Bears

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Last month, Ryan Pace described his day-before-the-draft press conference as being one of the “hardest” he does all year.

With only a little over 24 hours until the Bears go on the clock with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, the third-year Bears general manager wasn’t tipping his hand while answering the media’s questions on Wednesday.

One of Pace’s overarching points, though, was that the Bears have to focus on taking the best player available at No. 3 Thursday night. Pace said the Bears have three players targeted for that spot, and what the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers do ahead of them won’t impact their decision.

What also won’t impact the Bears’ decision is the need to draft a quarterback.

“I think you get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available,” Pace said. “When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water. I think if we just stay with guys we have a consensus on and best player available we’ll be in good shape.”

Plenty of draft observers — ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, NFL Network’s Mike Manock, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang — don’t have a quarterback in the top three of their respective “big boards,” which are headlined by the likes of Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, among a few others.

But what if the Bears’ consensus is that a quarterback is a top-three player?

Over the last few months, Pace has consistently touted intangibles as being of prominent importance when evaluating a quarterback. At the combine in Indianapolis, he pointed to Drew Brees taking Purdue — a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder — to a Rose Bowl. Pace, of course, knows Brees’ NFL success well having watched him in New Orleans before becoming the Bears’ general manager. 

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There’s one quarterback in this year’s draft class that could have those intangibles to be considered at No. 3: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. 

Before Watson took over as a full-time starter in 2015, Clemson established itself as a perennial Orange Bowl contender that’d win 10 or 11 games a year. But Watson took Clemson to a different level, going 28-2 and reaching the College Football Playoff title game in 2015 (a loss to Alabama) and 2016 (a win over Alabama). 

“It's big with every position, the intangibles,” Pace said. ‘That's what I continue to stress to our guys right now, because you can get enamored with these physical qualities or these traits. There's enough good players where we don't need to change our standards.

“I really like our locker room right now. I really like the vibe right now in that locker room with the guys that we have here, it feels good, and I want to continue to add to that vibe and add to that excitement. It's up to me to impress that to our scouts and to our coaches that, hey, we've got to make sure we're adding the right kinds of guys, the right kinds of intangibles to our room.”

If Watson isn’t among the team’s consensus top three, he could fit into one of the “clouds” Pace talked about if the Bears trade down into the middle or later part of the first round. But trading down (or back into the first round) carries risk if the Bears believe Watson could be a franchise-changing quarterback. The No. 3 pick is the highest the Bears have had since the early 1970s, and it’s a position the team hardly wants to be in again.

Pace, of course, wasn’t going to reveal much the day before he and the Bears make a critically-important selection. The Bears know who they want, and Thursday night, so will everyone else.

“There’s been so much that’s come into this since August, so you’ve just trust what your eyes see and don’t over-think it,” Pace said. “Trust your conviction and trust your instincts and trust your gut.

“You can get into trouble right now if you’re up there watching additional tape and doing all that; I think you can over-scout players. By now we’ve got enough opinions. We’ve met with enough players. We’ve been through the Combine and been through the Pro Days and seen players play live. At this point we feel good. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re overthinking anything.”

Bears-Vikings is most tightly contested game of Week 11

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USA TODAY

Bears-Vikings is most tightly contested game of Week 11

With so much parity in the NFL, every week on the schedule has close matchups. This weekend, though, the Bears and the Minnesota Vikings are expected to play the closest.

NFL experts trying to predict Sunday night’s matchup are torn on who they think is going to win, but Chicago has the slight advantage according to NFL Pick Watch.

55 percent of experts are picking the Bears to extend their NFC North lead, the closest margin of predictions for any game this week.

Even Monday night’s contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams has a larger majority supporting Jared Goff and company at 60 percent.

The analytics are also in agreement in support of Matt Nagy in prime time. Microsoft Cortana, FiveThirtyEight, Number Fire and Pro Football Focus analytics are all among the majority picking the Bears.

Our own J.J. Stankevitz predicts they could have statement game to establish themselves as a legitimate contender this season.

Chicago is favored by a slight margin on Las Vegas sportsbooks, but in the battle for first place in the division, anything can happen.

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

There’s a wrinkle to the Bears’ offense nobody’s quite seen yet in 2018. With Adam Shaheen being activated off injured reserve on Saturday, we might get a look at what it could be starting Sunday. 

To make room for Shaheen on the 53-man roster, the Bears placed tight end Dion Sims on injured reserve. Sims didn't practice the last two weeks after suffering a concussion Nov. 4 against the Buffalo Bills, and has had recurring concussion issues in the past.

Shaheen, who suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game Aug. 18 against the Denver Broncos, began practicing with the Bears last week. 

The aspect to Matt Nagy’s offense we haven’t seen, then, is a “Y” (in-line) tight end being a legitimate receiving threat. While opposing teams have film on Shaheen from his rookie year of 2017, they don’t have film on how Nagy could use him. 

“I haven’t even though about it,” Shaheen said. “For me, I just want to get out there and play. And so, thinking about that, if they don’t see me coming and it gives me better looks, then so be it.”

While Shaheen’s usage could be limited in his first regular season game since Dec. 10, 2017, his go-up-and-get-it ability in the red zone could instantly be a factor against the Minnesota Vikings. Shaheen led the Bears with three touchdowns in 2017 despite only catching 12 passes. 

From a schematic standpoint, how Nagy works Shaheen into the offense will be interesting to observe. The Bears are one of five teams to average seven or more yards per play while having three receivers on the field:

The Bears’ two most-used formations (totaling 90 plays) has had Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel as the three receivers, with Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen the running back and Trey Burton the tight end. Their third most-used formation (31 plays) did feature two tight ends in Burton and Dion Sims, though the majority of those plays (18) were rushing plays. 

Sims, though, wasn't a receiving threat, while Shaheen is. 

“It just puts another playmaker on the field, as somebody else they have to account for,” Burton said. “We just have so many guys that can do so many different things, so it makes it really tough to guard. And so I like it because we have two tight ends in there at a time. Hopefully we can get rolling with that whenever he comes back.”

“Whenever” will be Sunday. And the larger point here may be that the Bears were able to add a playmaker into their offense instead of losing one to attrition in November. 

“He’s just a mismatch problem across the board for linebackers and safeties, and when you get a corner on him as well, his size is just too much to handle,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “Getting him back will just open things up even more for this offense, and he’s another option for this offense to be even more dynamic."