Bears

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

There is never – well, pretty much never – a time without at least some modicum of personal pressure in the NFL, whether it’s to win, develop, save money, whatever.

But some times are more pressurized than others or involve different pressures. So it is for Bears GM Ryan Pace.

Because one of the realities of sport, or lots of other endeavors for that matter, is that it is so often more difficult to stay at the top than to reach it a first time. Complacency can set in after success; opponents and other forces can chip away at what worked on the way up. Worst (or best) of all, expectations rise.

It is arguably much easier to go from three wins to six than to go from, say, 12 to 13.

When Pace was hired to replace Phil Emery, there were the obvious pressures: first-time GM, need to overhaul turn around a roster and culture, all that stuff. But expectations weren’t outlandish; short of abject collapse or some aberrant new level of dysfunction, the true expectations were not to reach the playoffs in 2015, for instance.

And every indication was that Pace was going to get a second coaching hire anyway if bridge-hire John Fox didn’t work out. Pace got an extension with the same win-loss record that got Fox fired.

The pressure then ratcheted up several notches with Pace investing the draft capital he did in Mitchell Trubisky, then hiring his own head coach in Matt Nagy. A consultant and senior management weren’t directing things in either of those cases. Those are on him.

So then Pace’s coach and quarterback went and won 12 games and were within a kicking malfunction of winning a playoff game. Accordingly, with all that, they sent the franchise into a draft (Pace’s first) without top-10 picks in early draft rounds. Pace has not gone into a draft holding fewer than two selections in the top 45 (2017).

This year, with the added expectations from a 12-4 season, Pace starts with none in the first 86.

Pace said this week that the pressure feels the same to him, and it probably does; no one puts more pressure on Pace than he does on himself.

But the expectations are there, or more accurately, the overall need is there, definitely there. After the better part of a decade without any, the Bears have some organizational momentum now and losing that invites dark thoughts.

“I feel like I feel like with fewer picks and with later picks, the onus is on us as scouts to hit on these picks, and to keep this momentum that we’ve got,” Pace said. “I feel like we have this momentum. To keep this momentum going…we need to nail this draft.”

But what if they don’t?

There are no unimportant drafts, or seasons, for that matter. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that is the NFL, getting it right does matter. A lot.

The Oakland Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 largely on the fruits of GM Reggie McKenzie draftees Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. McKenzie was Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL executive of the year and had a contract extension. (Pace received both of those in a 14-month span.)

The Raiders fell off to 6-10 in 2017, fired coach Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden, who traded away Cooper and Mack, and had McKenzie fired a week after the Raiders were the first AFC team mathematically eliminated from the 2018 playoffs.

Much closer to home, the Bears went to the NFC Championship game in 2010 with a team built by then-GM Jerry Angelo. They again stood atop the NFC North at 7-3 in 2011, at which point Jay Cutler broke his thumb and the Bears lost five of their final six.
Angelo was fired two days after the final ’11 game – a win at Minnesota, the last one of those before finishing 2018 with a victory up there.

Emery was fired after three seasons of decline from 10 to 8 to 5 wins from 2012-14.

Pace is in less than zero danger. Indeed, if the Fox hiring process vs. that of Nagy’s taught Bears management anything, it would start with the presumption that, left to his own devices, Pace is better at picking head coaches than a lot of other people around Halas Hall.

And the fact that 10 of the 12 Bears Pro Bowl’ers or alternates were Pace draft picks or trade/free agent acquisitions suggests that he has improved exponentially from first-draft selections of Kevin White and Hroniss Grasu.

Now all he has to do is do it again. And then again. And then….

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Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

A lot has changed since the NFL released the 2019 schedule. Teams have added through the draft and free agency, and learned more about their rosters with rookie minicamps. Now with all that behind us, let’s take another look at which opposing rookies could make an impact in 2019. We’ll go over the first five opponents on Wednesday, the next four on Thursday and the last four on Friday.

Week 11 at Rams

If LA doesn’t re-sign Ndamukong Suh they’ll have a major vacancy on their defensive line: enter fourth-rounder Greg Gaines. The Rams traded back into the fourth round to snag Gaines, so clearly they think highly of the first team All-Pac-12 DL who had 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season at Washington.

