Jonathan Allen

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.”

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

First impressions are so often the right ones, and throughout much of the pre-draft process, View from the Moon has been of the mind that LSU safety Jamal Adams would be the Bears' first selection on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. GM Ryan Pace set forth the premium the organization was placing on a ballhawking safety; Malik Hooker’s injury history raised too many concerns, and Adams was rated among the draft’s premier talents regardless of position.
 
That has changed, which is absolutely zero assurance that it was a change for the better. Because the cone of silence over Bears intentions, which may set the media a-grumbling but is at least something that the Bears have in common with Green Bay and New England, naming just a couple, is securely in place, which is a credit to the administration. (If another Administration out East were as airtight, political pundits would be reading their kids' school poems just to fill air time).
 
The revised decision to posit the Bears selecting Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson came on a wave of second thoughts drawn from information from a variety of sources. Chief among the "sources" was Pace himself, who has placed a premium on an individual capable of lifting not just the defense, but the organization. That bespoke "quarterback," and Watson gains the highest grade by virtue of intangibles on top of experience and results, with nods toward North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky.
 
Usually the pre-draft process is to fault-find and nit-pick prospects, run 'em down a little, hedge bets. But with Watson, the closer this observer has looked, the better, not worse, the Clemson kid has looked.
 
The chief caveat or qualifier with Watson has been general consensus among draft analysts that Watson has some accuracy issues. Not that this would be any sort of picking nit to find something wrong with the guy, but his career completion percentage is 67.4, with all three of his season hit rate at or above 67 percent. No other top prospect (Trubisky Pat Mahomes, DeShone Kizer, Nathan Peterman, Brad Kaaya, Davis Webb – I stopped looking at that point) has three seasons at that level or anything approaching the consistency of all three of his college years being nearly identical for this one measure of accuracy.
 
But a mantra here this draft has been that stats and measurables should not be the starting point for evaluating quarterbacks; it should be intangibles, THEN the measurables. More on the stats in a moment.
 
On the intangibles/character graph, consider:
 
The kid finished his degree, in communications, in three years, which was how long he planned to be at Clemson. Notably, he’s not alone in this kind of degree-compartmentalizing; Leonard Fournette at LSU and Clemson teammate and wideout Artavis Scott are both on schedule for finishing their studies at about the same time as their football. This would be what this reporter considers a very, very big positive in the character area and one that more players are moving on, a good story for another time.

Watson’s chief negative cited has been turnovers, specifically his 17 interceptions in the 2016 season. That also was the season Watson took Clemson to the national championship over Alabama, and the one in which he threw 579 passes. I can’t do this at the moment, but if there are instances where Watson's play was a bit off for a particular game, it might be amusing to find out what finals/tests/labs he had due the day before. Hopefully teams don't gig him for studying something other than game film that week.
 
But back to the stats and measurables...

Watson’s 17 interceptions in 579 attempts this past college season means an interception rate of 2.9 percent – or just about exactly what Brett Favre had for his college career. Obviously, all purely for academic comparison purposes, Watson for his career was a little better than Favre, at 2.7 percent. Watson completed 67 percent or more of his passes in those three Clemson seasons, if accuracy is a concern. This year’s Super Bowl quarterbacks: Tom Brady’s Michigan pick rate was 2.7 percent; Matt Ryan threw 19 his senior year at Boston College before going No. 3 overall to Atlanta.
 
The Favre/Brady/Ryan point is this: Look beyond just the numbers, and even beyond some of the supposed smudges on Watson's game at this point. The position is about leadership and winning, and Watson comes into the draft with zero concerns there.
 
Suggesting that the Bears send up their first card with Watson's name on it doesn't ignore the dubious wisdom in drafting a player significantly higher than his grade on a draft board. But intangibles factor heavily into the quarterback position, and those aren't generally factored heavily into the grading process. Too many draft mistakes (Favre second round, Joe Montana third, Russell Wilson third, Brady sixth) were made ignoring those elements.
 
Reasons abound for the Bears not reaching for Watson at No. 3 – Jonathan Allen. Adams. Malik Hooker. Marshon Lattimore. Solomon Thomas. (Insert your choice here.) And the overall of "he’s doesn't have a top-five grade."
 
But as laid out here previously during this draft season, the quarterback position is about more than height-weight-arm strength-40 time-and such. The Bears hope they won’t ever be at No. 3-overall again. Whether they see Watson as the best chance to keep that from happening will play out later this week.

Bears Talk Podcast: Bears 2017 NFL Draft Preview — Defense

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USA TODAY

Bears Talk Podcast: Bears 2017 NFL Draft Preview — Defense

Chris Boden, JJ Stankevitz and Scott Krinch take a look at the top prospects on the defensive side of the ball in the 2017 NFL Draft class. Hear from both Jonathan Allen and Jamal Adams on why they will succeed at the next level. Plus, analysis on other top prospects from NBC Sports/Rotoworld's Josh Norris.

Listen to the Bears Talk Podcast below: