What the Bears didn’t do in the 2020 NFL Draft, and one thing they definitely got right

After two historically bad selections at the top of the first round, Bears general manager Ryan Pace hasn’t exactly earned a stellar reputation for his drafting ability, never mind the fact that he’s actually been pretty effective at finding talent in the mid-to-late rounds. So then, it can be considered both good and bad news that the Bears did not make a selection in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Good because Pace couldn’t mess up another first-round pick Mitch Trubisky or Kevin White style. Bad because, well, first-round picks are valuable.

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Bears ended up making seven selections: two in the second round, three in the fifth round, and two more in the seventh. Their lack of overall draft capital — they only had two picks in the top 100 — made fixing their problems difficult. But the Bears did at least address one of their most urgent problems.

With the 50th overall pick, the Bears selected Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson in one of my favorite value picks in the entire draft. While Johnson was never a sure-fire first-round pick, he was in the Day 1 discussion due to his technique, size, length, and athleticism. He should slot in opposite Kyle Fuller at a spot that’s been vacated by Prince Amukamara, a salary cap casualty who proved to be dependable over the years. Much later in the draft, at No. 163, the Bears added depth at cornerback by taking Kindle Vildor out of Georgia Southern. Like all fifth-round picks, Vildor is hardly a sure thing. But like Johnson, Vildor has good size, and he’s coming off a productive college career with nine interceptions. He has high upside and in the meantime, he should be solid depth.

But the Bears didn’t fill all of their needs. With only seven picks, that was nearly impossible. Like most teams, the Bears didn’t have a perfect draft. Problems still exist. 

So now, let’s examine what the Bears didn’t do during the 2020 NFL Draft. 

1. Solve their problem at safety

Safety was arguably just as big of a need as cornerback after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix departed in free agency one year after replacing another free agent departure in Adrian Amos. Eddie Jackson is a star on the back end of the Bears’ defense, but he needs a suitable partner. The Bears did not find one in the draft.

That’s probably why using their first selection in the draft on a tight end — Cole Kmet at No. 43 — didn’t go over so well. Finding a good tight end is a worthy goal for a team that hasn’t been able to get meaningful contributions out of the position for several seasons now, and Kmet was the best tight end in the draft, so I really don’t mind the pick, but they had far bigger issues, like at safety. At No. 43, the Bears took a tight end when they had the opportunity to draft a safety like Grant Delpit or Antoine Winfield Jr.. The Browns and Buccaneers took them with the next two picks.

Which means, barring a signing in the later stages of free agency or a trade, the Bears could be rolling into the season with Deon Bush as a starting safety. Bush, a fourth-round pick in 2016, has occasionally flashed potential, but he’s seldom been asked to be a starter. He’s started only eight games in four seasons. Looking at the list of available free agents at the safety position, it’s slim pickings. The Bears appear to be content with Bush starting opposite Jackson.

Perhaps Bush will make the leap. I’m not counting it out. But until that happens, safety will remain a hole for the Bears.

2. Take a developmental long-term quarterback

This wasn’t an urgent priority right now, but with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles slated to go head-to-head in a quarterback competition, the Bears needed to consider taking a developmental quarterback that they could try to mold into their long-term savior at the position. Trubisky, after a horrendous third season, isn’t the answer, barring a miraculous transformation in Year 4. Neither is Foles, who has better short-term value to the Bears than Trubisky, but has seldom demonstrated the ability to be a long-term solution at quarterback during his eight-year career — there’s a reason a quarterback-starved franchise like the Jaguars traded him after only one season.

There was an opportunity for the Bears to take someone like Jalen Hurts in the second round or Jake Fromm in the fifth round, but they declined to do so. I’m not going to criticize the Bears for not taking either of those two quarterbacks when they’re clearly in win-now mode and took players to fill other needs, but they still have to eventually identify their long-term solution at the most important position. It remains their biggest long-term need. 

Four years since moving on from Jay Cutler, the Bears have yet to find a suitable replacement.

3. Fix their hole at guard

With Kyle Long retiring, the Bears need a new starting right guard. The Bears likely knew this, evidenced by their final two picks in the draft: Arlington Hambright, an offensive lineman out of Colorado, at No. 226 and Lachavious Simmons, an offensive lineman out of Tennessee State, at No. 227, both of whom have the ability to play guard.

The only problem? They’re both seventh-round picks, making it unlikely that either of them will develop into the caliber of guard the Bears need. While the Bears did watch Charles Leno, a seventh-round pick in 2014, develop into a starting-caliber left tackle, he’s more of the exception to the rule. Furthermore, if one of them does develop into a starting-caliber guard, it likely won’t happen in 2020. It’ll take time, something the Bears are running short on with players like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks in the prime of their careers. As previously mentioned, the Bears are very much in win-now mode with a Super Bowl-caliber defense. 

The Bears might have better luck trying to find an upgrade at guard in free agency. But again, at this point in the calendar, their options are limited — especially with D.J. Fluker landing with the Ravens so soon after getting cut by the Seahawks. The Bears will just have to hope someone on their roster, whether it be Hambright, Simmons, Rashaad Coward or Germain Ifedi, plays at a higher level than expected.

4. Learn from past mistakes

Pace has an unfortunate habit of giving up draft capital to move up in the order and get the player he wants. 

It’s something he’s done repeatedly since taking over as the Bears GM in 2015. He traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 in 2017 to take Trubisky — giving up Nos. 3, 67, 111, and a future third-round pick to move up ONE SPOT. That same year, he traded up in the fourth round to take Jackson, parting ways with an additional sixth rounder. In 2016, he moved up in the first round to take Leonard Floyd, who was recently cut after four good, but not great seasons — the Bears signed Robert Quinn as his replacement before cutting ties. To do so, he gave up a fourth-round pick. Later in that draft, he traded up one spot in the fourth round for [Nick] Kwiatkowski in Round 4, giving up an additional sixth rounder. In 2018, the Bears traded for a second-round pick to take Anthony Miller, giving up a fourth- and second-rounder. There was also the aforementioned trade up for a running back a year ago.

It’s not a smart strategy, regardless of Pace’s evaluations. The smarter strategy is to trade back and acquire more assets, or to stay put and take the best player available. The draft is largely a crapshoot. It’s all about giving yourself as many lottery tickets as possible. 

The Bears didn’t make any painfully bad trades this year, but they did trade up in the fifth round for receiver Darnell Mooney, essentially giving up an extra sixth-round pick in the process, and edge rusher Trevis Gipson, surrendering a 2021 fourth-round pick. Those aren’t nearly as bad of trades as the ones that have come to define Pace’s tenure as Bears GM, but it still would’ve been preferable for Pace to acquire more assets after they entered the draft with already limited resources instead of giving away assets. At the very least, it would’ve been preferable for the Bears to stay put and hang onto all of their limited resources.

But this is Ryan Pace we’re talking about. He loves trading up almost as much as he loves collecting tight ends.

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