Week 12 vs. Giants

The Giants made the biggest splash of the draft by selecting Daniel Jones No. 6 overall. Reactions to the picks in the media and on social media were very similar to when the Bears traded up to pick Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, and Trubisky has already publicly given Jones advice for how to deal with the negative attention. Will Jones follow in Trubisky’s footsteps and have replaced Eli Manning under center by the time the Giants visit Chicago?

Week 13 at Lions

See Thursday’s preview of Bears’ opponents. 

Week 14 vs. Cowboys

Fourth-round pick Tony Pollard is the lesser-heralded running back from Memphis rather than Darrell Henderson, but he can run and catch. Over his last two seasons, he put up 782 rushing yards, 994 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He also adds much needed depth to the Dallas running back room, as the leading rusher behind Ezekiel Elliott last season was Dak Prescott with 75 attempts for 305 yards. After that, it was Rod Smith with 44 attempts for 127 yards.

Week 15 at Packers

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Week 16 vs. Chiefs

If Tyreek Hill doesn’t play this year due to domestic violence allegations, second-round pick Mecole Hardman could get a lot of snaps at WR in his stead. Hardman can blow by defenders, like Hill, and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. That number was good for fifth-best among all participants this year. On the field for Georgia, he caught 35 balls for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. He added a punt return touchdown, as well.

Week 17 at Vikings

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 

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USA Today

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 


A line has often been drawn between David Montgomery and Kareem Hunt, with the Bears’ third-round pick’s current and former coaches making that favorable skillset comparison. Both have similar running styles, both are adept pass-catchers, both were third round picks, both played for the same coaching staff in college, etc. 
 
“There are some clips that you can go back and forth and watch and say man, (Montgomery) kind of reminds me of Kareem," Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. "And you go back to cuts from (Hunt) too and you’re like man, that’s kind of strange, it looks a little like David there in that sense. They’re different, but I do think there are some similarities.”


The Montgomery-to-Hunt comparison carries with it lofty expectations. Hunt’s dynamic rookie year — under the watch of then-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy — saw him gain a league-leading 1,327 yards on 272 carries (4.9 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns, as well as catch 53 passes for 455 yards with three touchdowns. That level of production is the dream scenario for the Bears with Montgomery.

Hunt’s rookie year was, clearly, well above average. But how much above average was it? That was the question this article set out to answer. We wanted to build a baseline for what Montgomery’s rookie expectations should be. What it turned into was a dive into how all 257 rookie running backs who were on a 53-man roster in the last seven seasons fared, from Saquon Barkley to Taquan Mizzell. 

We’ll start here: Only running backs whose rookie seasons fell from 2012-2018 were included, given 2012 was the first draft conducted under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. Plus, it’s recent enough to account for the NFL’s gradual (but hardly total) shift away from placing a high value on running backs. 

Receiving stats weren’t taken into account here, given how different offenses use different running backs in the receiving game — and how the Bears can reasonably expect Montgomery to be an above-average pass-catcher as a rookie. So only running statistics were used, which also hold the most importance for the 2019 Bears after Jordan Howard’s uneven 2018 season. 

Also, compiling these numbers wouldn't have been possible without the essential Pro Football Reference Play Index. 

Beginning with a wide lens, the average production for a rookie running back over the last seven years — drafted or undrafted — is 56 carries for 243 yards (4.3 yards per attempt) with 1 1/2 touchdowns. But that’s not a totally useful measuring stick, given it includes 121 undrafted free agents, and 47 of those UDFAs didn’t receive a single carry in their rookie seasons. 

The 136 running backs who were drafted from 2012-2018 have a meatier average: 88 carries, 371 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 2 1/2 touchdowns. Or, another way: That’s about a third of Howard’s 2018 totals (250 carries, 935 yards, 9 touchdowns) while improving his average yards per carry by a half yard. 

Drilling deeper: Third round running backs — 18 players, highlighted by Hunt — put together an average season of 108 attempts, 473 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and 2.9 touchdowns. That feels like a good starting point for Montgomery, especially if he’s being used as part of a time-share with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen. 

