While Bears GM Ryan Pace wasn't about to tip off who he was drafting when he met with media on Tuesday, he did at least talk about how it's done.
Pace gave a bit of a glimpse into the process going on at Halas Hall, the way the draft board is assembled and how player selection is made. It was a little bit like learning how the sausage is made, for better or worse.
The Bears use what they call a "value line" when they're piecing together the draft board.
"You know, our board is stacked by position and then it's stacked, we call it a value line," Pace said. "So we have picks 1-32, picks in the second round, third round, so we can see how we would value, how we would stack it up in the first round. We know where there's a line.
"For us, there might be 35 players that we all think that are valuable (if) drafted in the first round. There might be 28, there might be 25. Whatever it is, we know where that line is. I think for us, based on how the board falls, that's when our game plan can change. We think we want to go up, we want to stay put, we want to go back. We kind of line them up that way as part of the collaborative process that we go through as we do this."
The collaboration includes input from about everyone in Halas Hall, including using board chairman George McCaskey and team CEO Ted Phillips as "sounding boards," according to Pace. The coaching staff and scouts obviously have their say. When they look at their draft board and see Justin Fields or Mac Jones are falling, they've got all their resources to tell them the direction to go.
"I can go up there right now and talk to our coaches and scouts and everyone is saying, 'I love this player in the fifth round,' 'I love this player with one of our four sixth-round picks,' 'hey, if we can figure out a way to get a fourth-round pick, I love this guy here.' And we’ve done that with that (quarterback) position and a lot of other positions. The board has got to fall a certain way and you've got to stick to picking the best player available."
No More Working from Home
Unlike last year when everyone worked remotely, they'll all be assembled together at Halas Hall on draft day.
"So we will be in our draft room taking advantage of all the technology that we have in there," Pace said. "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 in 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 just got to be smart and cautious and careful as we work 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."
The pandemic restraints made for a disruptive process. Last year at least the scouts and personnel department was able to see players at the NFL scouting combine before the league clamped down on pro days and visits by players to team facilities.
This year there was nothing beyond visiting a workout at a pro day.
"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."
At least they had last college season for studying players. It was that case with some of the players, anyway.
"Access during the season was different," Pace said. "Players opting out. We’re watching tape on guys sometimes a year old. You're looking at that and you're watching them a year removed 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 improved? All the different fluctuations that can take place.
"Like ... 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, those things weighed. It's challenges throughout. We had our medical meetings last week and some of that has been a challenge to be honest with you. I think 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."
The end result of it all will be the pick, whether it's one they trade up to get, trade down to get or just pick.
"The medical, the intelligence, the football makeup, there are just so many factors that go into it," Pace said. "As you're putting this puzzle together, this pie chart together for each player, it kind of gives you confidence when to go up. And there will be situations, too, that we've thought about, if there's enough players there, there's enough depth, we could very easily go back and take more picks. That's an option, too."