Ryan Pace opened his pre-draft video press conference Tuesday by apologizing to reporters for not being able to be as transparent as they'd like.
"It's always a unique time of year," said the Bears general manager. "Hope you guys understand we can't get into details. I'm sorry in advance for any questions I can't answer. But I promise I'll do my best."
While Pace didn't divulge any secrets, he did provide some interesting information. Here are five things we learned during his 18-minute session:
(1) The Bears are prepared to stay put and draft a player with the 20th pick in the first round, trade up or trade down.
"As an organization, we've got to be ready for every single scenario," Pace said. "However this thing plays out, however this board falls, that's where all the preparation comes into play. And I feel like we're in that spot—whether it's trading up, staying put, trading back—all those things are in play for us."
This is the first time since Pace was hired in 2015 that the Bears have a first-round pick that's outside the top 10. They previously selected receiver Kevin White at No. 7 in 2015, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 in 2016, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 in 2017 and inside linebacker Roquan Smith at No. 8 in 2018. The Bears traded their 2019 and 2020 first-round choices to the Raiders in 2018 in exchange for outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
Picking at No. 20 is more difficult than drafting a prospect in the top 10.
"It is unique," Pace said. "I was just looking over the last 10 years and the players that have gone in this range of the draft. As you look back on the hit rates of those players, were there common denominators? It's interesting, and it is harder. When you're picking in the top 10, it's very easy to have 100 percent consensus throughout your building. We can have 15 reports on a player in the top 10 and everybody's got this guy pegged. But when you go further back, it gets different."
(2) Not surprisingly, Pace didn't discuss the likelihood of the Bears drafting a quarterback. But he conceded that if one is chosen, that prospect would be surrounded by experienced individuals he could learn from in veteran quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.
"If we did draft a quarterback, it's a good room for sure," Pace said. "Both [quarterbacks] have a lot of experience. A lot of different experiences, too, which is good. The coaching staff that we have there is strong as well. It's a strong coaching staff around that position. We have a lot of veteran leadership in that room, too. I do think it'd be a good room for a young player to enter. But again, we're just going to take the best players throughout this draft."
Most draft analysts expect the top five quarterbacks to be selected well before the No. 20 pick. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson are projected to go 1-2 to the Jaguars and Jets, respectively, followed closely by Alabama's Mac Jones, Ohio State's Justin Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance. Interestingly, a quarterback has never been chosen with the 20th pick since the inception of the NFL Draft in 1936.
"Just the depth, the totality of that group, it is deep this year," Pace said. "And they're all different."
“As an organization, we’ve got to be ready for every single scenario … whether it’s trading up, staying put, trading back, all those things are in play for us.” Bears GM Ryan Pace
(3) Preparing for this year's draft has been more difficult than any other due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evaluating top pro prospects has been incredibly challenging for the Bears and the other 31 NFL teams. Many college players opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID, and several teams played a limited number of games. In addition, scouts were not allowed on campus during the season, the Combine was canceled and NFL teams were not permitted to meet with prospects at their facilities or anywhere else to conduct interviews or private workouts.
"Every team in the NFL had a lot of challenges this year as we navigated through a much different college season, a much different draft process as we prepared for this draft," Pace said. "You've got to get creative, you've got to get opportunistic in different ways we gather information. And that preparation for us is a testament to a lot of people, from our scouts to our coaches to our medical staff. I can go on and on. George [McCaskey] and Ted [Phillips] providing the resources and the understanding of the different times that we're operating in. But we're ready for this week. We're excited to make our team better this week."
For players who opted out, the Bears have had to study their tape from the 2019 season.
"You're looking at that and you're watching them a year removed," Pace said, "and now you're putting weight on the pro days and how do they look at the pro day? Has their body changed? Have they maintained? Have they improved? All the different fluctuations that can take place.
"No Combine. Only three people [per team] allowed per pro day. Not able to take those players out to dinner before or after the pro day. It's challenges throughout. We had our medical meetings last week and some of that's been a challenge.
"That's just where we lean on the continuity of our staff and the experience and getting creative on how we access some of that data and obtain some of that data. We lean on a lot of our resources. I'm not going to lie, it has been challenging. But part of that's the excitement of the job and we've taken that on and I feel like we're in a really good spot."
(4) Pace said that Nagy has been actively involved in scouting not only the quarterbacks but every other position in the draft as well.
"It's been really valuable," Pace said. "Really for Matt, what's been cool about it is he loves the scouting process so much. Some coaches are more into it than others. So it's offense, it's defense. Matt's involved in every single position we're talking about."
Pace revealed that Nagy was instrumental in the Bears selecting cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the 50th pick in the second round of last year's draft. Johnson started 13 games as a rookie and tied for ninth in the NFL with 15 pass breakups despite missing the final three contests with a shoulder injury.
"I remember last year, as we went through the corners and just [Nagy's] passion as we went through that evaluation process and Jaylon Johnson and what it led us to," Pace said.
"But what's cool about with Matt and with Lazor and with Flip, there's certain positions [where] I think it is valuable if you've played that position, and I think quarterback is one of those. And all three of those guys have played the position at different levels, and I think it comes into play as we're talking about that position and just the different perspective they have on it and the different angle they have on it as we have our draft meetings."
(5) After participating in the first virtual draft in NFL history last year from his basement, Pace is ecstatic about being back at Halas Hall this year.
"It's awesome to be back in Halas Hall," he said. "We will be in our draft room taking advantage of all the technology that we have in there. We'll have 10 people in our draft room this year. We'll be spaced out, we'll be wearing our masks, we'll be doing all the right things. And then we'll have our scouting staff, our coaching staff here at Halas Hall during the three days of the draft, in close proximity.
"Some of us are vaccinated, some of us aren't. So we're just kind of working through that. We've just got to be smart and cautious and careful as we go through it. But we'll have 10 people in the draft room all spaced out and we'll have our coaches and scouts here throughout the building so we can talk to them as needed as we go through the draft process."