Ryan Pace is more than just the reigning Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year for 2018, an award voted on by his fellow league executives. After four full seasons on the job with the Bears, he is a general manager with a track record.
Teams’ performances in free agency can be tricky to evaluate, but suffice to say, the Bears made their quantum leap last year in large part because of the performances of former free agents such as Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Lynch, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Bobby Massie, etc.
However, the overwhelming majority of experts I trust will tell you the draft is the true test of top NFL executives, and success there is the best way to build a successful organization.
It’s also the easiest aspect of a general manager’s job to evaluate – as long as you wait at least two, sometimes three years to give each draft a grade.
Pace now has three drafts that we can accurately grade. How has he done?
First round – Kevin White; second round – Eddie Goldman; third round – Hroniss Grasu; fourth round – Jeremy Langford; fifth round – Adrian Amos; and sixth round – Tayo Fabuluje
Undrafted Free Agents: Cam Meredith, Bryce Callahan
As the seventh overall pick on Day 1, White was a significant bust. Grasu also was a miss, and Fabuluje never played in the league.
Langford showed promise early before he was waived but continues to stick around the NFL. Goldman, Amos and Callahan all became quality starters, and Meredith was a solid No. 2 or 3 receiver before tearing his knee.
Grade: When you miss badly in the top 10, we can’t grade this any higher than a B-, and a C+ may be more reasonable.
First round – Leonard Floyd; second round – Cody Whitehair; third round – Jonathan Bullard; fourth round – Nick Kwiatkoski; fourth round – Deon Bush; fourth round – Deiondre Hall; fifth round – Jordan Howard; sixth round – DeAndre Houston-Carson; seventh round – Daniel Braverman
UDFAs: Roy Robertson-Harris, Ben Braunecker
Floyd has been a late bloomer – after being mostly slowed early by injuries – but appeared to play up to his top-10 status the second half of last season. Whitehair and Howard became starters as rookies and have been to Pro Bowls. Bullard and Robertson-Harris are solid contributors. With the exception of Braverman, everyone else in this group has become at least a key backup and special-teams performers and remain in the league.
Grade: That’s a solid B+ or an A if Floyd and Robertson-Harris continue to improve.
First round – Mitch Trubisky; second round – Adam Shaheen; fourth round – Eddie Jackson; fourth round – Tarik Cohen; fifth round – Jordan Morgan
UDFAs: Isaiah Irving, Raashad Coward, Tanner Gentry
Trubisky arrived as an NFL starting quarterback in only his second season and appears to have a lot of room left to grow.
Shaheen has been slowed by injuries and probably was always going to be a three-year guy coming from Ashland University. But Jackson and Cohen were both first-team All Pros in only their second seasons, Morgan still is in the league with the Jets, and Irving and Coward have shown real promise.
Grade: Already a B+ at worst, probably an A- and a certain A if Trubisky takes another step.
Talk about a sea change from the second half of the Jerry Angelo regime and the Phil Emery years. It makes it easy to see why Pace currently is rated the best in the business by some who should know.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.