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Bears: Grading Ryan Pace’s 2016 draft

Bears: Grading Ryan Pace's 2016 draft. Jack Soble looks back on what was a mixed bag of selections, though the jury is still out on a few of them.

The last two weeks before the draft are the worst two weeks of the calendar year, and I will take that opinion to the grave.

There’s so much lying, mindless speculation, and meaningless fights on twitter between two people who care way too much about their evaluations of someone who will be picked in the sixth round. This may sound like an “old man yells at cloud” type of take, but it’s true. I can’t wait for April 29.

With that in mind, I decided to take a break from pre-draft written content and write something of a reflection of what Bears general manager Ryan Pace has accomplished over his first four years in Chicago: grading his draft classes. I would start with 2015, but I already graded that one last year.

So without further ado, here are my grades for Pace’s picks in the 2016 draft.

Round 1, Pick 9: Leonard Floyd, Outside Linebacker, Georgia

Floyd has had his highs and lows since entering the league with a stellar seven-sack rookie season in only 12 games. One of the main talking around Bourbonnais during training camp in 2017 was this young, exciting pass rusher for the Bears who featured length and speed rivaled by few and looked like he would be ready to truly break out.

It didn’t work out that way. Floyd continued to fight the injury bug throughout the next season and a half, and when he was on the field, he didn’t show the progress many expected to see. He couldn’t consistently win one-on-one battles due to a couple aspects of his game – bend around the edge, which wasn’t and likely never will be there, and lack of diverse counter moves, which didn’t develop until later.

Floyd then suffered a wrist injury in the 2018 preseason, and when he had to play with a club on his hand, he was completely ineffective. The word “bust” was floated numerous times during the first half of last year, but then, around the mid-season, something clicked. Floyd started to play his tail off in the run game to the point of near-dominance, which nobody expected from him at any point of his career. He flashed a nasty swim move, showcased his speed in chasing down mobile quarterbacks, and even covered out of the slot. Floyd has found his niche with the Bears – not as a QB’s nightmare, but as a Swiss Army Knife throughout the first level of defense.

That being said, you’d want a pass rusher selected in the top 10 to be that sack master. Chicago would eventually acquire one, and Floyd is an excellent complement to the Greek God Khalil Mack, but he hasn’t been what the Pace was hoping for.

Grade: B

Round 2, Pick 56: Cody Whitehair, Interior Lineman, Kansas State

Cody Whitehair was a tackle at Kansas State, and he entered the draft as a guard. His primary position with the Bears, of course, has been center.

Thanks to a trade for Josh Sitton right before the season began, Whitehair was given the Bears’ starting center job right out of the gate in 2016. Despite his lack of experience at the position, however, Whitehair proceeded to handle his responsibility quite well. He’s been every bit of the mauler in the middle of the line that Pace expected, culminating in a Pro Bowl appearance as an alternate last season.

Whitehair has had his struggles snapping at a few points over the course of his career, but those issues might be tied to bouncing between guard and center multiple times. This was due to injuries, indecisiveness, and trying to make Hroniss Grasu a thing. Whitehair’s versatility is an asset in the event of injuries or poor play, but it would be beneficial to put him at a position and let him stay there.

They did that in 2018, resulting in an excellent season at center, where he has thrived in part due to his chemistry with quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Whitehair will likely receive a lucrative extension soon, and he has certainly earned it.

Grade: A

Round 3, Pick 72: Jonathan Bullard, Defensive Lineman, Florida

Many expected the Bears to have one of the top steals of the draft in Bullard, but he hasn’t lived up to that billing. The Florida product has shown traces of an incredibly explosive first step, but it hasn’t translated to on-field production.

Bullard has really only made one highlight-worthy play in Chicago, which was shoving Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth into quarterback Jared Goff and causing a Roquan Smith interception. Otherwise, he has been buried on the depth chart as the fifth defensive lineman, behind Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, and Roy Robertson-Harris. The latter two have proven to be useful depth options, and the same can’t be said for Bullard.

