If you’re like me, you have probably been reading 2018 mock drafts since, well, as soon as the 2017 NFL Draft ended. As a normal sports fan, you’ve probably seen a few mock drafts over the last couple of weeks.
While they can be fun, mock drafts this early in the offseason are rarely accurate. They are a good way to get familiar with prospects, but as a predicting tool, they leave a lot to be desired.
Although attempting to predict the picks can be difficult, we can make it easier by identifying what types of players the Bears might be targeting.
Does Ryan Pace put more stock in on-field production or athletic testing at the combine? Multiple year starters? Or one-year wonders? Players from large college programs? Or smaller school studs?
It’s hard to say at first glance. Which is why I set out on a mission to get inside Pace’s mind by examining his three draft classes.
First, let’s establish a baseline. Here is a chart of the average athletic testing scores of each drafted player the last three seasons broken down by position.
Then I compared these numbers to the players the Bears drafted.
- If the cell is green the player was average or above average compared to their peers in that category.
- If the cell is red that means they were below average.
The chart below is sorted by the round they were drafted in with the first round players at the top:
*If you are unfamiliar with pSparq,here is a nice article that goes into more detail . But essentially it attempts to boil down all of a player’s athletic testing into one number. This makes it easier to compare players of different heights, weights, and positions.
If we look at a pSparq score you can see that Pace clearly values athletic players – as he should – especially at the top of the draft. Every player drafted in the first round was a tremendous athlete with an above average pSparq score. Additionally, only three players drafted in the first four rounds had a below average pSparq. One of them is Tarik Cohen, who has his weaknesses, but athleticism is not one of them. (This is due to pSparq taking weight into account.)
On the flip side, only one of the players taken after the fifth round had an above average pSparq score. While some teams might try to take a flier on athletic freaks late in the draft, Pace seems to focus on players with good tape, but might have fallen due to poor combine numbers.
Take Jordan Howard for example. He had the skills and the production to warrant a second round pick. But due to a terrible combine, fell into the Bears’ laps in the fifth round. I have a feeling a good deal of opposing GM’s would like that one back.
A similar point can be made for Eddie Goldman. While he ended up being a second-round pick, he was getting first-round talk before the combine. If it weren’t for a bad combine, the Bears would have missed out on a good prospect. While Goldman isn’t an athletic freak, his tape shows someone with plenty of athleticism for a nose tackle. Luckily, Pace knows to trust what he sees on tape and uses athletic testing as a supplement.
Athleticism is always at a premium in the NFL. And Pace, predictably, realizes this.
In 2018, look for the Bears first, and possibly second pick, to be a player who excels at the combine.
Experience and Age
The NFL has an age problem. Each year, the average age of NFL players gets younger and younger. With teams reluctant to give aging players contracts for past performance, increased reliance on the draft to fill a roster, and more college players forgoing their senior season to enter the draft, this won’t change anytime soon.
Because of this, more and more teams are struggling with inexperienced players being forced into starting roles too early.
Pace’s best effort to counteract this is to draft players with more experience in college. The average age of the player’s Pace has drafted over the years is 23.1 or the equivalent age of a redshirt senior.
Only two of the player’s Pace drafted were younger than 22. Coincidentally, those players turned out to be two of Pace’s better draft picks in Goldman and Howard.
Because of this strategy, Pace also tended to favor seniors. 14 of the 20 players Pace has drafted were seniors while he has yet to draft a redshirt sophomore. Of the six juniors that were drafted, two of them were redshirt juniors which are essentially seniors.
More importantly, he also tended to draft players who are multi-year starters in college. Only five players did not have at least three years starting experience and only one player had less than two years of starting experience. If you haven’t guessed it already, that one player is last year’s first-round pick, Mitch Trubisky.
If we break this information down by round it gets even more interesting. Four of the six juniors Pace has drafted have been first or second-round picks. And three of the players drafted in the first two rounds have two or fewer years of starting experience.
Only two players drafted after the third round have been a junior and only three had less than three years starting experience.
While these types of late round players – considering their age and relative lack of athleticism – won’t have the same upside of others, they will be better equipped if they are forced into a starting role. With injuries up across the league, good depth has never been more important.
Large School vs Small School
When it comes to college football, the SEC is King. Of the 2,721 players drafted between 2005 and 2015, 519 have come from the SEC, by far the most in that span. Furthermore, 75 percent of all players drafted come from Power-5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big-12, and ACC).
Of Pace’s draft picks, only 60 percent have come from Power-5 conferences, well below the league average. Going one step further, 10 percent of his draftees were from Division II while the NFL itself is made up of only 4.5 percent Division II players.
While most NFL players come from the SEC, Pace does not seem to have a preference selecting four players from the Big-12 and three players each from the SEC, ACC, and Big 10.
What have we learned?
The biggest take away from this is how Pace approaches each round differently. He clearly has different strategies in the first few rounds than he does in the later part of the draft.
Look for Pace to target athletic players who might be late risers with the Bears first two picks. But in the later rounds expect a senior with multi-year starting experience who might have fallen due to a poor combine.
In the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some prospects that fit these criteria. Stay tuned!