Where "best available athlete" could lead Bears in draft's third round

Bears look at running backs, but best athlete approach could send them in other directions.

There is a reason NFL personnel people invented the saying "best available athlete."

It really comes down to this phrase because teams rate their players, set their draft boards and they take players according to who they believe is best on the board when they pick.

Need-driven picks invite total disaster unless they're needs and fall in that spot on the board.

"You have to be really careful with that because that's when you make mistakes," Bears general manager Ryan Pace told media at the combine. "We always say best player available, and every team says that."

When a team is looking for need rather than talent, they pick safety Brandon Hardin in the draft's third round, and he never plays a down for them while players like T.Y. Hilton, Mohamed Sanu, Nick Foles and Akiem Hicks go in the draft a few picks later to other teams.

When a team is looking for need and not talent, they pick Jonathan Bostic because their star linebacker's knee is shot, and tight end Travis Kelce is then selected by Kansas City 13 picks later.

When a team is looking for need and not talent, they pick defensive lineman Ego Ferguson and a few picks later Davante Adams, Carlos Hyde, Allen Robinson II, Jarvis Landry and Jimmy Garoppolo are picked by other teams.

And then that general manager is fired.

The new general manager comes in and takes untested receiver Kevin White, another perceived need, when Todd Gurley is drafted just two picks later by the Rams. But Pace learned quickly.

Drafting doesn't necessarily mean sitting still and taking what falls to you, and Pace has shown he can be aggressive. He did it with Mitchell Trubisky and Leonard Floyd. However, when your first pick doesn't come until the third round it really does become a matter of waiting for table scraps and hoping for something good to land in your plate.

The best approach in this case? Best available athlete, of course.

The Bears have one huge need in this draft and it's running back, but they're not so desperate they'll grab a player in Round 3 who doesn't really rate for their spot on the draft board.

They'll look for value.

Fortunately for the Bears, value in this draft in Round 3 or 4 very well could be a running back. There are so many interior defensive linemen, edge rushers, quarterbacks and receivers expected to be taken in the first three rounds, that some of the better running backs could be there for them.

They've talked or worked out 17 running backs. They're getting prepared if the running back available in Round 3 isn't rated high enough on their board, and they'll take one later.

They've spoken to or worked out 10 offensive linemen, including private workouts for Nate Davis of Charlotte, Brandon Hitner of Villanova and Hjalte Froholdt of Arkansas.

Offensive linemen always seem to be value positions and the number taken always varies. Mock drafts by draft anaylists Mel Kiper and Todd McShay of ESPN, Chad Reuter of NFL.com, Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.com and by Walter Football.com have between eight and 17 offensive linemen being chose before the Bears select at No. 87. So almost anything could happen at this position.

The Bears need cornerbacks and safeties, as well. The average number of safeties who'll be taken before the Bears pick in these mock drafts is eight, which might leave little value at the spot. The average of cornerbacks who are projected to go before No. 87 is 11. Again, finding value might be dicey.

Besides running back, the one position projected to be least picked over when the Bears select is one where they just took two players last year -- inside linebacker. Three mocks say five inside backers will be gone by then, one says four and another says two.

Roquan Smith and Joel Iyiegbuniwe were drafted last year but Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan are free agents next year. It's hard to see a real need unless they intend to let Trevathan or Kwiatkoski walk after this season.

Players like Germaine Pratt of North Carolina State (4.57-second 40), T.J. Edwards of Wisconsin and Cameron Smith of USC (39-inch vertical leap, 4.69 40) could be there at inside linebacker for No. 87 but the Bears have only talked to Central Michigan's Malik Fountain, Northern Iowa's Rickey Neal and Toledo's Richard Olekanma at this position.

What to do? It's why teams trade down.

You stay true to the draft board.

Twitter@BearsOnMaven

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