NFL Chicago Bears

5 NFL Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters for Chicago Bears

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5 NFL Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters for Chicago Bears

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty evident that the Chicago Bears will invest the majority, if not all, of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. The 2013 NFL season has seen the Bears’ defense at the bottom of just about every major statistical category.

Chicago was 30th in the league in overall defense (394.6 yards per game), and dead last in both stopping the run (161.4 ypg) and sacks (31).

Two of the main reasons for the Bears’ despicable defense was injuries and old age. The strength of Chicago’s defense has been the play on the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, both starting defensive tackles, Henry Melton and Nate Collins, were out for virtually the entire season, leaving the Bears’ D-line depth thin. Furthermore, 34-year-old Julius Peppers clearly started to show his age, posting the lowest number of sacks (7.5) he’s ever accumulated in a Bears' uniform.

In the secondary, cornerback Charles Tillman continued to play at a high level, but a triceps injury suffered in Week 10 sidelined him for the remainder of the year. As for the safeties, both Chris Conte and Major Wright played poorly.

Going into the 2014 offseason, Chicago will have a number of key defensive players who will be unrestricted free agents, including Collins, Melton, Tillman and Wright. There is a very good chance that some of these standouts will be lured away from the Windy City by big contracts.

With that in mind, the logical thing to do is to have a backup plan in the event that voids are left on the roster. Free agency is always a smart option, but chances are that a pretty penny will be needed to get some quality players. Of course, the other option is to look at this year’s NFL prospects.

There are numerous players coming out of college who are big enough, strong enough, fast enough, and smart enough to step onto an NFL field and contribute in a starting lineup from day one. The Bears will have the opportunity to snag a few of these players this May.

Here’s a look at the top five prospects that I feel can be instant starters for Chicago in 2014.

Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller.

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5. DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota

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Ra’Shede Hageman is a great bull rusher, and shows versatility to play over the center and at the three-technique position in the interior. Hageman’s size (6-foot-6, 318 pounds) and strength could help the aging Peppers in pass-rush situations.

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4. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

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Assuming that Tillman decides to leave Chicago, Darqueze Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner, will pretty much have no choice but to step in as the Bears’ starter at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings.

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3. FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

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At 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the size to be an intimidating force over the middle, and the ball-hawking skills to help bring dominance back to the Bears’ defense. Clinton-Dix could have a very good chance of unseating Conte as the team’s starting free safety.

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2. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

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Timmy Jernigan is very athletic for a player his size (6-foot-2, 298 pounds), and has the skillset to help improve the pass rush and run defense. Jernigan can be a liable replacement just in case the Bears decide to not re-sign either Collins or Melton.

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1. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

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Louis Nix III has the frame (6-foot-2, 345 pounds) to come in and instantly have a positive impact on improving last year’s worse run defense. Nix would be a great complement to either Collins or Melton in the interior part of the defensive line.