A troublesome water-heater threw me off my game this weekend. But no worries. My long national nightmare will end today. Knocks on wood. At least I’ve learned that cold showers are great for curing hangovers. Maybe that’s what the Cubs bats need? (Hey, it’s a thought.)
• On this date in 2018, Ryan Pace ranked absolutely dead last in NFL.com’s GM rankings. The Bears have made the postseason twice in the three seasons that have since passed. Where would you rank Pace now?
• Today brings the start of the league’s voluntary offseason program. Things will be held virtually. And while team facilities are open for those who want to attend, a good hunk of players have chosen to opt-out of the in-person portion. Among them, “a majority” of Bears players. I can’t say I blame them. So long as COVID-19 numbers remain in a place where players aren’t comfortable jamming into one facility, we’ll continue to see a fair amount of player err on the side of caution.
• In the meantime, the NFL Draft is in 10 days and I’m entering my obsessive phase. Between now and when the Bears go on the clock with their first-round pick, Pace and his staff will have churned through the many options for what could be their last go at adding impact talent. If you stop and think about it, that’s a pretty heavy sentiment. Put aside his obvious whiff at quarterback, Pace’s drafts have been mostly productive. The Bears have unearthed solid starters on each level of the defense, and even snagged a few fun offensive players. However, we’re talking about this draft as possibly being Pace’s last because he hasn’t picked enough impact talent on offense. As the NFL has transitioned to an offense-friendly game, the Bears have lagged behind the pack.
• That’s unfortunate on so many levels. Thinking about it brings me back to how this group can pick so poorly on offense with Pace’s roots being in New Orleans. One would think being attached to Sean Payton for years would give someone the proper perspective in plucking offensive talent. Instead, it’s been quite the opposite. Long story, short: If Pace doesn’t bring on impact offensive players in this draft, it could very well be his last with the Bears.
• Over at The Athletic, Adam Johns re-visits a quote from Phil Emery, the former Bears GM who had this to say of Kyle Long when he was chosen with the 20th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft: “He’s the type of athlete and player we have targeted: fast, tough, dynamic athlete, a productive athlete.” Emery’s list of greatest hits isn’t a lengthy one. But to his credit, Emery was absolutely nails with the Long pick. And while I don’t want to re-visit some of the clunkers Emery chose, his perspective on how he approached the Long pick is one the Bears should consider.
• These Bears could use some “fast” and definitely more “tough” guys on their roster. Adding “fast” and “tough” “athletes” seems cliché, but there’s always a morsel of truth in clichés. It’s how they become clichés in the first place. But for me, it’s teaming fast/tough with versatility that tends to make for strong draft choices. Players who can come in immediately, contribute, and chip in on several levels are worth their weight in gold. Considering the Bears’ needs throughout the roster, finding versatility should be a high priority.
• I feel I can confidently say that this class of receivers checks all the boxes above. It’s a group full of athletes who have speed and a level of toughness that would be welcome in Chicago. Jason Lieser (Sun-Times) writes the team should strongly consider taking a receiver in Round 1 if it sticks with the 20th pick. Kadarius Toney (Florida), Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU), Elijah Moore (Ole Miss), and Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) are name-checked as being possibly available at No. 20. Adding any of these players to the mix would make the Bears’ receivers room better in 2021 than it was in 2020. The offense wouldn’t be fixed. Not by a long shot. But it would be going in the right direction.
• Running three receiver sets with Allen Robinson II, Darnell Mooney, and a first-round pick to be chosen later sounds like something that would be an Andy Dalton Dream scenario. Whether it’s adding a fast-twitch playmaker like Toney, a red-zone threat such as Marshall, or a do-it-all type like Bateman, the Bears could have options.
• My only hangup keeping me from being fully on board with taking a receiver in the first round is the depth at the position makes me think the Bears could get better value later in the draft. This isn’t to say Chicago could get the same type of athlete or player in a later round as they would early. HOWEVER, recent football history is littered with non-first-rounders who became impact receivers early in their career. So before making a pick, the Bears should consider the volume of players at the position (as well as the possible value in patience).
• JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017), DJ Chark (2018), and AJ Brown (2019), were second-round picks. Terry McLaurin (2019), Michael Gallup (2018), Cooper Kupp (2017), Chris Godwin (2017), and Kenny Golladay (2017) were third-rounders. Each of those players put up at least one 1,000-yard receiving season within the first three years of their rookie deal. In other words, recent history suggests there can be tremendous value in waiting out the receiver position. But to do so, your team must trust its scouts and evaluators. Unfortunately, Pace and his bunch haven’t done enough to merit confidence from the fanbase to get it right at this position.
• Jaylon Johnson, who was remarkable as a second-round rookie last year, celebrates a birthday today. Let’s re-visit some highlights:
• In the eyes of some, Johnson might default as CB1 because the Bears released Kyle Fuller because of cap problems. But Johnson has the size, skills, and instincts to earn CB1 honors all on his own. Opposing offenses challenged Johnson early and often as a rookie, but the Utah product didn’t budge. I’ll look forward to seeing if teams will continue to pick on him as a second-year player. If quarterbacks do, they’ll be taking on their own fair share of risk.
• I reckon the Raven’s interest here is something to keep tabs on with regards to Orlando Brown’s possible movement:
A piece of interesting free agent news: #Steelers FA OT Alejandro Villanueva is set to visit the #Ravens this week, league source said. With some moving parts on Baltimore’s O-line, they plan to check out Villanueva in person.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 19, 2021
• It stinks being uncertain on how to value Brown on the trade market. Brown has minimal leverage as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. But playing 2021 on an affordable price tag has its value. He clearly wants to play left tackle and be rewarded handsomely for what he brings to the table. But the Ravens are set with a stud left tackle in Ronnie Stanley. So Baltimore is navigating a situation where it doesn’t want to trade an awesome offensive lineman, while also debating a potential sell-high situation for a home-grown stud. All in all, I hope the Bears are monitoring this situation. Even if it’s from afar. Having the flexibility to pounce is what made the Khalil Mack trade happen for Chicago. Just saying…
• Welcome back:
WATCH: Alex Nylander Returns to the Icehttps://t.co/M3AjQsHgEC
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) April 18, 2021