Operating under the freeform best player available mentality, this year’s pivotal draft saw Ryan Pace lock in on shiny playmakers and, for the most part, willfully ignore team needs. And in order to accurately assess this year’s interesting draft haul, let’s assign some player grades. Per usual, these grades will incorporate both a player’s general value and his respective value to the Bears, as a player such as Kyler Murray may have an A+ player grade but would have zero value to the certain teams.
David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State, 73rd pick
Attempting to sculpt an offense on a post-Jordan Howard team required an heir to the workhorse throne that moving Howard opened. And despite the obvious expendability of runningbacks and their inherent reliance on the offensive makeup surrounding them, Pace saw fit to move some future picks for the right to thrust the Iowa State superstar upon that throne.
Immediately drawing comparisons to former Chiefs star Kareem Hunt, Montgomery could instantly be a star in this league. A scouting director for an AFC team gushed with “That’s my guy! If he gets with the right team, he’s going to be the best running back to come out of this class and you won’t have to draft him early either.”
Firstly, he may have one of the most entertaining tapes in all of college. He brings an electric cutting ability and a rare slipperiness, combining instinct with the ability to make defenders miss. A fearless runner, his phenomenal vision and patience can sniff out holes and then his fluid running style rockets him to the second level. Often enduring heavy workloads in college, he has shown he can put offenses on his back for long stretches of time.
He will need to learn to protect himself a little bit more in the pros, as his fearlessness, one of his most respectable qualities, may not translate well to the more violent hits of the NFL.
Coming onboard with a sizable shipment, losing the 87th and 162nd selections on top of a 2020 fourth-rounder, Montgomery will be a centerpiece in this offense right off the bat, forming an especially dangerous duo with the cemented star Tarik Cohen that the aforementioned Howard could never manage.
Player grade: A
Value grade: A-
Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia, 126th pick
Continuing the best player available trend, Pace nabbed a consensus steal in Ridley. Generally considered a Day Two pickup, it seemed like a dream for Pace to watch him as he dropped to the fourth round. Still recovering from a dreadful showing from the Bears receivers a couple of seasons ago, it seems as Pace has geared this team to never repeat Trubisky’s rookie year.
As for Ridley, he is rangy route runner who makes all the flashy grabs and brings really attractive size, bordering on a skinny tight end. Leading the SEC in contested catch rates, his catch radius bundled with his size creates a dangerous build. As primarily a possession receiver, he will quickly find plenty of work, even on the loaded Bears receiver corps. He does lack top-end speed, underperforming a little in the forty during the combine, but his bruising physicality nearly can make up for it.
In any respect, Ridley has to be considered a steal. However, after previously bolstering the offensive arsenal in the previous round, adding another offensive weapon might have been a little superfluous. But to encounter an easily top fifty prospect in the fourth is an opportunity that can’t be missed. Intentionally passing up a receiver to his caliber would have been a mistake.
Player Grade: B
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Duke Shelley, CB, Kansas State, 205th pick
The Bears waited a good long while to aid the cornerback depth, settling with Kansas State product Shelley. As primarily a nickel, he will be able to serve that essential role that the now-Bronco Bryce Callahan left open. Buster Skrine will hold that starting spot down but, in the event anybody goes down, Shelley’s versatility will allow the Bears to effectively finagle a defensive back lineup.
However, his size will prevent him from seeing the field early on. Standing at 5 foot 9 inches and only packing 180 pounds, he will be a liability in run support and coverage of the popular tight end. Open field tackling didn’t seem to be impossible against other college students, but the jump in talent, size, and intensity could prove difficult in the pros.
Obviously, pulling the trigger on a corner earlier would have been preferable but Shelley’s pass coverage and skill set offer enough versatility to warrant some long-term consideration. If injury emergencies ensue, he may have to be called on. For this season, at least, he will probably spend most of his time on the d-team.
Kerrith Whyte Jr., RB, Florida Atlantic, 222nd pick
Whyte’s calling and ceiling will lie with special teams. As all-conference as a returner both his freshman and sophomore year, his speed and quick-twitch athleticism offer a potential star returner, a grating weak link on the team last season. He won’t replace Cohen for punt returns, but having Whyte around could provide competition for the newly signed Cordarrelle Patterson and offer some wiggle room for offensive sets. Whyte probably won’t see many carries but could be an option in the jet or screen game.
And really, offenses (and especially a Nagy offense) can never have too many weapons around. Rolling with a pass rusher or an interior lineman might have been the more intelligent option but Pace entered this draft prepared to grab the best player remaining, no matter the position.
Stephen Denmark, CB, Valdosta State, 238th pick
Understanding the responsibility of amassing corner depth, the Bears spent their last pick in the draft on probably the rawest athlete in this entire draft. The lone sub-FBS prospect in this years haul, Denmark spent all but his senior year as a wide receiver, not a defensive back in which he has been drafted to be in the NFL.
Luckily, the athletic measurables indicate a potential corner somewhere in there, but as of right now, is way too raw to be considered a lineup option. None of the footwork, instincts, or general coverage fundamentals are present on tape, even against lesser competition. He simply won’t be able to keep up in the pros coming in with this little skill.
But this does not completely shut him down. Flaunting a 40 inch vertical, 4.4 speed, and nearly an 11-foot broad jump, he could have something hiding inside. Either he silently flames out without a single snap or becomes the next Jerry Azuma. More than likely the former, but with these impressive athletic traits, he can’t be tossed to the side just yet.
The NFL never designed seventh-rounders to be home runs and Denmark probably won’t last long if he can’t get a grasp on the basic fundamentals of a defensive back. After all, he spent a single season of Division II football at the position. With enough care and some special stuff, he can develop into a viable backup, but he will require time. Either way, addressing a need with a total project doesn’t really ease the need itself.