Ryan Pace’s pre-draft press conference began with the Bears’ general manager dryly referring to it as “always fun,” which elicited a round of chuckles from the assembled media at Halas Hall. Two days before the NFL Draft commences in Nashville, there’s no chance Pace is going to publicly tip his hand for what he’s planning to do later in the week. Fun, right?
Pace did tip one thing, though: When the 24th pick comes around — the first of the two first-round picks the Bears shipped to the Raiders last Labor Day weekend — he’ll pull up highlights of Khalil Mack in Halas Hall’s high-tech new draft room. Consider it a welcome reminder of why Pace doesn't have a first-round pick and might as well hook a Nintendo 64 up to the digital draft board and challenge anyone in the building to MarioKart on Thursday night (if this is possible, Toad on Koopa Troopa Beach is always a winner).
While the Bears won’t be on the clock until pick No. 87 in the third round (last year’s trade to move back into the second round to draft Anthony Miller is also why), Pace said the pressure on him remains the same as it was the last four years, when he made four selections in the first nine picks of those drafts. So that’s one aspect of this year’s draft that won’t change.
Another: The Bears aren’t going to switch their philosophy to drafting for the few needs a 12-4 team coming off a division title has. For Pace, the reasoning is twofold: First, he’s always been a best-player-available guy; second, he doesn’t see any truly glaring needs on his roster.
“We feel fortunate with our roster right now,” Pace said. “This press conference feels a little different in that there's no pressing, huge needs. We can honestly select the best players. That's a great spot to be in.”
That’s not to say the Bears don’t have any needs. Another running back, a reserve receiver, a backup tight end, cornerbacks and safeties for the future — those are all needs. Teams can never have too many offensive linemen, defensive linemen and edge rushers.
Of those, though, the only position with a path to a starting/prominent role on offense or defense may be running back. Even then, Pace said Mike Davis — who the Bears signed in March — is “built to handle a lot of carries,” so if a running back is drafted the expectation will be for him to be part of a rotation, not necessarily a true No. 1 starter-type.
“Right now, I know running back's been talked about a lot, but we feel good about that position,” Pace said. “We feel good about Tarik (Cohen), we feel really good about Mike Davis, we feel good about Ryan Nall and we feel good about Cordarrelle Patterson and the things he can do out of the backfield.
“… I think there's probably always a storyline with every draft. I understand why it's that way, but I don't feel like we go into this draft saying, 'Man, we have to take this position or we're in trouble.' We're in good shape.”
So consider this another intentionally-murky statement by Pace in this pre-draft press conference. The Bears probably need to take a running back, but he’s not going to say that and tip his hand or paint himself into a corner three days before he actually gets to make a pick.
(That Pace mentioned Nall, a 2018 undrafted free agent who spent last year on the practice squad, by name was at least interest-piquing.)
So as Pace took questions on Tuesday, most of the answers were some variation of “sure, it’s possible.” Trading down? Sure, it’s possible. Trading up? Sure, it’s possible — though not into the first round. Drafting a quarterback? Sure, it’s possible. A kicker? Sure, it’s possible. Not drafting a running back? Sure, it’s possible.
We’ll have a complete picture of what Pace was actually thinking come Saturday evening. But while he didn’t reveal much on Tuesday, and doesn’t have much draft capital with which to work, this draft is important. The Bears can find players for the present and future — when their roster will be more expensive — starting on Friday night. And hitting on a few of these picks will be critical for keeping the Bears’ window to win open as long as possible.
“If we take a player where we happen to have a lot of depth right now, but it’s a good player, that’s okay,” Pace said. “I think it’s short-sighted to say, ‘well, this guy might be able to play a little bit quicker so let’s take him.’ Let’s just take the best player. If that means it takes a little bit longer for him to play, let’s just make sure we take the best guy.”