higher AVs than do the Bears’ selections. Taking the top 4 players’ AVs  from each squad, we see: 

Saints - Marshon Lattimore (14) Ryan Ramczyk (25), Marcus Williams (12), Alvin Kamara (30). 

Bears - Mitch Trubisky (20), Adam Shaheen (1), Eddie Jackson (20), Tarik Cohen (16).

Despite the Bears’ immediate concerns at quarterback, the offensive line, and a banged-up defensive front, Chicago still has a dominant defense and is coming off a bye week. The

Saints are faced with injury issues beyond Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara not playing greatly improves Chicago’s chances of winning at home. Chicago is getting back 20 AV with the return of Trubisky from injury, whereas the Saints lose 30 AV with Kamara sitting on Sunday.

So, this weekend’s game may actually be won by the most talented roster on the field after all.

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The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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