LAKE FOREST – Competition is constant in professional football, and that doesn’t stop even in the midst of America’s biggest pandemic in a century.
Nothing’s going on between the lines at the moment, and probably won’t for some time, but arguably the biggest compeition is ahead of Ryan Pace and the Bears this offseason.
As scheduled, the NFL Draft will commence Thursday night, with everyone making selections from home. This is just one thing that’s been different about the process in 2020, for there are things before and after that are quite different for Ryan Pace, the Bears, and ever other organization in the league.
The general manager will begin his selections in the second round with the 43rd and 50th selections, barring a trade, which the general manager’s history would show as a distinct possibility. Remember, the Bears’ first round pick belongs to the Las Vegas Raiders, who acquired it in 2018 for Khalil Mack.
The NFL Combine, which finished up a few weeks before the pandemic took hold, will provide the bulk of the information for Pace and his scouts from a testing perspective.
Prospect visits to Halas Hall were severly limited after the pandemic shut down team facilities per NFL mandate. When speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Pace pointed to one characteristic that will come into play when the team starts their selections on Friday.
“Football intelligence is always an emphasis for us. I think maybe we were even more mindful of that this year, just having guys with high football IQ,” said Pace. “I also think, hey, we have good coaches and that’s when we lean on them too; to develop these guys under unique circumstances.”
Without in-person visits, the Bears also have less knowledge of the prospect’s health, and it was something that was on Pace’s mind preparing for the selections.
“That was a concern for us going into it. Our doctors and our trainers and our scouts have done a good job gathering that info. Going through our medical meetings; for the most part we felt we had good information,” said Pace. “If there were any players that we feel like we needed more details on we would just kinda hone into those guys and then deep dive on that. For the most part, I feel really good where we at with that.
“I don’t feel like we’ve taken more guys off our board this year because of medical, because of some areas that are grey. I feel like we’ve got pretty good information, that’s a credit to our doctors, to our scouts, and to our trainers, and then really isolation on the guys we had a lot of questions on.”
As mentioned before, Pace likes to deal when it comes to his picks, whether in the first or seventh rounds.
He moved up last season to acquire running back David Montgomery a little earlier in the second round in a deal with the Patriots. Only his first draft with the team in 2015 didn’t feature a trade, and Pace even moved up twice in the first round to make selections in 2016 (Leonard Floyd) and Mitchell Trubisky (2017).
Pace didn’t believe trades had to be initiated any earlier than in past drafts, with his ability to reach out to teams not heavily impacted by working at home. He admitted to already reaching out to a few teams, just as he does every year.
“I have a phone here right in front of me; it’s the same phone I would have in the draft room,” said Pace. “Every GM’s direct dial is at the click of one button.
College Free Agents
Drafting players is one thing, but navigating the collection of college free agents can sometimes be critical to filling roles on the final roster.
Many of those players were as visable during the past month due to the pandemic shutting down workouts, so finiding the right ones to sign will require some teamwork.
“That’s when you lean on your scouts – and part of me likes that,” said Pace. “Sometimes we can get too enamoured with the measurables and how these guys tested away from the football field. Now we’re really leaning on your evaluations and what your eyes see as a scout.
“Forget what the guy ran in the 40 – we don’t have his 40 time. We don’t have his 40 time, we don’t have a three-cone, we don’t have a short shuttle, we don’t have a vertical. Let’s evaluate what you see off them as football players, and I think our scouts have done a great job communicating that.”
Just getting in touch with these athletes is a task as well, with a number of teams sometimes bidding for the services of one player.
“College free agency is a challenge even when we’re at Halas and we’re all in one room. It’s controlled chaos,” said Pace. “Now it’s just getting really organized. We have multiple Skype rooms set up with coaches and scouts paired together and just making sure we’re communicating and we’re locked in on that.”
All of this is going to make a busy few days a little more tricky in 2020, but at least the general manager knows he’s not alone.
“All 32 teams are dealing with it,” said Pace of the unique draft circumstances. “So it’s who deals with it the best.”