Sunday's Win Might As Well Be Called "The Ryan Pace Game"

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Sunday’s Win Might As Well Be Called “The Ryan Pace Game”

Chicago Bears

After a lopsided loss to the Eagles in Week 12 was followed by a humiliating defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, attention seemed to briefly shift away from Head Coach John Fox and towards GM Ryan Pace. And you know what? It was understandable.

After all, watching the reloaded Eagles soar to the top of the NFC and wax the floor with the bottom-feeding Bears was painful enough. But watching a rebuilding 49ers team slip by with a win at Soldier Field because of Robbie Gould was something else entirely.

Fortunately, Sunday’s win against the Bengals serves as a bit of vindication for the third-year GM.

Four of the five players who earned the highest grades from Pro Football Focus in the win against the Cincinnati Bengals were acquired by the Bears in the last two offseasons. Three of these players (quartback Mitch Trubisky, tight end Adam Shaheen, and center Cody Whitehair) were first or second-round picks by Pace. That list grows to four players if we want to expand and count running back Jordan Howard’s 85.3 overall grade, which just missed the top-5 cut.

In total, Sunday’s starting lineup featured five Pace draft picks. Next year, that number could balloon to 10 before accounting for any potential draft picks who turn into Week 1 starters. With that in mind, here is a look at potential starters on the 2018 team who were acquired by Pace via the draft:

  • QB Mitch Trubisky
  • RB Jordan Howard
  • WR Kevin White
  • TE Adam Shaheen,
  • C Cody Whitehair
  • DE Jonathan Bullard
  • NT Eddie Goldman
  • OLB Leonard Floyd
  • FS Eddie Jackson
  • SS Adrian Amos

That seven of the ten players listed above were drafted in 2016 or 2017 says a lot about how well Pace has drafted in each of the last two years.

To be sure, free agency hasn’t been quite as kind to Pace, but several key additions played major roles in securing a win and were found on both sides of the ball.

For starters, Danny Trevathan is Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest-graded linebacker and Akiem Hicks ranks 17th among the team’s interior defenders.

For all the criticism Pace earned for mucking up the receiver position, Kendall Wright has been a revelation in the slot. Wright has a 77.6 grade that ranks 36th among PFF’s 116 qualifying wideouts and tied for 10th among 28 who have played at least 50 percent of their snaps in the slot. Trubisky has a respectable 90.7 passer rating when targeting Wright in five games since the bye. Considering his high-end accuracy on intermediate routes, Wright could prove to be someone worth bringing back for 2018.

On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Prince Amukamara (another free agent signing) had a nifty 82.2 grade as he allowed just five catches and 39 receiving yards.

A handful of the highest-priced free agents from the last two years were either on the bench (Mike Glennon), on injured reserve (Quintin Demps, Jerrell Freeman), or have seen their roles drastically slashed (Marcus Cooper) from the start of the season. In fairness, this isn’t a good look for Pace. Then again, building successfully through the draft will allow the Bears to hide free agent non-factors. As it stands, each of the aforementioned free agents were signed to short-term deals that aren’t crippling to the team’s salary cap status because they were structured to have most of the guaranteed money doled out up front. That’s good thinking on Pace’s part.

One game isn’t going to change everything we think about the Bears, but it could serve as a stepping stone for better days to come.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.