The Chicago Bears wanted to get as far away from the Phil Emery experience as possible when they went looking for their next GM in 2015. They felt Ryan Pace was the guy they wanted. As it turns out, they nailed it and not in the ways they probably expected. So what does that mean? One thing about Emery was he operated with the win-now mantra. He was aggressive on the veteran markets, both free agency and trades.
Yet in the draft, he seemed to take a much more passive approach. Emery was not prone to moving around much at all. He stayed put with most of his notable picks and let the board fall where it may. Pace couldn’t be more different. Outside of his deal for Khalil Mack, he’s been considerably more measured when it comes to acquiring veteran players. By contrast, he’s extremely aggressive in the draft, constantly trading up for what he considers to be difference-makers.
However, if people were looking for a true separation between the two, it comes down to their areas of success in the draft. What does that mean? Emery’s draft failures are noted during his three years running the team, however, his greatest area of success was the 1st round. By contrast, Pace has encountered his biggest hits to date outside the 1st round and it’s amazing to see how this impacts their legacies.
Ryan Pace can’t survive his 1st round misfires forever
Emery will probably be forever remembered for his catastrophic blunder drafting Shea McClellin in 2012. However, his track record with 1st round picks has proven to be quite solid. Kyle Long became a three-time Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Kyle Fuller overcame a difficult start to his career and transformed into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. An All-Pro in 2018 and on his way to a second Pro Bowl this year.
His greatest weakness was the mid and late rounds. Over the course of three years, Emery selected 14 players in the 3rd round or later. Of those 14, only two of them went on to become long-term starters for the Bears in punter Pat O’Donnell and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. By contrast, Pace also made 14 picks in between the 3rd and 7th rounds. Four of them have become long-term starters and two are Pro Bowlers.
On the flip side, his 1st round picks have underwhelmed. Kevin White, like McClellin was an outright bust. His career was marred by injuries and he never got going. Leonard Floyd was hailed as the pass rush answer on defense for the Bears. Though the #9 overall pick has continued to flash, his inconsistencies remain four years into his career. Mitch Trubisky? He did make the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018 but appears to have leveled off so far in 2019. Not a good sign considering what the Bears gave up for him.
As for Roquan Smith?
He looks like he’ll be a quality linebacker on this defense for a long time. So all told Pace hasn’t completely botched the picks, but he also missed out on some huge opportunities since all four were top 10 selections and only one looks like a genuine long-term solution. Thus far his success outside the 1st round and on the veteran market is sustaining him but anybody who understands football knows that may not last forever.
Emery was never able to solve his problems in the later rounds. At least not in time to rescue his job. Pace must work hard to be better about his top choices moving forward or he risks fumbling away what has been such a fine job at rebuilding the Bears into a contender.