The 2021 NFL Draft was very kind to the Chicago Bears and went a long way in re-endearing general manager Ryan Pace to fans after a tumultuous first five years. The highlight was Pace trading up nine spots (from 20th to 11th) select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Not content with another swing at finding a franchise passer, the Bears went on to select offensive linemen with their next two picks. He had to give up draft capital to move up for the first two picks. But he made out better than usual and came away with what might be his best class yet:
- First Round, 11th Overall: Justin Fields, Quarterback, Ohio State
- Second Round, 39th Overall: Teven Jenkins, Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma State
- Fifth Round, 151st Overall: Larry Borom, Offensive Tackle, Missouri
- Sixth Round, 217th Overall: Khalil Herbert, Running Back, Virginia Tech
- Sixth Round, 221st Overall: Dazz Newsome, Wide Receiver, North Carolina
- Sixth Round, 228th Overall: Thomas Graham Jr., Cornerback, Oregon
- Seventh Round, 250th Overall: Khyiris Tonga, Defensive Tackle, BYU
Chicago Bears 2021 NFL Draft Grade: 9.5/10
Chicago Bears 2021 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Justin Fields
Matt Nagy got his guy. This instead of the guy he could get (Nick Foles or Andy Dalton) or was stuck with (Mitchell Trubisky). Fields began the draft process as the clear number-two passer in this class behind Trevor Lawrence. Narratives caused him to slide behind Zach Wilson and Trey Lance in the draft. It was the worst kept secret in the NFL that the Bears being in the market for a quarterback. But even they had to be giddy when he fell outside of the top 10 picks.
Fields is a dynamic quarterback like no other in Bears history. He led the Big Ten in passing yards and touchdowns both years at Ohio State. He also won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors after both campaigns. After losing to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl as a sophomore, he exacted revenge on Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers, beating them in the CFP Semi-Finals. His leadership was on full display last year as he joined Lawrence in fighting to have a college football season.
At 6-foot-3 and 227 lbs, Fields is built like another Nagy protege: Patrick Mahomes. The similarities don’t stop there as both come from schools not known for producing NFL quarterbacks. And scramble to pass rather than take off and run despite being athletically gifted. Of course, there’s only one Patrick Mahomes.
Four years after trading up to take Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft, Ryan Pace got another bite at the apple. He once again traded up, sending the New York Giants the 20th overall pick, their fifth-rounder this year, and next year’s first and fourth. It’s a steep price but they used it on a proven product as opposed to a project, at least to the scale of the last guy.
The Head Scratcher: Passing on Safety
In what was almost a perfect draft for the Bears and, in particular, Ryan Pace, they opted against drafting a safety. They have former All-Pro Eddie Jackson and re-signed Tashaun Gipson as their starters. But there are no potential future starters among Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Jordan Lucas, and Marqui Christian. Add to that, Gipson is on a one-year deal and will be 31 when the season kicks off.
Again it was a nearly perfect draft, all things considered, with almost every pick addressing a need with good value. Almost. The Khalil Herbert pick is…interesting to say the least. With David Montgomery coming off of his first 1000-yard rushing season, having signed Damien Williams this off-season, and with Tarik Cohen returning from a torn ACL, Herbert feels like a luxury pick in a draft where Bears picks were at a premium.
Instead of Herbert, the Bears could have taken JaCoby Stevens out of LSU. He profiles as more of a hybrid linebacker and safety. Perhaps that led to their passing him. But some of his issues in coverage were due to putting on weight and playing slower last season.
In Herbert’s defense, the Bears took Newsome before Stevens too. But the need was there. Herbert was fairly one-dimensional in college, catching just 10 passes as a senior. It will be interesting to see him display that part of his game in the preseason. It’s also not like he’s a bad runner, this just seemed like a rare unnecessary pick for Pace in this draft.
