If the 2018 offseason is any sort of indicator, the question before the Bears heading into the unofficial “start” of the offseason – the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis – is less which position group they upgrade – the surprise will be if running back is not priority No. 1 – but how they go about it.
By way of background perspective, first consider what was done last offseason in terms of starter-grade moves:
QB2 Chase Daniel
WR 3: Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson
TE Trey Burton
OL James Daniels
DL Bilal Nichols
OLB Khalil Mack
ILB Roquan Smith.
And there was also the matter of head coach.
Missing from the list is the secondary, although the pricey re-signings of Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller more than count toward commitment to roster-building; and running back, although whispers around the NFL was that the Bears were open to dealing Jordan Howard, which obviously didn’t happen.
The Bears have operated with the requisite “best player available” philosophy in drafting and other personnel acquisitions. How they accomplish that at running back will be among the most closely watched roster efforts of this offseason.
With no draft choice currently before the third round, the roll call and mock workups coming out of the Combine will feature a spectrum of players rather than one or two, the way if has been with the Bears picking in the top-10 range in the last four drafts.
But GM Ryan Pace has been the picture of aggressive with draft choices, specifically dealing them en masse for deals the included moving up for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, to a lesser extent for Leonard Floyd, and dramatically in the trade for Khalil Mack.
The trade possibility should be watched, once the draft begins, and before.
The Cleveland Browns struck dramatically with the signing of Kareem Hunt, which abruptly gave them a crowded backfield of starter-grade talent: Nick Chubb, 23, coming off averaging 5.2 ypc in his rookie season; and Duke Johnson, 25, never a full-time starter but who’s averaged 4.3 ypc in four seasons with a very bad football team.
But Pace hasn’t used his actual No. 3 the past two drafts, dealing away his 2017 and 2018 No. 3’s as part of the move for Trubisky. This time he has a No. 3, but the surprise would be if he uses it where it now sits.
Would the Browns part with Chubb or Johnson for a No. 3? How about for a 4 or 5?
The biggest reason to stay tuned in the second round when the draft arrives is Pace’s willingness to target and trade up to go get a player. He did it with Floyd and Trubisky in first rounds. He did it for wideout Miller in last year’s draft, dipping into 2019 to do it in the form of giving this year’s second-rounder (plus a No. 4) to move up from No. 70 (third round) to 51 (second).
Maybe Pace had some idea what would play out last season and its effect on this next draft. The 2019 Bears No. 2, now belonging to New England, is way down at 24th in the round after the 12-4 season (and would’ve been even lower if Cody Parkey makes his last kick vs. Philadelphia).
The Bears’ first scheduled pick in round three happens to be the 24th pick of the round; not high. Pace stayed put in the third rounds of his first two drafts, taking Hroniss Grasu (2015) and Jonathan Bullard (2016).
Brad Biggs over at the Tribune did a nice workup of some prospects likely to be around late on day two when the Bears’ turn comes at some point in the mid rounds. These become relevant because Pace and his staff have established an aptitude for finding NFL talent at running back down in the draft:
2015, 4th round Jeremy Langford, now with Atlanta after stops on the Ravens, Jets and Dolphins practice squads;
2016, 5th round Howard;
2017, 4th round Tarik Cohen.