Sometimes—most times in fact—the draft goes its own way and decides in large part who is drafted where and by whom. The Bears trading up 14 slots in the third round to land Iowa State running back David Montgomery has the look of one of those occasions, as well as representing further evidence of the win-now mindset that is firmly in place at Halas Hall.
Or maybe not just “win-now” – “draft-now” as well.
As Friday’s second round finished and the third round unfolded, Montgomery was one of those hoped-for players who was within reach--in this case, on the draft board when New England’s turn approached at No. 73--and whose evaluation grade stood out above most of the prospects the Bears saw as still available.
“[Montgomery] was a player we identified on the board where that [grade-evaluation] ‘magnet’ kind of sticking out where we valued him,” said GM Ryan Pace. “And so we kind of operate with a ‘no regrets’ mindset, so let's go ahead and move up and acquire this player at that point….
“His name was sticking high enough on our board where we wanted to make sure we got him. We didn’t want to risk him going off before our pick… . It was really, seriously ‘take the best player.’ It worked out that that’s the position. This guy checks all the boxes for us not only as a player but the person that he is. The draft really fell in our favor tonight.”
It helped that the Bears and the Patriots have developed a good relationship, leading to joint training-camp practices as well as deals such as Martellus Bennett to New England, or the trade with the Patriots last draft to move up to select Anthony Miller in the 2018 second round.
The relationship mattered, because the time allowed for picks shrinks from 10 minutes in the first round to seven in the second and five in the third.
“We were working the phones right there, in that area of the draft,” Pace said. “We’ve done several trades with the Patriots now. They’re great to work with. [Patriots personnel director] Nick Caserio and coach [Bill] Belichick. And in our draft room, Joey Laine [director of football administration] does a really good job of working with me to ensure that we can make that happen.
“Because in this round, the clock’s clicking down pretty fast. It can get kind of tense as you’re getting within one minute [of needing to call in the pick]. But we made it work.”
The deal was GM Ryan Pace’s ninth in the past four drafts, which obviously does not include trading away Brandon Marshall (two months after Pace was hired) or Jordan Howard, or the deal to acquire Khalil Mack.
Throw in some lower-profile trades (Ryan Groy to New England, Dontrelle Inman from San Diego, Khari Lee from Houston) and Pace’s operating style becomes amply evident. Multiple analysts posited that the Bears would have to trade up for Montgomery, and Pace did that, marking the third time in his last four drafts (Montgomery, Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, Leonard Floyd in 2016) that he has moved up for a targeted player with his first pick in that draft.
Diminishing options, but….
The Bears also are looking for quality additions in the secondary. But 11 defensive backs went off the board in the span of the second round’s 32 picks. With the two DBs that went in the final six picks of round one, the chances of a gem falling through the cracks to the Bears down at the 23rd pick in the third round, No. 87 overall, dropped from hopeful to not-so-much. Among position groups, only the defensive line (11 in the first round alone) saw that kind of run through the first two rounds.
Meaning: Even a strong draft for defensive backs was somewhat over-picked well before that first Bears draft pick happened.
What the earlier runs on those two defensive groups did however, was to leave meat on the draft bone elsewhere. Like running back for instance. Five running backs were selected in the third round vs. only three corners and two safeties in Friday’s final round.
Exactly two running backs were taken in the first two rounds/64 picks: Alabama’s Josh Jacobs to Oakland and Penn State’s Miles Sanders to Philadelphia.
But then Darrell Henderson, a Memphis teammate of Bears wideout Anthony Miller, was gone to the Rams with pick six of the third round. Perhaps getting indications that the demand for running back was about to spike – the Buffalo Bills grabbed Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary one pick after the Bears moved on Montgomery– the Rams traded up for Tampa Bay’s slot at No. 70, giving the Buccaneers two third-round picks (94, 99) for the chance to land Henderson.
Henderson, Montgomery and Singletary made it three running backs in the span of five picks. Alabama’s Damien Harris went at No. 87, the Bears’ original spot going into the draft.
The Bears, already picks-lite by virtue of deals last year, gave the New England Patriots that pick at 87 plus a fifth-round pick (No. 162) this year and their fourth-round pick in 2020. They also received New England’s sixth-round selection at No. 205
With the 2020 first- and third-round picks given to the Raiders in the Khalil Mack trade, the Bears finished Friday with Oakland’s second-rounder in 2020, but no 1, 3 or 4.
But Pace and staff determined that getting what is likely a day-one contributing running back with versatility fixes the main shortcoming of an emerging offense under Matt Nagy, for a team that finished 12-4 but lost its wild-card playoff game when running backs accounted for just 16 touches and 63 total yards.
It is all about the win-now mentality.
“For us, I say it all the time, Matt and I say it, ‘No regrets,” Pace said. “If we see something, we identify something and we have consensus on it, then we’re going to make it happen.”