He will likely remain in that role in what will probably be his last season as a Bear in 2019.

Grade: D

Round 4, Pick 113: Nick Kwiatkoski, Inside Linebacker, West Virginia

Kwiatkoski showed some promise as a potential starter during his first couple years in Chicago, filling in nicely for long-term injuries and even earning an opening day nod in 2018, while Roquan Smith was still getting acquainted with the Bears’ playbook. At times, he displayed impressive ability as a blitzer and a run stopper.

Once becoming a player who opposing offenses game planned for, however, his lack of speed and coverage instincts was exposed. He got burned multiple times in the comeback loss to Green Bay, was benched for Smith the next week, and never really played defense again.

Kwiakoski remains a useful special teamer on most of the Bears’ third phase units.

Grade: C

Round 4, Pick 124: Deon Bush, Safety, Miami

The Bears took Bush, a solid all-around safety in college, with the hope that he could develop into a starter. He didn’t do that, losing a wide open first-team job to Harold Jones-Quartey (yuck) in 2016 and never making much of an impact during his first couple years.

He impressed in the 2018 preseason, however, and earned a job as the primary backup behind Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson. He played in place of Jackson when the All-Pro went down, even starting a playoff game. Bush didn’t make any big plays, but he didn’t seem to be exposed by opposing offenses either. He’ll enter 2019 in the same role, behind Jackson and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix.

Grade: C

Round 4, Pick 127: Deiondre’ Hall, Defensive Back, Northern Iowa

Hall bounced around between corner and safety, never really finding a home at either of them. The Bears found his length to be attractive in drafting him, hoping that at his best he’d turn into a PBU (pass break-up) artist, but as with many late fourth rounders who predicate themselves on one trait, it did not work out.

He earned a reputation as a bit of a hot-head, earning a suspension and committing multiple dumb personal fouls during his time with the Bears. Hall’s selection wasn’t a complete missfire, however, because he brought back a seventh-round pick when the Bears (who would have cut him anyway) traded him to the Eagles last August.

Grade: C-

Round 5, Pick 150: Jordan Howard, Running Back, Indiana

Any time a fifth round pick earns a trip to the Pro Bowl in year two, the pick is a success. It does not matter how his tenure with the team ends.

That’s the case with Howard, who shined under John Fox but was obsolete under Matt Nagy. Nagy never saw Howard as a fit for his scheme, and I explained why in a recent video.

Howard also fetched a pick when his run with the Bears came to a close – a 2020 sixth rounder that could turn into a fifth, to be exact. He’s a very useful player if you limit what you ask of him, but Nagy’s offense can’t afford to do that with its backs.

Grade: A

Round 6, Pick 185: Deandre Houston-Carson, Safety, William & Mary

Houston-Carson is likely never headed for a starting job, but he’s carved out a nice role on the Bears as a key special teams asset. With ace gunner Josh Bellamy gone, he may need to fill that role next year.

Grade: B+

Round 7, Pick 230: Daniel Braverman, Wide Receiver, Western Michigan

Never caught a pass with the Bears.

Grade: D-

Best pick: Whitehair

Worst pick: Bullard

Conclusion

Pace’s second draft with the Bears was very much a mixed bag, as is almost any draft class that includes nine players. Two of them turned into long-term starters, four more remain with the team, and two have seen returns on their investment in the form of draft pick compensation.

The mid-to-late-rounds from this year make up a decent portion of Chicago’s 2019 special teams contributors, which does help boost the overall grade, and Howard did provide some fireworks during his tenure.

The jury is still out, however, on Floyd and Whitehair’s ceilings, and that is what this draft will ultimately be judged upon. If Floyd stays healthy (massive “if”) and builds on a successful 2018 season, and if Whitehair remains a Pro Bowl center after his extension, our reflections on the 2016 draft will be much more favorable.

Overall Grade: B

Follow Jack on Twitter (@jacksobletls)

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