When it Comes to the Senior Bowl, Ryan Poles Isn’t Making the Same Mistake Ryan Pace Made
I’ll never forgive Ryan Pace for his failure to take advantage of John Fox and his staff coaching at the Senior Bowl in 2017.
If you’ll recall, those rosters featured future Pro Bowlers such as Cooper Kupp, Desmond King, Evan Engram, Haason Reddick, and Jake Elliott. Solid NFL contributors such as Jamaal Williams, Rasul Douglas, Calvin Tomlinson, and Larry Ogunjobi were also part of the Senior Bowl activities that year. It was a pretty solid group. And the Bears walked away with none of those players. In fact, Jordan Morgan (a Day 3 pick who played at Division II Kutztown) was the only Senior Bowl participant to end up as part of the Bears’ draft class. That is mind-blowing when you think of the names I mention above. And doubly so when you think back to the team’s needs at the time.
Remember the agonizing search for receiver help? I imagine having Kupp would’ve been nice. The tight end position was a revolving door of disappointment during the Pace era. Engram was a first-round pick, but Jonnu Smith was a third-round steal for the Titans. Secondary questions could’ve been answered with Iowa standout Desmond King, a Day 3 pick. And don’t even get me started on passing on Jake Elliott, who kicked locally at Lyons Township. In short, Pace not leveraging that extra up-close-and-personal time for a rebuilding Bears squad will always stick in my craw. It was an example of a questionable process. And, in hindsight, probably should’ve been a red flag.
All that to say that while I don’t know if Ryan Poles’ picks will be any better than the ones Pace made during his tenure as general manager, we do know that Poles is at least taking advantage of the Senior Bowl resources at his disposal.
One year after drafting four Senior Bowl players, the Bears came back and plucked four more on NFL Draft Weekend:
- OL Darnell Wright
- CB Tyrique Stevenson
- DT Zacch Pickens
- RB Roschon Johnson
And for good measure, QB Tyson Bagent was a priority UDFA signing who was a prominent Senior Bowl contributor. So, all in all, we’re looking at two draft classes featuring nine players who were Senior Bowl standouts. I didn’t think it was inconsequential then and am doubling down on that belief a year later.
Last year’s Senior Bowl haul landed the Bears a starting left tackle (Braxton Jones) and a kick returner (Velus Jones Jr.) who I still think has some value as a WR4 gadget player. The jury is still out on Dominique Robinson, a long and athletic defensive end who is a developmental project. And Ja’Tyre Carter might as well have been redshirting as a developmental rookie. That the Bears were able to snag two Year 1 contributors in their GM’s first draft (which didn’t feature a first-round pick, mind you) feels like a win. Or, at a minimum, a net positive.
What is to come from this year’s group is unknown. But it turns out sending Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy (and other assistants) to Mobille, Ala., wasn’t done in vain. And not just because we were able to get a week’s worth of content out of the trip. Early projections suggest Wright will start immediately at right tackle. That’s a good start. Stevenson could play his way into a starting role in Week 1, much like Kyler Gordon did as a rookie. Pickens could do the same, but as a defensive tackle. And while Johnson has stiff competition ahead of him on the depth chart, he could muscle his way into the rotation if he can prove to be solid in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield.
To be clear, the Bears weren’t alone in cleaning up at the Senior Bowl…
…but they did a darn good job in an area where the previous regime was neglectful. And to me, that means something. Even if it as small as learning from your predecessor’s mistakes and doing what you can not to repeat them when it’s your turn to call shots.