The Bears entered the third and final day of the NFL Draft Saturday with one fifth-round pick. But seeing a cluster of prospects the team coveted were still on the board, general manager Ryan Pace made two trades to acquire additional selections.
As a result, the Bears were able to choose three players in the fifth round—Tulsa outside linebacker Trevis Gipson (No. 155), Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor (No. 163) and Tulane receiver Darnell Mooney (No. 173).
"We identified a cloud of players we knew we could acquire in that fifth-round area of the draft," Pace during a conference call with the media. "So we just maneuvered around to make that happen."
First, Pace obtained the 155th pick from the Vikings in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round choice and took Gipson, a productive and promising pass rusher.
"Without having to give up a pick in this year's draft, that was valuable for us," Pace said. "He was a player we had graded high and we wanted to make sure we got him."
After selecting Vildor with their own fifth-round pick, the Bears completed a second trade, acquiring the No. 173 choice to take Mooney, a speedy receiver. Pace also obtained a seventh-round pick from the Eagles in the deal in exchange for two picks in the sixth round (Nos. 196 and 200) and one in the seventh (No. 233).
The Bears made the move after four receivers had been chosen in the previous eight picks.
"Receivers were coming off," Pace said. "We liked Mooney. He was graded really high on our board—a guy with just a ton of conviction from a lot of people in our building."
Pace always operates with a "no regrets" mindset when it comes to making trades.
"With the compensatory situation coming forward, we'll hopefully recoup some of those picks," Pace said. "But we felt like that was kind of a sweet spot in the draft right there in the fifth round. So for us to look up at the end of the draft and get three players we're really excited about in that area of the draft, I know our scouts and coaches were all fired up about that."
Here are some of the reasons they were fired up about their three fifth-round picks:
Pace sees Gipson as an outside linebacker who possesses "tremendous upside as a pass rusher." The 6-4, 253-pounder was a two-year starter at Tulsa, where he earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors last year as a senior after setting career highs with 49 tackles, eight sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss.
"At Tulsa, he played a lot with his hand down, almost as a five-technique," Pace said. "We think some of his traits can exceed even more in our defense. There's just a lot of natural pass-rush traits to him and I think they all translate to our game very well.
"He's got a rugged style of play. He went to the Senior Bowl, really stepped up and rose to the occasion. He had a great week of practice. He followed it up with a great Senior Bowl game and a lot of excellent interviews with us along the way as we did our preparation, and he just gave us a lot of confidence to go up and get him."
With NFL facilities closed due to the coronavirus, pre-draft visits were cancelled. But the Bears conducted one-hour video interviews with a slew of prospects, and Pace was extremely impressed with Gipson.
"We did a lot of them, so you're able to differentiate the personalities," Pace said. "Some guys can come across sometimes just natural and authentic in their interviews, and I think Gipson definitely did. You could feel the hunger in his voice, the drive and the desire to be great, the passion. You just felt that in the way he talked."
According to Pace, the Bears were impressed with the cornerback's football character, consistency and ability to make plays on the ball.
Vildor started his final two and a half seasons at Georgia Southern, where he earned first-team Sun Belt Conference honors last year as a senior after recording 27 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
"He can play inside; he can play outside," Pace said. "We stress confidence when we talk about the corner position and he definitely has that confidence and that playing demeanor that we look for. [He has] a skill set that also translates well to special teams, which is going to be important especially in the early part of his development."
Vildor first surfaced on the Bears' radar in 2018 when he recorded an interception and didn't allow a completion in coverage against a Clemson team that was ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time.
Pace feels that the 5-11, 190-pounder is capable of playing cornerback and nickel back despite his lack of ideal size, saying: "I think that's one of the strengths of his game is the ability to do both. We feel a lot of confidence in his ability to play outside and inside. He's a little bit shorter in stature but [has] good length, really good vertical and [he's] extremely fast and athletic. So even though he's a little bit undersized, he can definitely play outside."
What appealed most to the Bears about Mooney was his speed and route-running ability. The Tulane receiver ran a blazing 4.38 in the 40 at the NFL Combine, tied for the fifth fastest time among all prospects.
"This guy has legit speed," Pace said. "Beyond that speed, his route quickness stands out, just his ability to separate stands out. He stepped up and played well in some pretty big games. This is a player where our coaches have excellent vision for Mooney and how he can help our offense and how we're going to use him. Another guy that went to the NFLPA all-star game and really played well throughout that week and really showcased his speed."
A four-year starter at Tulane, Mooney played in 49 games and caught 151 passes for 2,529 yards and 19 touchdowns. The 5-11, 174-pounder had a breakout junior season in 2018, catching 48 passes for 993 yards and eight TDs. He followed last year with 45 receptions for 670 yards and five TDs.
"His releases are really good off the line of scrimmage," said coach Matt Nagy. "He understands leverage … You just feel every route he runs, he's real smooth. He has big strides. For being somebody of his stature, he chews up a lot of ground early and then he has that top-end speed.
"He's been inside, he's been outside. The other thing that jumped out to all of us as we were watching tape, he's one of those guys, where he makes the first guy miss. And when you're able to do that with the acceleration that he has, it can turn a 12-yard gain into a home run and a touchdown, and we like that."