By Robert Zeglinski
In his second year as general manager of the Bears, Ryan Pace has done well to set his own foundation.
The 38-year-old bolstered his roster yet again in this past weekend’s draft to set the Bears up very well: necessary depth to unsexy positions was added along with necessary competition. And unable to find a quarterback at the right spot to suit the Bears needs, Pace went out and added veteran Brian Hoyer to provide cover for starter Jay Cutler.
The Bears made a series of moves during the draft, first to move up and get their top target in the first round, and then trading down in the middle- and- late-rounds to add more picks and more bodies to the roster.
Here’s a breakdown and analysis of each of the 2016 Bears picks by round:
Round 1, pick No. 9 (traded up from 11 with Tampa Bay): Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
What you see with this pick is Aldon Smith, the gifted young pass rusher that Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio once coached with the 49ers. While it’s sometimes misguided to automatically compare other players since everyone is dynamic, you can’t help but see the similarities. The Bears needed to add speed and pass rushing prowess on the edge in their defense, and like Smith was once entrusted to do for San Francisco, Floyd will be expected to have the same role. If Floyd even comes close to producing 33.5 sacks in his first two years like Smith did, then this will have been a huge win for Chicago.
The only caveat here is that Smith was at his playing weight of 265 pounds once coming out of school in 2011. Floyd on the other hand is an undersized 245 pounds and will have to gain weight to become the dominant pass rusher the Bears envision. However, he is a phenomenal athlete that is described as having the “best get-off in the draft” and being able to “bend like Gumby”.
You can always add size but you can’t teach instinct and that’s what the Bears are betting on.
Oh, and by the way, the last linebacker the Bears took with the No. 9 overall pick? Brian Urlacher.
Round 2, pick No. 56: Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
After maneuvering down to obtain more picks, the Bears settled on what is described as the “safest pick in the draft” in Whitehair. Whitehair, a four-year starter at Kansas State played left guard, left tackle, and right tackle so there is a lot of athleticism here. At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, he has excellent size for the next level and should now be set as a potential solid starter at left guard for years to come given Matt Slauson’s release on Sunday.
There’s more backstory to Slauson’s release no doubt, but to release arguably your best lineman speaks volumes of the confidence Chicago has in Whitehair and last year’s third-round draft pick in center Hroniss Grasu. It’s about developing prospects for the long-term future not just here and now.
The Bears are looking to get younger on both fronts. The oldest projected starter is now 26 years old in right tackle Bobbie Massie. This move in particular illustrates a picture of a dominant interior that could feature Whitehair, Grasu, and two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long. You can’t fault Chicago for building a young offensive line.
Round 3, pick No. 72: Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
After signing Akiem Hicks and drafting Eddie Goldman in the past two years, it’s clear Pace envisioned a dominant front seven of his own. The one missing piece was a dominant 3-4 defensive end. Pace couldn’t afford to not pick a defensive lineman early in this year’s draft given how deep the class was and he received excellent value in Bullard.
The 6-foot-3, 280 pounds junior comes in as a very underrated but smaller prospect that could offer a lot more potential under the tutelage of Fangio. Bullard is described as another instinctive and rangy pass rusher because of his explosiveness. He however will also have to add weight to his frame to succeed long term. Like his new teammate in Floyd though, you can add size but you can’t teach explosiveness.
What these two front seven picks say is that the Bears are banking on Fangio. They clearly believe in his coaching to turn raw prospects into respective dynamos. Given his pedigree in San Francisco developing a great defense, one would be hard-pressed to tell them they’re wrong.
Round 4, pick No. 113: Nick Kwiatkowski, LB, West Virginia
This was more of a reserves pick for the Bears. Kwiatkowski played in every linebacker slot in college and is a sure tackler. Given the depth and talent added recently in Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, and younger players like John Timu, he probably doesn’t project much more than being a special teams ace though. With how horrid the Bears special teams units have been recently, it isn’t the worst idea to add someone to bolster the unit. He could potentially push the starters in competition.
Round 4, pick No. 124: Deon Bush, S, Miami
A sensible pick by Chicago. They needed someone to pair with promising second-year safety Adrian Amos considering all of the injury issues the recently released Antrel Rolle dealt with last year. Safety has been a lost art for this franchise overall since the departure of Mike Brown in 2008. It behooved them to take care of this position with a young duo.
It remains to be seen whether Bush can cover, a necessity in today’s NFL, but he has size at 6-feet, 200 pounds, and had 168 tackles in college. He is an excellent defender in the box and someone who can complement Amos’s rangier skill set well.
Round 5, pick No. 127: Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa
Another necessary competition pick here. For all of the upgrades the Bears have made to their front seven, the secondary was still a question mark. There isn’t much to write home about on the back end. Third-year corner and former first-round pick Kyle Fuller is going to need to make a bigger impact and veteran Tracy Porter is more suited in a number two corner role.
Chicago is bare at the position until someone proves otherwise so they did well to add a rangier corner like Hall. With 13 career interceptions, albeit against average competition, Hall certainly seems to possess the ball skills the Bears would love to have around should he pan out.
Round 5, pick No. 150: Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Bears’ running back room.
Head coach John Fox has never appreciated using just one tailback. With the departure of former star running back, Matt Forte, you’ll see this even more with Jeremy Langford, Ka’Dem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers, and now Howard. What Howard offers to this group is a bruising mentality, giving the Bears a good change of pace from the versatility in the passing and running game the former provide. Investing in an offensive balance is important for this franchise and they’ve done well to add the 2015 Big Ten second leading rusher (134.8 yards per game).
Round 6, pick No. 185: DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary
This is basically more competition and depth. The William & Mary product was acquired for special teams play. With 293 tackles, 10 interceptions, and nine blocked kicks in an illustrious career, Houston-Carson should be able to offer a lot to any unit and play in depth situations if an injury occurs. With that kind of standout play on two units, it’s hard not to see a role for him.
Round 7, pick No. 270: Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
“Can’t find a Braverman!”
Classic rock references aside, you can’t find a more underrated receiving prospect like Braverman. In the mold of other smaller slot receivers like Julian Edelman, or Wes Welker (a basic way to shoehorn any prospect), Braverman dominated and produced like an elite receiver. Carrying along all of his 5-foot-10 frame, Braverman had 108 receptions, 1,371 yards, and 13 touchdowns this year. You may not think that’s impressive but a good chunk of that production came against elite defenses in Michigan State and Ohio State (23 receptions, 231 yards).
The kid can play and could be a diamond in the rough that was this close to being “Mr. Irrelevant.” Expect him to push Marc Mariani for his role on the receiving depth chart and possibly even pan out as a returner. If he doesn’t work out, the Bears didn’t lose much with just a seventh round pick.
Follow Robert on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.