The Bears results through the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft could qualify GM Ryan Pace as something of a conjurer:
After turning two picks into one player (Leonard Floyd) on Day 1, Pace went into Day 2 with seven remaining picks in the draft. He made two selections in the persons of Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair in the second round and Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard in the third, and finished the day and headed into Saturday with…seven picks. Eight actually, if you count the 2017 fourth-round pick he added via a round-two trade with the Buffalo Bills.
(So I’m wondering, if I gave him my checkbook, could he maybe turn those lonely little numbers into… . Naah, probably not).
Pace and the Bears started the 2016 draft with two fourth-round picks; by early Friday night had three: the 19th, 26th and 29th picks, Nos. 117, 124 and 127 overall. Add to those their one pick in the fifth round, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.
Of course, that’s before Pace picked up his magic draft wand for the day’s activities. It’s early yet.
Pace is on record stating his philosophy of staying true to the team’s player rankings on the draft board, rather than succumb to the temptation to fill a need with a lesser player than one with the highest grade available. That was apparent in trades both up and down (twice) in the first two rounds of the 2016 draft.
Throughout those proceedings, the Bears also were aggressively working the phones, according to NFL reporter Aaron Leming, shopping outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the Bears’ two sack leaders but rendered surplus with the acquisition of Floyd.
The Bears traded up to snag Floyd at No. 9 because of their grade on him, rather than simply use their designated pick at No. 11 and select Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, their next-highest-rated edge rusher. To make that deal Pace parted with the first of his two picks in the fourth round.
After Floyd, 23 more picks went off the board with only one edge rusher (Lawson) selected before Emmanuel Ogbah was chosen by Cleveland with the first pick of the second round. Meaning: Beyond Floyd, if the hope was a pass rusher, the falloff was considerable.
Then, before Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry was taken at No. 35 by the San Diego Chargers, the Bears reportedly tried unsuccessfully to trade up to No. 34 to grab Henry. Pace said that wasn’t really in play Friday night.
“We had some early talks, honestly, before the draft even started,” Pace said. “Nothing really came to fruition.”
But other things did. The Bears traded down from No. 41 to the Buffalo Bills’ spot at No. 49. In the process they acquired not one, but two fourth-round picks: Buffalo’s No. 4 in this draft (117th overall) and the Bills’ fourth-rounder in the 2017 draft.
But the Green Bay Packers then appeared to scramble plans by jumping over the Bears to take Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs. Whether because the Packers had snatched a Bears target or because the Halas Hall draft board did not have a player worth that second-round pick, or perhaps they had designs on Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (taken at No. 46 by the Detroit Lions), the Bears moved down – again.
“When our pick is approaching and we’re realizing that there are a lot of guys here that we like, there is a chance for us to go back knowing that we got enough names that we can still get a good player and pick up some picks. That’s why we did [the trade].”
In exchange for that Buffalo pick at No. 49, the Bears acquired Seattle’s pick at No. 56 and No. 124 in the fourth round.
“I would say, a little bit of [no difference-makers],” Pace conceded. “Also, we just had enough names that I felt like if we could go back they would still be there. At some point in this draft I wanted to acquire more picks.
“This night couldn’t have worked out better for us in regards to that. So I was very happy when we were able to go back and still get the guys that we want and still get these additional picks.”