Before the draft, I laid out what Ryan Pace’s checklist this week should be. A recap: Try to trade down, let your needs guide you, think safe and find three players who can contribute right away.
Alright, so Pace didn’t trade down despite saying he had “scenarios” to do so with both of the Bears’ second round picks. But the most important thing is that he added two guys who should be instant starters — tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson — while taking three swings on finding rotational and depth guys in the fifth round.
So zooming out, it looks like a pretty successful draft for Pace. That’s based on the process that led him to his seven selections, not necessarily based on if the guys he took will pan out in three to four years.
I’ve grown less skeptical of the Kmet pick in the 24 hours since it happened, for starters. Maybe Pace could’ve waited to draft him, but there was no other “Y” tight end with the Year 1 potential to play a significant number of snaps. The Bears’ offense hasn’t had passable, let alone good, play from its in-line tight ends in the Matt Nagy era.
Just adding a capable guy there in Kmet, even if he doesn’t make an immediate major impact as a receiver, is important. Nagy’s offense will operate better by being able to use 12 personnel more often. It'll add another dimension that wasn't there in 2018 or 2019. Kmet allows for that in a way no other tight end in this year’s draft could’ve.
"His football IQ is off the charts," Pace said. "His work ethic is off the charts. His preparation is off the charts. So all those things, there's no question in our mind that he'll be able to pick up this offense extremely fast because of those traits."
Johnson checks all the boxes for what the Bears want out of their starting outside corner opposite Kyle Fuller, helping better marry good coverage with a good pass rush. And the trio of fifth-round picks should add depth and rotational value this year.
Trevis Gipson has the archetypical frame to be an outside linebacker in this three-four scheme and has the sort of pass rushing upside that should help him get on the field to spell Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. You can never have too many pass rushers, after all.
"Just tremendous upside as a pass rusher," Pace said. "At Tulsa, he played a lot with his hand down, almost as a five technique. We think some of his traits can exceed even more in our defense. There’s just a lot of natural pass rush traits to him, and I think they all translate to our game very well."
Kindle Vildor has a competitive profile and could be a decent backup in either the slot or outside, and should help out on special teams, too.
Darnell Mooney brings some much-needed speed to the Bears’ receiver room. The ex-Tulane wideout ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and Mike Furrey and Nagy should have some fun carving out a role for him in this offense.
"There’s a lot of stuff on tape he shows where he makes the first guy miss, and when you’re able to do that with the acceleration that he has, it can turn a 12-yard gain into a home run and a touchdown, and we like that," Nagy said. "It was really intriguing to us, and we’re ready to see a lot of it.”
These five picks look pretty good, and then it’s pointless to quibble about anyone drafted in the seventh round (offensive linemen Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons were fine picks). The thing is: None of them looks like a big-time “project” — as in guys who don’t profile to get on the field as rookies.
(Think Adam Shaheen here.)
This class feels like it has a legitimate chance of getting three guys on the field in important roles this year: Kmet, Johnson and then one of Gipson or Mooney (ideally both). Also, Pace didn’t make a major trade up as he did in 2016 (Leonard Floyd), 2017 (Mitch Trubisky) and 2019 (David Montgomery), making this process feel more sound.
So while it didn’t address every need (safety and guard still feel thin), I’m on board with how Pace approached 2020’s draft. Now, it’s time to see if the players he got can match their expectations.