Going into his first draft as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace and his personnel staff compiled a “cloud” of players they graded as worth the No. 7 overall pick of that draft, the one the Bears held as day one opened. They were ranked, and not everyone in that cluster of players – numbering eight, sources have said – carried the same grade, just the determination that the Bears would be fine with any or whichever ones that were still on the board in what has been the only of Pace’s three drafts in which the Bears didn’t move up to make their first pick.

All but two of those “cloud” players were gone in the first six picks, at which point Pace and the Bears selected wide receiver Kevin White. Having just two of their elite targets remaining meant very, very limited options for the hoped-for chance of trading down and still finding “elite.”

The “cloud” concept, however, is a Pace drafting template. This year, with the Bears holding No. 8 in the first round, an early assumption here is that the Bears will again have a cloud portfolio of eight-ish prospects.

But which ones? And because as many as half those players project to be available when the Bears are on the clock, the compound-decision Pace will confront is whether to/how far/for whom he can trade back.

And strictly for entertainment purposes, what would you do in these certain scenarios?

The Cloud

First, some exclusions:

 

The cloud of elites is not simply the top (in this case) eight players on a Big Board. Certain players are being pulled out of the general ranking because in virtually no scenario are the Bears likely to take a player at their positions.

Pace and the Bears will not be using their No. 1 on a quarterback; Pace said at last week’s owners meetings that his dream scenario would be four quarterbacks. So no Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen in the cloud.

The Bears guaranteed $36 million and committed additional millions at cornerback with Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller, plus re-signing Marcus Cooper for potentially $2.5 million. The presumption here: Even with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, Iowa’s Josh Jackson and/or Ohio State’s Denzel Ward looming possibly at No. 8, no cornerbacks in the cloud.

The defense is anchored by Eddie Goldman, one of the best young nose tackles in the NFL and who is the leading candidate for a contract extension before training camp. Even with the amount of nickel/4-3 packages the Bears play, they will not invest a No. 1 at this position of strength alongside Akiem Hicks. No nose tackles.

Excepting those spots, and with more than three weeks before the Apr. 26 start of the draft in which prospects will rise and fall, the best-available Bears “cloud” at this point:

Saquon Barkley. RB Penn State

Bradley Chubb, DE/LB, N.C. State

Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Va. Tech

Harold Landry, DE/LB, Boston College

Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia

Best guess is that not all will carry an 8th-overall grade. But if certain ones (Davenport, Landry) are on the board, trading down, adding picks and still snagging a pass rusher could be a working scenario.

3 cloud scenarios

So comes the draft and Pace’s fantasy comes to pass: four quarterbacks go within the seven picks ahead of the Bears. Three non-QB’s go; assumption here is that those will be Barkley, a generational talent running the football; Chubb, the presumptive best pass rusher in the class; and Nelson, rated this year’s can’t-miss offensive lineman.

1 -     Available for Bears: Davenport, Edmunds, Landry, Ridley, Smith.

NBC move:       Select Edmunds. Picking up Aaron Lynch will help the edge rush but losing Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, and Leonard Floyd yet to play 16 games leaves Bears too thin at this franchise spot.

But every draft has at least one highly grade prospect drop a little, or a lot. As good as Nelson is, the teams not taking QB’s think top-7 too high for a guard, after guard over-drafts in recent years.

2 -     Available for Bears: Davenport, Edmunds, Landry, NELSON, Ridley, Smith.

NBC move:       Select Nelson. Were grades close between Nelson and Edmunds/Landry/Smith, the need for rush help trumps a slight grade edge. And Nelson is simply too good for not to further enhance his new coach’s chances for offensive success.

 

Nelson is a longshot to last past No. 6 in year short on elite O-linemen. And the phone is ringing in Pace’s draft room.

3 -     Available for Bears: Davenport, Edmunds, Landry, Ridley, Smith.

NBC move:       Trade back, add picks, snag Landry or Smith.

Edmunds has upside, a favorite “trait” of Pace’s. But Landry chose to play his senior season and had 26 sacks his last three seasons, and Smith is from the Georgia speed-linebacker mold of Floyd, with upside and all-field abilities in the Danny Trevathan model.