The 2020 NFL Draft is just over two months away, with the NFL Scouting Combine next up on the draft calendar two weeks from now. But before we can look ahead to April's incoming class for the Bears, we must first look back on how 2019's rookie class panned out for a team that failed to meet expectations in almost every way.
This year will mark the second straight draft that the Bears will be without a first-round pick because of the September 2018 trade for Khalil Mack. The 2020 draft has more optimism around it because Chicago does have two picks in the top 50 (Nos. 43 and 50), but it's still without the sparkle of the first-round savior. And as we saw from the 2019 class, that means something.
Ryan Pace's first selection in 2019 wasn't until the third round when he traded up for running back David Montgomery. All things considered, Montgomery had a strong first year, running for 889 yards and six touchdowns, and it was because of him that Chicago's rookie class earned a C+ from NFL.com.
Besides Montgomery's production, the Bears didn't get much of anything out of the rookie class. This isn't all that surprising, considering Chicago made just five selections last April, with Montgomery being the only player taken before Day 3 of the draft. Coming out of Georgia, (Riley) Ridley was advertised as a polished route runner -- like his brother, Calvin -- but he couldn't even crack the game day roster until Week 13. Adding insult to ineffectiveness: The very next two wideouts selected after Ridley -- Hunter Renfrow and Darius Slayton -- provided significant Year 1 contributions.
Only the Lions' rookie class received a worse grade (C) than the Bears. The Packers (B+) and Vikings (B-) enjoyed positive returns from their first-year players, which isn't too surprising considering each team had successful playoff runs in 2019.
The lack of production from Ridley (six catches for 69 yards) was a big disappointment for the Bears, but he did flash upside toward the end of the season and should be a bigger factor in the passing game in 2020. That said, the rest of the rookie group wasn't great, and the more bad drafts Pace stacks together, the worse this team will slowly but surely become.
The rest of Chicago's 2019 rookie class included cornerback Duke Shelley, running back Kerrith Whyte, defensive back Stephen Denmark, and undrafted free agent tight end Jesper Horsted.
It was Horsted, aside from Montgomery, who impressed the most despite being the least-heralded of the bunch. Whyte is now a Steeler and Denmark is so raw that he may never make it off of the practice squad. Shelley has a chance to carve out a reserve role in the secondary in 2020, but his inability to see the field more in 2019 does create concern.
Pace's missed evaluation on Mitchell Trubisky is the obvious headline-grabber, but if he continues to struggle in the NFL draft, the Bears will be back to being one of the NFL's cellar-dwellers sooner than later.
Bears' 2019 rookie class ranked 3rd-best in NFC North originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago