By the end of the night, they made an aggressive trade for a pick that energized the fan base and provided new hope at quarterback.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who for much of last season was considered a favorite to go No. 2 behind Trevor Lawrence, is the Bears' new QB1. The Bears traded up when Fields fell to No. 11. The Bears traded No. 20, a fifth-rounder this year and 2022 first- and fourth-round picks to move up. That's not cheap. But it might be well worth it.
In the moment, everything about the Fields move is a positive. It gives GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy a real chance to save their jobs with a big season, or at least something positive for the future. It gives Bears fans hope where there wasn't much before Thursday night. And while Fields was probably disappointed to fall out of the top 10, he lands with a franchise that is dying for a star at quarterback.
The Bears' quarterback history is miserable. The Bears' last first-team All-Pro quarterback was Johnny Lujack in 1950. He threw four touchdowns and 21 interceptions that season. Since 1963, three seasons before the first Super Bowl, the Bears' only Pro Bowl quarterbacks have been Jim McMahon (1985) and Mitchell Trubisky (2018).
It's hard to be that bad at quarterback over almost 60 years. Fields has a chance to change that history.
Fields isn't a perfect prospect, or he wouldn't have slipped past teams like the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. But there's a lot to like. He's tough, athletic and has a great arm. He has the accuracy that NFL evaluators look for. He was very productive at a big-time program.
Fields could end up making some teams look really bad for passing him (Broncos, we're looking at you ... more on them later). There's no reason, based on how well Fields played with the Buckeyes, to believe he'll be a bust.
That said, first-round picks come up short all the time. Maybe Fields will be another Trubisky, Cade McNown or Rex Grossman. But it's a move the Bears had to make and there was no guarantee they'd be able to make it on Thursday night. It worked out perfectly for them. Fields fell further than he probably should have. The Bears found a team willing to deal and weren't usurped by anyone else calling with a better offer.
If you had told Bears fans, basically anytime over the past year, that they would make the playoffs last season and still land Fields, they'd have been ecstatic. That was their reaction on Thursday night too, and rightfully so. Maybe Fields is finally the guy who becomes a star at quarterback for the Bears. You should be able to hit one every six decades or so.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from day one of the NFL draft:
Jacksonville Jaguars: Because there was so much drama involved with this draft, the Jaguars making one of the best (and admittedly, easiest) picks in many years came and went without much fanfare.
But for all the words that will be said about the more buzzy picks on Thursday night, nobody improved like the Jaguars.
Trevor Lawrence is a rare quarterback prospect. He's in the Joe Namath, John Elway, Andrew Luck tier of prospects. That doesn't mean he'll have a Hall of Fame career. But he has a better chance than most draftees.
Just because the pick has been known since the moment the Jaguars landed the first overall selection, let's not just gloss over that the Jaguars were the biggest winners of the draft.
Bill Belichick: Don't buy all the anti-Mac Jones rhetoric. That came after the reports that the 49ers might draft him at No. 3. And it made sense; Jones never profiled as a top-three pick.
But No. 15? To a team that didn't have a real answer at quarterback and didn't have to move up to get one? That's a winner.
Belichick often seems to have good fortune land in his lap, and that's one reason fans don't like him. And it happened again.
Jones is a great fit for the Patriots offense. He doesn't have an amazing upside, but he can process quickly and operate an offense at a high level. He's a good NFL prospect. Jones isn't Tom Brady and is very, very unlikely to be anywhere close, but stylistically they are similar. The Patriots will get the most out of Jones. He didn't go third but he landed in a perfect spot for his skill set.
And Belichick got his quarterback in the middle of the first round without having to trade up. That's a pretty good night.
San Francisco 49ers: No matter how multiple prominent NFL reporters got word that the 49ers were eyeing Mac Jones with the third pick, the 49ers didn't go that route.
49ers fans can relax.
The 49ers took North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who is a better prospect than Jones. He has a huge upside in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Jones might end up being the better NFL player, but at this moment you'd bet on Lance over Jones.
