Did the Bears need another wide receiver? Not really.
But after addressing running back by trading up and drafting David Montgomery in the third round on Friday, did the Bears really have any other truly glaring needs?
An argument could be made for a few positions: Tight end, edge rusher, cornerback and safety all come to mind. But whoever else the Bears were going to draft after landing Montgomery was always going to be a depth piece, one or two spots removed from the top of the depth chart. So why not take the best player available?
That’s precisely what Ryan Pace did with pick No. 126, landing Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley.
“It’s a great example of us taking the best player on our board,” Pace said.
For what it’s worth, the Athletic’s Dane Brugler had Ridley No. 59 on his top 100 rankings. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris had him in his top 75. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly had Ridley in his top 100. By a number of accounts outside the favorable walls of Halas Hall, the Bears got themselves a good player with the 126th pick.
But being able to pick Ridley while not worrying about filling a true need with a fourth-round pick was yet another signal of how strong this Bears roster is heading into the 2019 season.
“The roster is at a point that we don’t have to force anything,” Pace said. “And that’s our mindset every draft, but to have a player of that caliber there and comfortably be able to take him was really a no-brainer because he was so high on our board.”
Pace has never been one to outwardly force picks based on need — perhaps trading up to draft Mitch Trubisky could be a counter-argument, though good quarterbacks on rookie contracts are the most valuable commodity in the NFL today. Previously, though, everything could’ve been considered a need on a roster with a dearth of talent.
But drafting a player like Ridley is what good teams are able to do. They may not need Ridley to be an important contributor now, but what if a year from now they’re in a cap crunch and have to make a difficult decision to cut a highly-paid receiver? Or what if an injury occurs?
Or, to put it another way: If Ridley develops like the Bears believe he can, it’ll hardly be a bad thing for the team to have another good player on its roster.
Ridley comes to the Bears with an important trait: His route running ability. That’s an increasingly difficult skill to find in the ranks of college receivers, who so often run simple route concepts and have limited route trees and are able to win on pure strength or athleticism.
Ridley is strong, no doubt, but the first thing Pace mentioned when rattling off his strengths was his route running ability. That matters.
“He has a savviness to him to know how to set guys up,” Pace said. “… So when you’re watching him, you consistently see him separating from man coverage and I think it’s because of his physical skillset but also because he’s a very good route runner. So that’s one of the first things that jumps out — just how how defined his routes are, how crisp his routes are and how he knows how to set guys up.”
Nagy, too, praised the route running acumen Ridley will bring with him to Halas Hall, as well as a good grasp of some of the finer points of playing the receiver position.
“He does win a lot more than 50-50 balls,” Nagy said. “He wins a lot of those, in the routes that he runs. He’s always extending his arms. He’s catching the ball away from his chest. He has very, very, extremely natural hands, which is friendly to a quarterback. And he has the route running. He has confidence and when he was in here with us just talking to him, with where he’s at and what he believes in himself and what he can do, we like that. And as Ryan said, he was sitting at a great spot for us and he does nothing but create competition and all of our guys are going to be ready for it.”
It’s far too early to say Ridley will absolutely work out in the NFL, of course. He’s not particularly fast and didn’t have much in the way of college production: 44 catches, 570 yards, nine touchdowns — numbers similar to what 2018 seventh-round pick Javon Wims did his final year at Georgia (45 catches, 720 yards, 7 TDs).
But he represented something larger for the Bears as a franchise: The best player available, and the team’s ability to confidently take that player without sacrificing a glaring need for it.
“Truly, by far, (he was) the best player on our board,” Pace said. “And (we’re) very excited to select him.”