So often with general managers in the NFL, the first draft, and specifically the first pick they make, is the one that tells the story of their tenure.
For example, Phil Emery’s demise should have been predictable after he made his first selection on a player whose most notable accomplishment is breaking Aaron Rodgers‘ collarbone. That was an episode capped off by Rodgers coming back in Week 17 and cementing his status as the murderer of Chicago’s hopes and dreams.
In the case of Ryan Pace, one should hope that his first draft is not an indicator of times to come. He picked six players in 2015. Four of them are still with the team. Two of them are starters. If you look at how those picks came to be, and why some didn’t work out, it’s not hard to see why this class was not successful.
Without further ado, here is what I think, in 20-20 hindsight, of the Bears’ 2015 draft.
Round 1, Pick 7: Kevin White – Wide Receiver, West Virginia
Well, would you look at that. Not only did the Bears make immense upgrades on the offensive side of the ball, they also basically get two first round picks next year!
I’m joking, of course. White’s tenure with the Bears has almost completely run out of hope, as he’s suffered through three consecutive seasons missing all or most of his playing time, participating in five out of a possible 48 games with three separate injuries.
That makes it easy to give this pick an F, for failure, on the part of Ryan Pace. However, you do have to look back on what was thought of White, and the players around him, before the draft. He was a consensus top five prospect, with zero injury history, and some even had him ranked ahead of fellow wideout Amari Cooper out of Alabama, who of course went at fourth overall to the Raiders.
Me, personally? I had White ranked sixth on my board, behind, in this order: Marcus Mariota, Leonard Williams, Dante Fowler Jr, Cooper, and Brandon Scherff (I liked Jameis Winston‘s game but the off the field shenanigans scared me away). By the time the Bears were on the clock, in my mind and the minds of the vast majority of fans and analysts, White was the best man available.
If we want to be revisionist historians, we can say that Vic Beasley was the next pick and he has had an excellent career, and players who went a few picks later like Todd Gurley who turned into studs, but those picks would have been considered reaches at the time.
And who knows? If White hadn’t gotten hurt – and the injuries, because of his consistent availability in college, are not on Pace – maybe he would have turned into the player that everyone thought he would be. He has not looked great when he’s been on the field, but we have to assume the injuries and the long rehab were a part of it.
All that being said, I have to grade the pick for what it is. When you come off a disaster of a season and don’t bear the fruits that come with picking high in the draft, you failed. I just don’t think this failure was the Bears’ fault.
Round 2, Pick 39: Eddie Goldman – Nose Tackle, Florida State
Here was Pace’s first home run pick. Goldman had some injury problems in his second year, but put it all together in a healthy 2017 season. Goldman is the run stuffer every 2-4 (base defense is the nickel) defense needs.
If you’re a casual fan, you might look at his numbers or watch the game without focusing too much on the trenches and say that Goldman doesn’t make much of an impact, because his stats are not gaudy and his name isn’t mentioned much by broadcasters.
But make no mistake, what Goldman does is absolutely invaluable to the Bears’ defense. Goldman takes on double teams on a regular basis and holds his ground, sometimes even pushing the tandem back into the runner. He occupies blockers masterfully so that players like Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and hopefully Roquan Smith can make plays. And in rare instances where he matches up one on one he’s nearly unblockable, and he provides a nice touch with his pass rush skills.
Goldman may never make a pro bowl, an all pro team, or be recognized by any major award. It does not matter. In today’s NFL, he is one of the top players at his position.
Round 3, Pick 71: Hroniss Grasu – Center, Oregon
Swing and a miss.
Unlike with White, Grasu failing is entirely the fault of himself, Pace, and the scouting staff.
When he was drafted, he weighed in at 297 pounds, which is minuscule for an offensive lineman. Grasu was drafted under the pretense that all he needed to do was put on NFL-caliber weight and strength and he’d be a decade-long starting center. He had the mobility, intangibles, everything else needed to succeed.
One problem there. He never put on NFL-caliber weight and strength despite having three years to do so. A torn ACL that cost him all of his sophomore season certainly did not help matters, but when he came back, he was put in his place by many defensive tackles.
Grasu was bullied, pushed around, and manhandled by the likes of Linval Joseph and multiple others by the end of the 2017 season, when he became a consistent starter. He was a large reason why Jordan Howard struggled to get going in the last few games of John Fox’s tenure. If Grasu is on the roster by the start of the 2018 regular season, something would have gone horribly wrong.
Round 4, Pick 106: Jeremy Langford – Running Back, Michigan State
Langford had a roller-coaster ride of a two year tenure with Chicago. His rookie season could not have gone better, as he was a large part of the logic in letting Matt Forte walk out of Halas Hall when his contract expired at the end of that season.
His electric running style delighted Bears fans and national analysts alike. He peaked when he took a screen pass 83 yards to the house against the Rams, which was when the long term answer at running back chatter started to escalate.
Fast forward to 2016. Langford started the first two games of the season before injury and played underwhelmingly. Jordan Howard then took over and stole Langford’s job right out from under him, as the Michigan State product no longer had a huge role in the offense.
Now, let’s go to training camp of 2017. Howard is firmly entrenched in a starting role. Tarik Cohen was just made a more recent fourth round pick and had quietly dazzled the coaches enough to have a major role in the offense before Dowell Loggains waggled his finger and said “No, I hate fun.” Benny Cunningham was valuable enough on special teams to keep on the roster, and the Bears wanted to carry a fullback in Michael Burton.
All of a sudden, Langford had no niche on the Chicago Bears. He was cut, ending his tenure at a mere two seasons. For that, he gets an appropriate grade, but I’ll mark it up higher than Grasu for what he did in season one.
Round 5, Pick 142: Adrian Amos – Safety, Penn State
Well well well. That Brandon Marshall trade worked out pretty well for Chicago. Not only did Marshall soon flame out of New York, then out of the other New York, the Bears got a solid starter out of the pick that was included in the trade.
While I’ll never understand Pro Football Focus’s infatuation with Amos, who rest assured is NOT one of the two best safeties in football, he’s become a perfectly fine player at strong safety next to 2017 fourth-rounder Eddie Jackson.
Amos played OK in his rookie season, then took a turn for the worse in the next year. His tackling angles were never quite right and he wasn’t as dominant in the box as a safety who rarely makes plays on the football should be. Thus, the Bears went out and replaced him with free agent Quintin Demps.
However, Demps went down after a few games and in stepped Amos, who had a reawakening of sorts and went on to have a very good year. My best guess is that with a competent free safety to make plays on the back end, Amos became available to do what he does best – help in run support and deliver crushing hits to pass catchers up the middle.
All things considered, this was an excellent selection by Pace, getting a starting caliber player in the fifth round.
Round 6, Pick 183: Tayo Fabuluje – Offensive Tackle, TCU
Never played a game for the Bears.
Overall, Pace and company had some clear mixed results in this draft. It seems they either hit the nail on the head or drastically screwed up a selection each time they turned in a card.
Therefor, I have to give them a not terrible, but certainly not spectacular grade. They got a stud nose tackle and a long term starting strong safety out of the 2015 draft, but really nothing else. It wasn’t a disaster, but it should go down as the worst of Pace’s first three draft classes.
Overall Grade: C+
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