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As we endure the paralysis-by-analysis portion of the pre-draft process, some perspective for Bears fans wondering what they’ll do next Thursday evening and the first part of Friday as other teams make draft picks:
Khalil Mack has averaged 10 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles annually over the first five years of his career and crested both totals in a 2018 Bears debut exceeding most of our wildest imaginations, despite an ankle injury zapping his productivity for one-quarter of the season.
Over the past 33 years, only six rookies have met or exceeded those averages: Charles Haley, Leslie O’Neal, Jevon Kearse, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney and ex-Bear Mark Anderson. Only Haley and Anderson were drafted after the first part of Round 1. The first of two first-rounders Oakland commanded from the Bears for Mack is No. 24 overall.
Anthony Miller, whom the Bears moved back into Round 2 to pluck at No. 51 overall last year in exchange for their 2020 second-rounder, led the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns, despite battling a series of painful shoulder dislocations that required surgery after his rookie season.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only 11 receivers selected after the 56th overall pick – which the Bears sent to New England for the right to draft Miller – have tallied more than seven receiving touchdowns.
Can't understand my concept? If not, here’s Bears general manager Ryan Pace in September explaining his trade rationale: “Again, I want to stress the importance. When we look at this next draft, our first-round pick is Khalil Mack, and our next-round pick is Anthony Miller, and the next draft we have two 2s. I'll take that. We can do some damage there.”
Lest we forget the damage the Bears already have done.
Mack and Miller helped catalyze the Bears' first division title in almost a decade, and Mack’s track record portends us again penciling in double-digit sacks and at least a few takeaways, if not another Defensive Player of the Year-caliber campaign.
Even in a special draft for defense, the chances the Bears would have coaxed that production this season from the 24th overall pick are remote.
Miller’s encore expectations certainly are a bigger mystery than those of Mack, one of the game’s most consistently dependable singular forces. But if he’s healthy, there’s ample evidence to believe the 24-year-old receiver could be poised for far greater heights in Year 2.
His red-zone prowess as a rookie mirrored Miller’s Memphis conquests, but we only saw flashes of the lethal run-after-the-catch ability that helped him average more than 15 yards a reception with the Tigers and is so vital in Matt Nagy’s offense. Miller might not be as explosive, but check out the sophomore improvements Tyreek Hill made under Nagy in Kansas City to get a feel for what could lie ahead.
The Bears must manage Mack’s cap ramifications and ensure the extra second-rounder from Oakland next year is parlayed into a first-round talent. But when draft grades are assigned next week, remember the Bears’ relatively small class already is paying big-time dividends. Or as the late, great Mac Miller once rapped, it’s already “given you something that your eyes can witness.”