Lack of seeming elite QBs in NFL draft could bode well for Bears


Lack of seeming elite QBs in NFL draft could bode well for Bears

INDIANAPOLIS – Early in the evaluation process, with the draft still two months distant, one school of thought has gained traction that the 2016 quarterback draft class in fact does not have the headline-grade talent that graces some classes.

This could bode well for the Bears, who are widely expected to invest more than a throwaway late pick on a quarterback to be either/both backup and successor to Jay Cutler. Fewer quarterbacks regarded now as elites point to more quarterbacks drifting down into mid rounds, and developing into winners.

Besides the obvious first-rounders like Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer, playoff quarterbacks in 2015 came from second rounds (Andy Dalton, Cincinnati), third rounds (Russell Wilson, Seattle), fourth rounds (Kirk Cousins, Washington) , sixth rounds (Tom Brady, New England) and undrafteds (Brian Hoyer, Houston).

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“I know Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year,” Bears GM Ryan Pace has said. “It’s such a critical, critical position, that that’s something we’re always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team, so competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere.”

But where to find them in a game already desperately thin on pro-grade quarterback talent?

The marquee quarterbacks of the 2015 draft class – Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston – were gone in picks 1-2. And only seven quarterbacks were even drafted among the 256 players selected in the seven rounds, including compensatory picks. After Mariota and Winston, no quarterback was taken until Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson went to the New Orleans Saints – as Drew Brees’ backup.

In the same vein of possible templates for the Bears, the Green Bay Packers selected Brett Hundley out of UCLA with pick No. 147, in the fifth round. No threat to Aaron Rodgers, obviously, but the personnel strategy is one that has worked, no more so than when the Packers used a 2005 No. 1 to draft Rodgers with Brett Favre securely in place.

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The various quarterbacks in the 2016 draft appear to recognize what more than one team official said this week during the NFL Scouting Combine: That players, particularly quarterbacks, need to be developed, not automatically be started.

“You got to go in there and prove yourself,” said North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, projected by Pro Football Weekly’s draft guide as a pick in rounds 1-2. “You’ve got to earn your respect. No matter if you go into a situation with a Hall of Famer in front of you or a situation with nobody in front of you and it's supposedly given to you, I don't think that's true. You got to earn every bit of it. That's how I'm going handle that situation.”

The notion of serving an apprenticeship is not a complete negative to members of this year’s draft group.

“You've seen guys do it before and be extremely successful with it and you've seen the opposite,” said Cal’s Jared Goff, projected to go as early as the first or second pick overall to as low as the early second round. “It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I mean you always want to play. But at the same time, if that's the situation you go into, that's the situation. You get better and you deal with it and you go through the couple of years or whatever it is and do your best and continue to be ready whenever the time comes.”

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller has quickly become a fan favorite on social media. He has the confidence and swagger found in most top wide receivers and it comes through on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Miller was one of 40 players in attendance at the 2018 NFLPA Rookie Premiere where he not only learned about the business and marketing side of football, but also suited up in his Bears gameday uniform for the first time. Of course, he shared the moment on Twitter:

Panini America, a sports collectible company, snapped a picture of Miller with fellow rookie receiver Calvin Ridley (Falcons) and quarterback Mason Rudolph (Steelers):

Miller has become something of a standout for the Bears despite not playing a single snap. He's expected to have a big role in an offense that has several new pieces and roles that are up for grabs.

Miller will compete with former first-round pick Kevin White and free-agent addition Taylor Gabriel for reps opposite Allen Robinson. Miller has the necessary skill set to play as both an outside receiver and in the slot which should give him an even greater opportunity to be on the field quite a bit.

The Bears first three draft picks are all vying for starting jobs in 2018. Roquan Smith (first round) is a lock to start next to Danny Trevathan and James Daniels (second round) will start at guard. Miller should make it three-for-three in a draft class that could end up the best of Ryan Pace's tenure.