The Chicago Bears faced a major challenge going into the 2020 offseason. It marked the second-straight time they’d have to manage an NFL draft without a 1st round pick. This courtesy of their blockbuster Khalil Mack trade back in 2018. GM Ryan Pace would need to find a way to squeeze value out of a rookie class that wouldn’t feature a pick in the top 40, let alone the top 32.

How did they fare? Way better than people had any right to expect. Pro Football Focus and ESPN collaborated recently to grade every team’s draft class from 2020. Teams like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Tampa Bay claimed the top spots in the rankings. However, the Bears didn’t completely flub their chances. They came away with a respectable placement of their own.

“12. Chicago Bears

Why they’re ranked here: Second-round pick Jaylon Johnson was a bit of a roller-coaster in 2020, but he showed signs of life while other first-year cornerbacks struggled. Johnson gave up five touchdowns and 41 catches in 13 games for an average of 14.3 yards per reception, but he also ranked sixth among all outside corners in forced incompletion rate (21%).

How their top pick fared: Kmet was far from a big-play threat this season. A lot of his production stemmed from schemed slides and speed outs. He generated an explosive reception of 15-plus yards on just 4.3% of his targets. That’s the fourth-lowest rate among 446 qualifying tight ends with at least 45 targets in a season since 2006.

Best value pick: No 2020 fifth-round pick generated more PFF WAR than the Bears’ Darnell Mooney. The Tulane wide receiver wasn’t uber-productive, but he did a great job of creating after the catch. He tied for the fourth-most broken tackles after the catch among wide receivers, with 17.”

What is this so impressive?

Just look at some of the other teams by comparison. The Miami Dolphins had 11 picks total in that draft including three in the 1st round. Three. Yet they finished with the 28th ranking. A reminder that quantity doesn’t always lead to quality. Pace didn’t hit any home runs but he appears to have slapped a few doubles. With no 1st or 3rd round picks? That should be commended.

There is also plenty of room for growth. Kmet and Johnson are both just 21-years old. They’re still kids growing into men. They haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of their real potential. Given a little more time, this class could yield even bigger dividends than initially thought. A crazy thought ton consider.

Chicago Bears have a chance to build off that in 2021

They will return to the 1st round this April with the 20th overall pick. Barring a trade that will see them give it up for a quarterback, of course. This means Pace has a chance to really stockpile more young talent onto the roster. He’s actually done a favorable job of that lately. It started with Roquan Smith, James Daniels, and Bilal Nichols in 2018. Then David Montgomery in 2019. Now Kmet, Johnson, and Mooney last year.

If they can score some hits in this upcoming draft, the team will have a young foundation in place to perhaps get really serious about a deep playoff run. So much of it depends on what they do at quarterback. Rumors persist they’re scouring the veteran market for potential options. Is the draft also in play? Some experts believe it is.

Matt Nagy said it best. He believes they’re really close.

A solid quarterback and one more good draft? That could put the Chicago Bears on the NFC map. They still have a strong defense. There are quality offensive pieces scattered around. Provided they don’t get carried away, this roster is capable of making a run. They just need a few more good decisions and a little luck. All fans can do is wait to see what their first big move will be.