My NBC Sports Chicago colleagues and I went through a fun (and really difficult!) thought exercise this week, re-picking the 2017 NFL Draft with the information we have now. Check it out here if you haven't already.
Adam Hoge drafted for the NFC/AFC West. Cam Ellis had the NFC/AFC South. Bryan Perez took the NFC/AFC East. And I shouldered the NFC and AFC North, meaning I got to make two of the first three picks between the Browns and Bears.
We kept the original draft order, so the Bears did not trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 with the San Francisco 49ers. Patrick Mahomes, obviously, went No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns. Then Adam took Deshaun Watson second to the 49ers, who'd rather have him than Jimmy Garappolo.
So that left the Bears without a quarterback, but able to take the best non-quarterback with the third overall pick.
Who that player should be was a tough decision. George Kittle — who was actually a fifth-round pick, incredibly — was enticing for a team stuck in tight end hell. Jamal Adams is an incredible talent. I gave passing consideration to Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, though for as impactful as they are, they’re still running backs. Ryan Ramczyk is a top-end tackle, but the Bears weren't in the market for one back in 2017.
Ultimately, though, I didn’t think taking a tight end or safety with the third overall pick was fitting. So I went with Myles Garrett, who had 23 1/2 sacks in the 26 games leading up to his season-ending suspension for swinging hit helmet at Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph last year. I’m not counting that incident against him here. He was, and is, the most talented non-quarterback to come out of the 2017 draft.
So in this alternate universe, Ryan Pace hits the “best player available” line, envisioning a Garrett-Leonard Floyd partnership becoming the most fearsome pass rushing duo in the NFL for years to come.
This isn’t as simple as saying the Bears would get Watson or Mahomes in a re-draft. They wouldn’t.
And so the first fallout: The Bears, a year and a half later, don’t trade for Khalil Mack.
There was still plenty of hope for Floyd before the 2018 season began. With Garrett opposite him, the Bears don’t seriously consider shipping two first-round picks for Mack. That might be fine, too, since Garrett could’ve been just as transformative a presence for this defense.
But what if the Raiders decided to trade Mack to the Green Bay Packers, who “were aggressive” in pursuing him?
Mack in the NFC North, but not on the Bears — yikes.
And then, there’s the whole thing of the Bears not getting a quarterback in the first round. Does Pace go ahead and snag DeShone Kizer in the second round? (If we’re doing this draft based on what we know now, he doesn’t). It might mean a lot more of Mike Glennon in 2017 as John Fox tries to save his job without an intriguing replacement behind him.
And maybe that means the Bears finish with one of the worst records in the NFL, even with a pretty good defense. If Mahomes lifts the Browns out of the No. 1 spot, could the Bears realistically have a shot at drafting first or second overall and getting Baker Mayfield? Or Sam Darnold? Or Lamar Jackson, if we’re going off of what we know now?
The Bears probably don’t kick the quarterback can down the road for much longer beyond 2017. Fox still gets fired and Matt Nagy still gets hired, as not much changes for the Chiefs (although our guy Adam still has them taking a quarterback to sit behind Alex Smith…). But what if Nagy gets to pick his quarterback from the outset? Do things look different today?
We may not get 2018’s burst of fun — Eddie Jackson wound up in New Orleans, and Tarik Cohen in Indianapolis in this re-draft — but maybe we get a more sustainable shot at seeing a winning football team in Chicago. Maybe.
It still would’ve been better if we could’ve got Mahomes or Watson to Chicago, after all.