Hub Arkush: Can you name the Chicago Bears greatest NFL Draft of all time?

There are a few great options from which to choose

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Those were the Bears teams built by Jim Finks, and remaining amply stocked after his departure following the 1983 Draft by Bill Tobin — two of the best talent evaluators ever.

Between 1975 and 1983, Finks drafted 15 of the 22 starters on the Bears Super Bowl champions and added three more starters — Jay Hilgenberg, Dennis McKinnon and Leslie Frazier — as undrafted rookie free agents.

That ’85 team is often recognized as the greatest team in NFL history over a single season, etching in stone the premise that great NFL teams are built though the Draft.

With the NFL’s 2019 Draft right around the corner, and the Bears starting to show some awfully solid drafting chops again under general manager Ryan Pace, it got us to thinking: which have been the Bears’ greatest Drafts of all time.

I’m sure you all have your own opinions, but for my money these are the Bear’s top three. Players are listed with the round they were chosen and what pick they were overall in parentheses. These lists include only the players that succeeded in the NFL, not all players drafted.

3RD Best All Time — 1975

RB Walter Payton (1st/4), DE Mike Hartenstine (2nd/31), CB Virgil Livers (4th/83), OG Revie Sorey (5th/110), QB Bob Avellini (6th/135), Tom Hicks (6th/151), LB Joe Harris (8th/197), Roger Stillwell (9th/212), Doug Plank (12th/291) and Roland Harper (17th/420).

2ND Best All Time — 1983

OT Jimbo Covert (1st/6), Willie Gault (1st/18), Mike Richardson (2nd/33), Dave Duerson (3rd/64), Tom Thayer (4th/91), Richard Dent (8th/203) and Mark Bortz (8th/219).

Greatest All-Time Bears draft — 1965

MLB Dick Butkus (1st/3), Gale Sayers 1st/4), Steve DeLong (1st/6), Jim Nance (4th/45), Dick Gordon (7th/88), Frank Cornish (11th /144), Frank Pitts 16/213 and Ralph Kurek (20th/269).

Finks took over as the Bears general manager in the summer of 1974, and the 1975 Draft was his first as the boss of the team’s football operations.

While Payton was certainly not an unknown, coming out of Jackson State at a time when historically black colleges were viewed as somewhat akin to “Division II talent,” many thought Payton was a reach.

Clearly, Finks knew better as “Sweetness” went on to join the conversation about who has been the greatest player in the history of the game.

After the Bears served as one of the NFL’s doormats for over a decade, all of the players listed — other than Stillwell (injuries) and Harris (didn’t make Bears but played 6 years in the NFL) — formed a major part of the nucleus of Chicago’s ’77 and ’79 playoff teams.

The ’83 group is often included in discussions about the top five Drafts in league history – I’ll explain why it’s only second for the Bears in a moment.

Suffice to say one Draft that produced seven starters on the Super Bowl XX Champions and 12 Pro Bowl appearances is an awfully nice haul.

How can any Draft — even the Bears’ 1965 haul — surpass the 1983 group?

The Bears’ 1965 Draft is the only time in history an NFL team drafted two Hall of Famers – Butkus and Sayers – in the first round, back-to-back no less, and like Payton, Butkus is prominent in the debate over who greatest player in the NFL’s storied history.

If you’re not familiar with the Bears’ next two picks, DeLong and Nance chose the AFL Chargers and Patriots, respectively, at the height of the NFL/AFL bidding wars in the last summer before the merger. DeLong became one of the AFL’s best defensive tackles, Nance arguably its best running back.

Gordon would set an NFL single-season receptions record with the Bears, and Cornish, Pitts and Kurek would go on to long and productive careers as starters.

If Pace can come up with a Draft to match one of these three in the next year or two, we could be looking at the reincarnation of those ’85 Bears.

Pro Football Weekly