One year later, it looks like GM Ryan Pace did pretty darn well in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report went back and ranked the top hauls for each of the NFL’s 32 teams, and thanks in part to Jordan Howard’s production as a rookie running back, the Bears’ draft class ranks as the fifth best from 2016. The Dallas Cowboys were the team who earned Sobleski’s top ranking, followed by the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, and Tennessee Titans.
So if you’re looking for a silver lining to a 3-13 season, you could start with the collection of talent Pace selected in the last draft. To recap, here are the players the Bears chose in 2016:
- Round 1, Pick 9: Leonard Floyd, LB
- Round 2, Pick 56: Cody Whitehair, OL
- Round 3, Pick 72: Jonathan Bullard, DL
- Round 4, Pick 113: Nick Kwiatkoski, LB
- Round 4, Pick 124: Deon Bush, S
- Round 4, Pick 127: Deiondre’ Hall, CB/S
- Round 5, Pick 150: Jordan Howard, RB
- Round 6, Pick 185: DeAndre Houston-Carson, S
- Round 7, Pick 230: Daniel Braverman, WR
Howard’s 1,313 rushing yards and Pro Bowl season pull the Bears’ draft class to the top, but he wasn’t the only contributor. Altogether, the Bears made nine picks in the 2016 draft, and three players (Floyd, Whitehair, Howard) were primary starters in their first season. Whitehair started all 16 games at center in one of the best seasons a Bears offensive lineman has had in a while, and Floyd finished with seven sacks in 12 games. Additionally, Bush (6) and Kwiatkoski (7) each made a significant number of starts while replacing veteran starters who were sidelined because of injury or suspension.
It all adds up to Bears rookies making 55 starts and playing in 102 games. No team in Sobleski’s top 10 received more starts from 2016 draft picks than the Bears, whose rookies made 55 starts overall. And only players drafted by the Tennessee Titans appeared in more games.
And this is why it’s unfair to immediately grade drafts.
As we set our eyes toward the 2017 season, Howard, Floyd, and Whitehair sit atop the depth chart at their respective positions. That trio will join fellow Pace draft picks Kevin White, Adrian Amos, and Eddie Goldman as players who are expected to start. When we reference building blocks for teams who are rebuilding, this is what we’re talking about. Of the six draft picks in starting roles, four earned above average or better grades from Pro Football Focus last season with Whitehair, Howard, Amos, and Goldman leading the way. Floyd and White were graded as below average, but Floyd could break out in his second season after being graded as one of PFF’s best pass rushers down the stretch last season and White knows he has a lot on the line this season, but could see an uptick in targets with Alshon Jeffery off the roster and uncertainty elsewhere in the Bears’ rotation of receivers.
Even though the Bears didn’t draft any players in 2017 who are lined up to start right away, picking starting caliber players in prior years puts the team in a good place when thinking about it with the big picture in mind. Those players will have their day, but for now, the class of 2016 should be celebrated for their first-year contributions.