The Surprise: Trading Up…Twice
We were well aware of the possibility of the Bear looking to move up for a quarterback should one begin to fall. The move to go get Fields was surprising given Pace’s track record and what some presumed was a tenuous hold on his job. Ditto for Matt Nagy. Moving up again for Jenkins was completely unexpected. Especially given what transpired the night before. But it also put to bed the notion that Pace and Nagy were on shaky ground. This is a three to four-year window, at least.
Maybe it shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise. Bears ownership has shown no signs of being displeased with the job their general manager or the head coach has done in the past three years together. We’ve seen them brush off questions over the length of their contracts when asked directly before. This time they did it without saying a word.
The risks here are obvious. You’ve entrusted the general manager who blew it once when trading up for a quarterback and the head coach who didn’t exactly coach to the last guy’s strengths (however limited those might be) last season. Obviously, with Nagy having a say in the process this time around, the hope is the results are much closer to those of Kansas City, Nagy’s old stomping grounds, than their own.
If both moves pay off, the Bears have just solved their longest-standing issue. Even Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon wouldn’t be described as a “great” quarterback. Jay Cutler and Trubisky just couldn’t get it done. There’s far less risk in Jenkins who’s big and as nasty as they come on the right side of the offensive line.
The Steal: Teven Jenkins
Speaking of Jenkins, he’s easily the steal of the Bears haul. How is that possible when the Bears traded up to get him, forfeiting precious draft capital in the process? Because many had him going in the first round with some even mocking him to the Bears had they kept the 20th pick. It was a nice win for both the “need” and “value” crowds.
There were a few reasons this move was even possible. First, the run on quarterbacks, which the Bears were a part of, pushed several skill players down the draft. That, in turn, pushed the (non-left tackle) linemen down too. Most view Jenkins as a plug-and-play right tackle. Some even have him as a guard. But he has experience at left tackle as well. The Bears also employ respected offensive line coach Juan Castillo.
The best part of the Jenkins pick is the player himself. “I feel like I’m a first-round talent,” Jenkins said. “Regardless of where I went, I’m not mad about it. I’m not going to lose any sleep about it…I’m going to be able to make sure everybody rue that day they didn’t pick me.” The league just made that chip on his shoulder a little bigger. And that’s one of his tamer quotes.
Most Likely to Turn Head During Training Camp: Dazz Newsome
Most won’t expect much from Dazz Newsome as a sixth-round pick on a team with some talented receivers. Especially given the success of former sixth-rounder Riley Ridley in his first two seasons. But Newsome comes in having been very productive for the Tar Heels. He had 72 catches for over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. And he still managed to reel in 54 balls for 684 yards and six scores as a senior. He also rushed for one touchdown.
Newsome’s arrival should be a wake-up call to fourth-year man Anthony Miller. Newsome built similarly and profiles much in the way Miller did coming out as a smaller typer better suited to operate on the interior. They even clocked identical 4.38 times in the 40-yard dash.
What Newsome lacks in Miller’s route-running ability, though Miller himself too often lacks the focus to be effective. There were reports of the Bears shopping Miller this off-season. He got tossed from the playoff game last season after a dust-up with a Saints player so it’s not far-fetched to think that Newsome could have a hand in expediting Miller’s departure. At the very least he should add some juice to the return game with Cordarrelle Patterson gone.
Missouri’s Larry Borom played tackle in college but a lack of athleticism could see him kick inside to guard. He’s a powerful, massive prospect but his conditioning has come into question. Even with that, he was able to produce for the Tigers. As a bonus, Borom and Fields worked out together in California leading up to the draft.
Thomas Graham Jr is only an average athlete at cornerback but the Bears are retooling the position following the release of Kyle Fuller. He doesn’t move well laterally so he won’t spend much time in the slot where Buster Skrine used to play. He isn’t at the top of the opportunity flow chart, but he’s on there.
Khyiris Tonga is a nose tackle prospect and, for anyone who doubted the value of Eddie Goldman before last year, they will certainly appreciate this addition. Now, Goldman should be back. But clearly, quality depth at the position was an issue and Tonga is certainly capable of filling that role out of the gates.
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