Late after Day Two of the Draft wrapped, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace spoke with the media about the team’s picks in round two, Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet at 43, and Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson at 50.
You can watch Pace’s full presser right here, but I wanted to grab a few things on each guy that stood out to me in terms of the “why” these two guys at these two spots in a draft where the Bears concede they could have traded down, and where they now will not pick again until 163.
On Cole Kmet:
“This is really your classic ‘Y’ tight end, with the prototypical size and just the athleticism we look for in the position,” Ryan Pace said of Kmet. “He’s a big target, natural hands. He’s really tough after the catch. He really has the strength and temperament we want in the run game. And really we feel his blocking is still improving, so there’s a lot of upside in that area. Really with Cole splitting time between baseball and football early in his college career, he’s still a young player with a lot of upside …. A big part of his value is that we really feel like he’s getting better. He’s just scratching the surface. And to be honest, you could see it [last] year on tape, I think around the Virginia Tech game, you could really feel his game taking off on all levels, and Cole will say that, too. So he’s definitely an ascending player.”
Much of the pre-draft scouting on Kmet focused on his upside, and and it is true, as a two-sport athlete who only just turned 21, it’s certainly plausible he could improve dramatically given his physical traits.
“You really have two different styles to tight ends in this offense,” Pace said. “You have the ‘U’ tight end; that would apply more to Jimmy Graham, and you have the ‘Y’ tight end, which is a little bit more of an in-line guy, good in the run game and he needs to have the size to be able to do that, and that’s what we see in Cole. He pairs really well with Jimmy, pairs really well with Demetrius [Harris]. We’re excited to take that position and make it a strength. They all do different things.”
I don’t know that anyone would yet say with confidence that the Bears’ tight end room is a “strength,” though it could be, if this and if that and if also that.
“It’s hard to find these tight ends, these ‘Y’ tight ends that are really well-rounded in that [Kmet is] an asset in the pass game because of his size and his hands,” Pace continued. “He’s one of those guys that knows how to post up and body, collision and push off. He runs really well for his size. But his blocking, he’s just got the frame and the size and the temperament, the demeanor where we all think he’s still going to get a lot better as a blocker. To find that well-rounded ‘Y’ tight end, there’s not a lot of them. So for us to get him where we did, it was really advantageous for us.
“You guys know how important the tight end position is in this offense and it’s something that we stressed going into this offseason, It’s something we really wanted to improve. It started with Demetrius and then Jimmy and now with Cole.”
(This, perhaps, says more about prior failings at the position than about believing in Kmet, specifically. Though clearly Pace does.)
In short, you got the sense from Pace that his crew loved the projection in Kmet, the first tight end selected in the draft, and felt like he was too good of a fit for their current needs to risk missing out at 50 or in a trade-down. I’m still processing my thoughts on whether that was the right approach to the team’s top pick, but I do accept that having a guy like Kmet – if he can develop and succeed quickly – is extremely important for this offense to succeed. That was painfully clear last year, if it wasn’t already.
To me, the Kmet decision says a lot about the Bears’ confidence in the Miller/Ridley/Wims group (which is surprising to me), and also says a lot about their confidence that they can pick up a quality safety later in the draft or in the remnants of free agency (I actually do think that’s possible).
That’s all because, while the Bears passed on taking one of the top safeties or wide receivers at 43, they did pick up a much-needed corner at 50.
On Jaylon Johnson:
“Jaylon has just a really good combination of size, athleticism and awareness,” Ryan Pace said of their second second rounder. “He’s that physical, press corner that uses his size really well. He uses his strength to his advantage, to re-route receivers. Jaylon also is a really intelligent player—plays the game with excellent instincts and awareness—you can see it in the way he plays. And Jaylon’s another guy with outstanding football makeup, really high football character. This is a guy who is driven and passionate. [There are] a lot of stories about his work ethic and just his professional approach to the game. So we feel real strong about the physical talent but also the makeup.”
The Bears need a starter opposite Kyle Fuller, with Prince Amukamara having departed, so I don’t think anyone would argue with using one of the two second rounders on a guy like Johnson. There are some in-house options, but getting a guy like Johnson into the group makes me feel considerably more comfortable.
“You watch the player and you get excited about the player,” Pace said. “And then our scouts come in in the fall meetings and they start talking about the makeup. [College scout] Dave Williams is going into who this person is, his leadership, passion for the game, there’s story after story; the film preparation, football intelligence, strength coach loves him, you go on and on. Now you’re watching the talented player on tape and what we want out of corners, and you combine it with the makeup and then we get into the interviews and the Combine, and we get really comfortable with the player and the complete package.”
We’ve heard anecdotally about teams relying a little more on “makeup” this year, given how unusual the pre-draft process has been and how unusual the coming year might be. Having high football-IQ guys with passion, leadership, etc. may wind up slightly more valuable right now out of the draft than would typically be the case. Not that you don’t always look for those qualities; I’m just saying you might not usually focus on them in the draft.
“He’s missed one game in two years,” Pace said of Johnson’s injury history, which included a shoulder issue that required surgery this year. “He played through an injury last year, which I think says a lot about him and kind of who he is. He got it fixed, and this will be something that will limit him some of the offseason program. But we feel really comfortable with our doctors and trainers and the work we did on it and we expect him to be healthy when we need him.”
Like with Kmet, the Bears say they just couldn’t pass on Johnson and risk trading back.
“We had some scenarios where we could have traded back out of that pick if we needed to,” Pace said. “But when Jaylon was there, we turned the card in quickly because he’s a guy we had graded high and it was a guy that fit our board as far as how the grades were coming off, and then it was a position of need for us as well. So we were really happy for that combination to take place.”
People will debate the decision not to trade back for a good long while – you know how Bears fans are – but a lot is going to depend on how the rest of the draft plays out. You’d love to see the Bears able to pick up a contributor for the O-line late in this draft, and they’ve got to find a way to add a surprise playmaker.