The Chicago Bears were very active in free agency during this offseason, addressing some key needs and improving depth throughout the roster. The defense was a nightmare last year and was a key focus in free agency, especially up front. With four big name signees (or re-signees) on the defensive line, don’t expect the Bears to focus their premium picks in the 2014 NFL Draft on the unit. Instead, expect them to put much of their energy into their defensive backfield.
Yes, CBs Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman were re-signed, and while that helps the secondary for the short term, it doesn’t help them for the long haul as they’re 30 and 33 years old respectively, and riding four and one-year deals. Behind them is nickel back Kelvin Hayden, also in the north-of-30 club. At safety, the future is even bleaker.
Chris Conte and Major Wright were arguably the worst safety duo in the league last year, and Wright is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Depth was added via free agency with Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Craig Steltz either signed or re-signed. Still, none of them are impact players who will really improve the secondary. All are better special teams players than frontline starters in a league prioritizing defending the pass.
It’s abundantly clear the Bears need to put their secondary at the top of their list of priorities for the ’14 Draft.
Picking at no. 14, the Bears will be in a good place to just sit back and let the board unfold unto them. The top two safeties are clearly Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville), and there’s a good chance one or both could still be there at 14. There’s a better chance Pryor will be there instead of Clinton-Dix, mainly because both the Detroit Lions (picking at 10) and St. Louis Rams (picking at 13) have long been rumored to be potential landing spots for the talented cover safety.
Both Clinton-Dix and Pryor would step into starting roles immediately, though I think Clinton-Dix carries a little more value because of his mature coverage abilities. Pryor is a thumper no doubt and can really lay the wood, but gives up far too many big plays, takes too many risks and is still learning the position. Just my simple opinion, but good cover safeties are harder to find than hard-hitting ones.
Cornerback will also present some intriguing options at 14. Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) and Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) are tremendous talents and either likely would’ve been the first corner off the board in last years draft. Both are big time playmakers with the ability to play both man and zone at high levels, and have the skill set to play right away.
The beauty of this draft class, however, is it’s tremendous depth, so the Bears should continue prioritizing the unit even after the first round. Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Keith McGill (Utah), Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) and Antone Exum (Virginia Tech) are guys to keep an eye on in rounds two through five, and all fit DC Mel Tucker’s preference for lengthy playmakers on the back end. Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Craig Loston (LSU) and Ahmad Dixon (Baylor) are some early to mid round safety prospects who would also mesh well in the Bears defense.