If Lance comes along quickly, the 49ers could be a contender. They were in the Super Bowl in 2019, then had a horribly unlucky season with injuries and COVID-19 issues in 2020. There's no reason they can't be one of the NFL's best teams again in 2021. Lance will help them get there. It could end up being a phenomenal pick, even if San Francisco kept everyone in suspense until it was made.
Denver Broncos, for now: The Broncos draft needs to be graded on a huge curve.
If Denver lands Aaron Rodgers, them passing on a quarterback at No. 9 will make sense. But if the Broncos passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones to pick cornerback Patrick Surtain II and roll with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock at quarterback, it's a decision that could define new GM George Paton.
Lock hasn't shown he can be a high-end NFL starter. Bridgewater was a nice value addition, but there's a reason the Panthers paid $7 million of Bridgewater's salary and took just a sixth-round pick back to get rid of him. He's not a long-term answer at starting quarterback.
A report from Mike Klis of 9News in Denver said Paton "cooled" on the idea of taking a quarterback at No. 9 when the team landed Bridgewater, who probably profiles best as a top-end backup. That's pretty hard to process.
Denver has become the glaring example of how tough it can be to replace a legend at quarterback. They have tried everything and nothing has worked. Maybe they land Rodgers. Maybe Lock or Bridgewater shine. Perhaps Fields and Jones are busts. But if this is just the latest misstep the Broncos have made at quarterback, it will be a tough one to move past.
Green Bay Packers: A first-round cornerback, who very few had mocked in the first round, is unlikely to make Aaron Rodgers happy.
The Packers had a chance to send a message to Rodgers by taking one of the top receivers left on the board at No. 29, like Elijah Moore. They took cornerback Eric Stokes, and many considered that a reach. The Packers shouldn't necessarily make picks just to win over Rodgers, but this year might have been the exception.
The Packers have known for a while that Rodgers is unhappy, and that news broke on Thursday. They did not make a trade before or during the first round, which limits their options. Rodgers is the MVP and will still get a haul no matter when he's dealt, if he is, but the ideal time to do it would have been before the draft started. Waiting a year or more for future draft picks doesn't make for a great trade scenario.
Now the Packers are stuck either trying to trade Rodgers under less-than-perfect circumstances, convincing Rodgers to come back (after passing on a receiver in the first round yet again) or worrying he'll leave the Packers to go host "Jeopardy!" The Packers were considered Super Bowl contenders when Thursday started. After everything that unfolded over the day, it's hard to believe that anymore.
Miami Dolphins: It was curious why the Dolphins would trade up to No. 6, paying a pretty price, without knowing who would be on the board with the sixth pick.
The Dolphins will say they always wanted Jaylen Waddle with that pick, and perhaps that's true. But it seems unlikely.
The Dolphins traded the No. 12 overall pick, a fourth-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder to move up to No. 6, getting a fifth-round pick back in the trade. It's impossible to know exactly what a team is thinking, but presumably the Dolphins had to feel tight end Kyle Pitts or receiver Ja'Marr Chase — clearly the top players at their positions in this draft — would be available. Then Pitts went No. 4 and Chase went No. 5.
Waddle could be a tremendous player and if he is, the Dolphins won't worry much about that 2022 first-round pick. But Waddle probably wasn't the intended target when the trade was made. It was a gamble to make a trade that early, and it presumably didn't pay off as Miami hoped.
Teams unnecessarily taking running backs: Running backs do matter. But they can be found later in the draft. Sometimes after the draft.
The Jaguars know this. Last year they got James Robinson as an undrafted free agent, and he had 1,414 yards from scrimmage. He was a good NFL starter.
And the Jaguars, who went 1-15 last season and have many needs, took a running back 25th overall. Clemson running back Travis Etienne is a very good player, but was that the best way for the Jaguars to use their draft resources?
The Pittsburgh Steelers also made a questionable pick at running back. Najee Harris is a good player. But the Steelers might not have anyone to block for him. Their offensive line is in disrepair, and passing on much-needed O-line help for a running back seemed like an odd decision with the 24th pick. But the Steelers seemingly locked into that decision early on and stuck with it.
Harris and Etienne could be good players in the NFL. They've got the talent. It just seemed those teams could have better used those picks to fill other holes, which is the case for most early running back picks.
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