Ryan Pace cut his roster-management teeth in New Orleans under general manager Mickey Loomis, who’s known as one of the more aggressive decision-makers in the league when it comes to the NFL Draft. If Loomis likes his guy, he goes and gets him and worries about the draft capital later.
There’s considerable risk involved with trading away draft assets in today’s modern NFL, in which accumulating productive players on cheap rookie contracts is a proven path to winning. If you’re trading away spins of the wheel in the draft, you better hit on the players you pick. For the high risk, there is a high reward, too.
Which brings us to this point: Through five games in 2019, Ryan Pace's batting average on players he traded draft assets away to acquire isn’t very good.
Yes, Pace would — and should — ship two first-round picks as well as a few others for Khalil Mack (and a 2020 second-round pick). Sacrificing a sixth-round pick to get back into the fourth round in 2017 and snag Eddie Jackson was certainly a success, too.
But the four biggest “conviction” trades he made within NFL Drafts since taking over as the Bears’ general manager haven’t yielded the sort of results necessary to make them successes, at least so far through five games in 2019.
Pace sacrificed, in total, two third-round picks, five fourth-round picks and one fifth-round pick to draft four players: Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky, Anthony Miller and David Montgomery. He did recoup some picks by shipping away Martellus Bennett and trading down within the second round of 2017's draft, to be fair.
But still, no team has made fewer draft picks in the last three years than the Bears’ 17. That strategy runs counter to the league’s sometimes slow-moving analytics revolution and requires a high batting average on those small number of picks. Pace comes from a scouting background and makes aggressive moves with conviction, which is admirable. But again: Doing so requires a high hit rate.
Floyd had a roaring start to Year 4 in the NFL, but since having two sacks against the Green Bay Packers he's looked like the player he's been over the last few years: Good against the run, but not elite in affecting the pocket.
Trubisky is averaging 5 1/2 yards per attempt through four games this year and, yes, has been much worse than the other two quarterbacks taken in the first round in 2017.
Miller had a largely invisible season until his outstanding 32-yard catch against the Raiders on Sunday, but still dropped a pass and committed two penalties in succession that helped give Oakland good field position on a kickoff in the second half. Five games into his second season, after a promising rookie year, Miller has just eight catches for 80 yards.
And Montgomery, partly for blocking/scheme reasons beyond his control, is averaging 3.3 yards per carry — lower than the 3.7 yards per carry average that got Jordan Howard shipped out of town after the 2018 season.
"His name was high on our board and we wanted to make sure we could get him," Pace said of Montgomery after April's draft. "... It was, let's just make sure we get this player we have conviction on."
Combined, those four players take up only 7.65 percent of the Bears' 2019 salary cap (Allen Robinson's cap hit of $15 million takes up 7.7 percent). Pace and his amateur scouting department, too, have done a good job hitting on the mid-round picks the Bears have made: Adrian Amos, Bilal Nichols, Tarik Cohen, Howard and Jackson have all been fourth- or fifth-round picks.
But the Bears need more out of some combination, if not all, of Floyd, Trubisky, Miller and Montgomery over 2019's final 11 games. Otherwise, a return to the playoffs — and a positive review of Pace's draft strategy — won't be in the cards.