Perhaps something closer to what Arizona’s David Johnson did his rookie year is better, adding a few more carries and removing a couple of touchdowns (125 carries, 581 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns). If that’s what Montgomery winds up doing in 2019, it’ll be an improvement over Howard — and an even more pronounced one if Davis winds up being effective, too. 

What about Kerrith Whyte Jr.?

The thought here is we’ll see Whyte battle with Mizzell in the coming weeks and months for a roster spot that carries with it a small role in Nagy’s offense (Mizzell, for all the consternation about him, only played 6.5 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in 2018). He’s not the first, second or third option, but as a speedy change-of-pace guy he does carry some intrigue as another weapon in Nagy’s arsenal. 

It’s rare for seventh round running backs to make much of an impact on the ground their rookie years, with the Eagles’ Bryce Brown having the best season not only in this timespan, but in the last 20 years, with 564 yards on 115 carries (4.9 yards/attempt) with four touchdowns in 2012. Only four of the 18 seventh round running backs in the last seven seasons have averaged more than four yards per carry. 

Round-by-round data

Ryan Pace has picked a running back in the third round (Montgomery), fourth round twice (Cohen, Jeremy Langford), fifth round (Howard) and seventh round (Whyte) during his five years as Bears’ general manager. The three guys who’ve played — Langford, Howard, Cohen — were all rookie-year successes, to varying extents: Howard’s 1,313 yards in 2016 are the sixth-most for a rookie running back since 2012; only two fourth-round picks in the same timespan rushed for more yards than Langford’s 537 in 2015 (Andre Williams, Samaje Perine). Cohen’s impact, of course, goes beyond his on-the-ground production. 

The point here being that Pace has a track record of finding productive mid-round running backs, even if we’re only talking about three players here. That’s a good skill for a general manager to have; plenty smart observers consider it wasteful to use a first round pick on a running back, let alone a top 10 selection, which Pace had in his first four drafts. 

Naturally, though, it’s easier to find an immediately productive running back earlier in the draft than later. But that there have been standout players to come from nearly every round of the draft (and from the undrafted free agent pool) bolsters the compelling case for not using high picks on running backs. The round-by-round averages are:

First round (11 players): 212 attempts, 934 yards, 4.4 YPC, 7.4 TDs
Best season: Ezekiel Elliott (322 attempts, 1,631 yards, 5.1 YPC, 15 TDs)

Second round (19 players): 135 attempts, 572 yards, 4.2 YPC, 4.2 TDs
Best season: Jeremy Hill (222 attempts, 1,124 yards, 5.1 YPC, 9 TDs)

Third round (18 players): 108 attempts, 473 yards, 4.4 YPC, 2.9 TDs
Best season: Kareem Hunt (272 attempts, 1,327 yards, 4.9 YPC, 8 TDs)

Fourth round (26 players): 82 attempts, 312 yards, 3.8 YPC, 1.9 TDs
Best season: Andre Williams (217 attempts, 721 yards, 3.3 YPC, 7 TDs)
— Includes 1 player who did not receive a carry


Fifth round (22 players): 71 attempts, 310 yards, 4.4 YPC, 1.8 TDs
Best season: Jordan Howard (252 attempts, 1,313 yards, 5.2 YPC, 6 TDs
— Includes 2 players who did not receive a carry


Sixth round (23 players): 43 attempts, 183 yards, 4.3 YPC, 1.0 TDs
Best season: Alfred Morris (335 attempts, 1,613 yards, 4.8 YPC, 13 TDs)
— Includes 6 players who did not receive a carry


Seventh round (18 players): 28 attempts, 109 yards, 3.9 YPC, 0.6 TDs
Best season: Bryce Brown (115 attempts, 564 yards, 4.9 YPC, 4 TDs)
— Includes 5 players who did not a receive a carry


Undrafted free agent average (121 players): 20 attempts, 88 yards, 4.4 YPC, 0.5 TDs
Best season: Phillip Lindsay (192 carries, 1,037 yards, 5.4 YPC, 9 TDs)
— Includes 47 players who did not receive a carry


If you want a look at the full, raw data, click here.

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