Cup of Joe: 2016 Draft – A Nice Air Freshener

Cup of Joe: 2016 Draft – A Nice Air Freshener
13 MAY 2016: A general view of Halas Hall in action during the Chicago Bears Rookie minicamp at Hallas Hall, in Lake Forest, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Written by Joe Tidei/Special to Bears Backer

One of the most important things I’ve learned watching sports; beware of garbage time. Teams and players who become good during and at the end of bad seasons. That was exactly my perspective going into Sunday’s game against San Francisco.

I’ve never believed in tanking, but I’ve also understood any success from here on out needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt given what we’ve witnessed this year.

The Bears stomped the 49ers and the most important storyline out of Sunday’s win wasn’t the final score. It’s how the win happened and the players who shined brightest; Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard and Nick Kwiatkoski. The building blocks of this organization, all from this year’s draft class, have been a nice air freshener to a rancid season.

Their production matters more than anyone else’s, sans whatever Matt Barkley does the rest of this year, and their development is huge for this team going forward.

Through 13 games, it looks like Ryan Pace knocked this draft class out of the park, assuming these guys continue to develop.

This doesn’t include Deoindre’ Hall, who flashed potential earlier this year before his injury and has been out since Week 5 and it looks like Hall may be good to go for Sunday vs Detroit. Also, Jonathan Bullard, who has been a bit disappointing but his floor is still that of rotational defensive lineman and ceiling of a versatile, impact starter.

Let’s be honest; rookies aren’t supposed to be good their first year. They’re supposed to be inconsistent and in over their heads, flashing their ability from time to time. Not Floyd, Whitehair, Howard and Kwiatkowski. They’re the lone bright spots in an otherwise miserable season and it’s a reason to be optimistic.

It’s both good and bad when rookies are the best and most consistent players on the team. Some of that has to do with injuries and suspensions.

Good because the draft is the bloodline of the organization. Great organizations consistently stack strong drafts every year. Their talent evaluation department is off the charts and they grow their own.

Bad because despite how good this rookie class has played, this team is still 3-9, but without them, especially Howard, this season could’ve been even worse.

Floyd leads all rookies in sacks, Howard is 2nd among rookies in rushing yards and Whitehair has settled in at Center to become damn good the last month and a half. Kwiatkoski is getting his shot and I’m excited to see what he can do as he keeps improving every game.

This isn’t dismissing the disappointment of Pace’s 2015 draft, however, that class needs context. Pace isn’t at fault for Kevin White or Hroniss Grasu’s injuries. They are an incomplete until we can see their ability on the field. Eddie Goldman looks to be the gem of this class and has quickly become a force on the defensive line.

Jeremy Langford is a decent rotational running back whose speed and quickness will compliment Howard’s power nicely. I still believe Adrian Amos is an ascending player. He’s flashed more playmaking this season, but his play the last month or so has fallen off.

Next season is a make or break year for Amos. Either he takes a big step forward or we’re probably looking at an average strong safety.

What gives me hope is that Pace improved as an evaluator from his first draft class to his second. He seems to have an eye for talent and that is promising for the Bears future. If Pace is able to continue his ascension and stack another strong draft this year, the Bears are in business.

For now though, watch the young players on this team closely. Their development is the most important part of the last 4 games. The Bears desperately need their arrows to continue pointing up into 2017.

Author’s note: Joe is an associate producer at CSN Chicago. Give him a follow on Twitter @Joe_Tidei. He talks Chicago sports all day every day.

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