At least the Bears got to use their brand-new, high-tech draft room last year.
As part of a massive renovation and expansion of Halas Hall, the Bears built a new state-of-the-art draft room with general manager Ryan Pace's fingerprints all over it. The media got to sneak a peak at it last year, and it’s truly impressive in how it helps, functionally, to conduct a draft.
The size of the draft board, in particular, is stunning. Nobody's squinting at a grainy screen to watch tape of a prospect.
“It's tied into our scouting database, so there's a million things we can pull up on this wall or however you want to do it,” Pace said last year. “The ability to sit in one room as a staff and, really the draft is one thing, but (for) all these meetings. We can pull up multiple things at the same time at our fingertips.”
A player’s measurables, interviews, comps, etc. are all immediately available to everyone in the room, helping foster the discussions that lead to the Bears making a pick. It’s not like the team can’t function without it, but as Pace said in 2019, “It's kind of endless what we have, and I feel like we're just kind of scratching the surface now, and we have the staff to keep on pushing that.”
A year later, the Bears — like every other NFL team — are mandated to conduct the draft remotely from home. No small gatherings in a large event space. No popping over to a scout’s house for a face-to-face discussion. And certainly no congregating around the gigantic digital draft board in that room at Halas Hall.
On a teleconference last week, Pace said, “Obviously there are some challenges with that.” He talked about the possibility of using the technology in that draft room with a limited number of people or conducting the draft at an offsite location.
It’s clear that nobody — not in Chicago, not in any front office — really wants to do the draft over a Zoom teleconference. But it’s how the 2020 draft will happen, and the Bears are going to have to make the best of it.
The Bears are confident in their ability to technologically adapt to 2020’s unprecedented but necessary way of drafting. Coaches and scouts have remote access to the Bears’ internal video and scouting systems, and one would figure even the most old-school coach or scout has had to become technologically savvy over the last few weeks.
‘We appreciate the hard work with our IT and video department, they’re studs, they’ve been amazing,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Coaching staff, personnel, everyone’s been working really hard together. It’s been different but unique, and it’s been fun finding out solutions and new ways with technology of how to do things, whether it’s through the draft or coaching staff meetings.”
My thought here is that the Bears should be fine making their 2020 picks from home. That goes for the other 31 teams in the league, too.
But Pace and his front office like to be active in the college free agent market, which is always a fire drill of sorts as the draft comes to a close. And the social distancing and work from home mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic have lessened every team’s ability to connect with those undrafted free agents. It’ll make things more chaotic for the Bears’ front office on April 25.
“A lot of our 30 visits are guys that we're projecting as college free agents we're trying to recruit,” Pace said last year (all interviews have to be done over the phone or via FaceTime this year). “Us going out to colleges, spending time at their pro days or having private workouts are for those reasons. Building relationships with their agents. Because the groundwork has to be done before then or you're going to lose out.”
There’s often way too much hype over undrafted free agents (Remember Emanuel Hall last year?). But the Bears have found a number of productive players from those ranks. Bryce Callahan, Roy Robertson-Harris, Cameron Meredith, Kevin Toliver II were all undrafted free agents who made it in Chicago, to varying extents. Signing the next Robertson-Harris or Callahan might be a little harder this year.
The draft, though? It won’t be ideal to conduct it from everyone’s individual office or basement as opposed to a buzzing draft room. But that should be fine… so long as no one’s WiFi cuts out.