Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Chicago Bears
Head Coach: Matt Nagy
General Manager: Ryan Pace
Players selected in 2020:
Round 2, Pick 43 overall: TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Round 2, Pick 50 overall: CB Jaylon Johnson, Utah
Round 5, Pick 155 overall: DE/OLB Trevis Gipson, Tulsa
Round 5, Pick 163 overall: CB Kindle Vildor, Georgia Southern
Round 5, Pick 173 overall: WR Darnell Mooney, Tulane
Round 7, Pick 226 overall: OL Arlington Hambright, Colorado
Round 7, Pick 227 overall: OL Lachavious Simmons, Tennessee State
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
DE Ledarius Mack, Buffalo
RB Artavis Pierce, Oregon State
LB Rashad Smith, Florida Atlantic
DT Lacale London, Western Illinois
OL Dieter Eiselen, Yale
WR Ahmad Wagner, Kentucky
Overview of the Bears’ 2020 draft: Bold trades for Khalik Mack and Mitch Trubisky in the past left Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace with little flexibility in the 2020 draft, entering the three-day selection show with just two picks inside the top 160. Pace did some maneuvering to acquire more selections, ultimately landing a “full” seven picks. Much to the dismay of loyal Bears’ fans, however, these picks were as inconsistent in their placement as many of the Bears’ scoring drives a year ago, prompting another trade, this time for Nick Foles as a challenger to Trubisky. The Bears made their first pick at No. 43 overall (Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet) and second just seven selections later (Utah CB Jaylon Johnson), before waiting another 105 picks before their next opportunity – 10 selections into the fifth round! Fortunately for the Bears, once into the fifth, Pace and Co. had three darts within an 18 pick-span – and there is a chance all three not only make the squad as rookies but contribute early. It was then another 53 pick wait until the club’s two seventh round selections, both of which were spent on developmental offensive linemen. As one would expect, the Bears’ top choices have the best chance at making an immediate impact, though Cole Kmet faces a daunting depth chart at tight end. What the Bears’ rookie class may lack in numbers and name, the veterans added through trade more than make up for – at least that’s the hope.
Best Player of the Bears’ 2020 Draft: TE Cole Kmet
Given that he spent as much of his time at Notre Dame hurling pitches as he did catching passes, Kmet was as much as candidate for the Bears’ best project as their best player. That is an unusual but exciting combination, as it means Kmet is not only very good right out of the box, the athletic 6-6, 262 pounder also is just scratching the surface of what he could be. Kmet’s initial quickness, acceleration and balance through contact are obvious on tape and project very well to an offense that features the tight end, suggesting that his production in the NFL will far outweigh what he did at Notre Dame. Kmet essentially just got by on his size, athleticism and natural power for the Irish, which is why his career numbers (60 catches for 691 yards and six touchdowns) are less than impressive. There is not yet the subtlety as a route-runner or the form as an inline blocker one might expect of a two-year starter who signed with the Irish as one of the most highly regarded prep tight ends in the country. Further, the Bears currently have eight tight ends on their roster, raising plenty of questions about how quickly Kmet gets onto the field. Kmet was lauded by the Notre Dame coaching staff for his commitment and should develop quickly now that he’s focused on just football. The payoff may not come for a year or more, but Kmet is the future Pro Bowler of Chicago’s 2020 rookie class.
Best Value of the Bears’ 2020 Draft: CB Jaylon Johnson
While Kmet was the Bears’ top choice, Johnson is the rookie expected to make the biggest immediate impact, perhaps challenging free agent acquisition Artie Burns (Pittsburgh) at right cornerback opposite standout Kyle Fuller. Getting thrust into the starting lineup opposite an established cornerback like Fuller would be a challenge but the ultra-confident Johnson appears up to it. He was the fifth cornerback and 44 overall prospect on my final Top 100 Big Board, ranking as one of the more nationally underrated prospects in a quality class at his position. He was tasked with shadowing the top receivers in the pass-happy Pac-12 throughout his career and was rarely challenged in 2019, perhaps because quarterbacks were tired of attempting to chase him down. Johnson is a real threat with the ball in his hands, taking two of his seven career interceptions back for touchdowns and averaging 23.6 yards per return. A true riverboat gambler who earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors each of the past two seasons, Johnson turned down offers from some of the most prominent teams in the country to sign with Utah, a program which has produced 12 NFL draft picks just on defense over the past five years. Johnson is the best of that bunch, offering a blend of size (6-0, 193), agility and ballskills that project very well to the NFL as a pure cover corner. Whether he starts or not in 2020, Johnson will play often as a rookie, perhaps lining up inside at the nickel (though this is a role I love for fifth rounder Kindle Vildor). His natural over-aggressive play will lead to some to breakdowns but, aided by Chicago’s pass rush, Johnson also should generate turnovers and potential defensive touchdowns, ultimately developing into a standout starter and big play maven for the Bears.
Best Project of the Bears’ 2020 Draft: DE/OLB Trevis Gipson
As a plug and play candidate, Johnson was my favorite of the Bears’ rookie draft picks but Gipson ran a close second and was a supreme value, himself, at pick No. 155 overall. Like Kmet, Gipson faces a stacked depth chart in Chicago but that may wind up helping both of the Bears’ young cubs in the long run. Gipson signed with Tulsa as a spindly 200-pound linebacker, but gained speed and strength while tacking on 60+ pounds to his frame over the next five years, growing into a full-service defensive end for the Hurricanes. A former basketball player with impressive lateral quickness, very long arms (34”) and strong, active hands to rip the ball out (eight career forced fumbles), Gipson will start as a developmental stand-up edge rusher behind Mack (and his younger brother, Ledarius) as well as free agent Robert Quinn and his primary backup, Barkevious Mingo. That may not sound like a critical need but Pace clearly felt it was important, peddling a 2021 fourth round pick to rival Minnesota to move up to land Gipson. The trade-up was bold, like many of Pace’s moves in the past and could pay off as Gipson possesses the foundational athletic traits and intangibles to work from.
Overall Grade for the Bears’ 2020 Draft:
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