Casual fans were drawn into the 2021 Chicago Bears draft by the big 1st round move they hoped would come. GM Ryan Pace, sensing the need for a bold stroke, moved up from 20th overall to 11th in order to select quarterback Justin Fields from Ohio State. Just like that the franchise had a quarterback they could potentially build around. However, it takes more than one pick to make a successful draft.
Pace had work to do. While his top choice impressed the masses, it may have been his work later in the draft that cemented his work with the experts. Nowhere more so than the 6th round. Historically it hasn’t been a honey hole for Pace in terms of producing quality talents. The only one of note to this point who has stood out is DeAndre Houston-Carson and that’s mostly on special teams. Could this recent crop be different?
Mike Renner of ESPN and Pro Football Focus thinks so.
He produced a list of the 10 biggest steals made by NFL teams in the draft. Two of them came from the Bears. Both in the 6th round. First was running back Khalil Herbert out of Virginia Tech. Pace acquired him after a trade back from 208th overall to 217th in a trade with Seattle. Renner seems to think not enough teams gave enough credit to how good this kid is because he only had one year of standout production.
“Herbert has legit home run speed and even had a kick return score called back this past season. At 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, he has the ideal body type to contribute on any down when called upon.”
In reality, Herbert started off in dominant fashion in 2019 for Kansas before a decision to redshirt cut his season to just four games. He had 384 yards and two touchdowns. This led him to transfer to Virginia Tech where he promptly posted 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns. He also added another 430 on kick returns. He wasn’t alone though. New teammate Thomas Graham Jr., a cornerback out of Oregon also earned high marks from Renner.
“We saw Graham as a third-round prospect, but the Bears — who were already in the running for having the best draft of all 32 franchises — swooped in and got him with the final pick of the sixth round. He should be a fantastic fit in a Chicago defense that will be bursting with Fangio’s influence under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.”
If this is true then Ryan Pace will further cement his reputation
Since arriving in Chicago back in 2015, the GM has established himself as one of the best in the league when it comes to finding value in the later rounds. In that time, no fewer than seven players taking in the 4th round or later have gone on to become standout contributors for the team.
- Adrian Amos
- Nick Kwiatkoski
- Eddie Jackson
- Tarik Cohen
- Bilal Nichols
- Darnell Mooney
It certainly appears like Herbert and Graham are more than just your run-of-the-mill 6th round picks. Herbert was hampered by his redshirt issues at Kansas. Graham likely dropped because of his decision to opt out in 2020 over the pandemic. Both had a good chance of going earlier in the draft had things off the field gone a bit differently.
One also shouldn’t discount Dazz Newsome.
He’s the “other” 6th round pick Ryan Pace made in that draft. A wide receiver out of North Carolina, he was outstanding in 2019 with 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. His somewhat down season last year combined with being in the shadow of teammate Dyami Brown likely caused him to slip. Yet the tape shows a dynamic player with a knack for making big plays.
The odds of all three players working out are remote. However, by the sound of things, it appears Pace did his job. He found three quality talents who have the capability to make noise on Sundays.