Bears NFL Draft Preview: Bears just can’t seem to settle safety positions

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Bears just can’t seem to settle safety positions Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

When the Bears secured veteran safety Antrel Rolle early last offseason, then struck gold with Adrian Amos as their fifth-round draft choice, the turbulence that has plagued the Bears at safety appeared to be quieting. But then Rolle, who had missed just one game in nine NFL seasons, was hobbled by ankle and knee injuries that left him inactive for nine games.

The injuries had the Bears scrambling for alternatives, starting Harold Jones-Quartey in four games and Chris Prosinski in five, with decidedly mixed results. The Bears are set with Amos at one safety spot, and with Jones-Quartey and Prosinski as depth, but Rolle at age 33 (34 in December) is nearing a fork in his road, although the hope is he can get in touch with his inner Charles Woodson.

“It was a difficult [post-season] evaluation on him because of the [knee] injury,” GM Ryan Pace said at last month’s NFL owners meetings. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the evaluation on him with him being injury but we were satisfied.”

How satisfied is a significant question. Rolle is due $2.7 million in 2016, not a cap-breaker, and the Bears did not cut ties early in free agency as teams sometimes do out of respect for veterans no longer in the plan. But the Bears will not start training camp or the regular season without added insurance, particularly at a position very much involved on special teams.

Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

With added picks in rounds four and six, the Bears will begin the draft with excellent options in the range where bargains at safety can be had (see: Amos). The Bears have a need in the position area, just not at the level of some others. The draft class is adequate, meaning not a lot of, if any, first-rounders, leaving possibilities in the range the Bears may be shopping.

If there’s a problem it is in that something in the water at Halas Hall has skewed evaluations of safety prospects. Over the past 15 years or so, some have come in third rounds (Brandon Hardin, Chris Conte, Major Wright), some have come in fourths (Brock Vereen, Craig Steltz, Todd Johnson), some have come in fifths (Amos, Kevin Payne, Bobby Gray), some have come in sixths (Al Afalava, Chris Harris).

But very few from the seemingly endless list have amounted to enough beyond the occasional Amos or Conte or Harris, usually for a year or two. The Bears project more than that for Amos, and they hope for whomever else they add to that list this draft.

Consensus is that the safety class is less than stellar “but there’s more depth in this class than people are preaching,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who added that as many as 10 safeties could be selected in the draft’s first three rounds.

Keep an eye on ...

Vonn Bell, Ohio State: Solid pass defender rather than just a box player. Had nine interceptions, eight over last two years, plus 15 pass breakups. Could fit at CB with coverage skills.

Karl Joseph, West Virginia: Among best cover safeties in the class before tearing his ACL mid-2015. Four-year starter who went against Kevin White in practice; possible bargain late. “Joseph is the most complete safety in the draft,” McShay said.

Jayron Kearse, Clemson: Had seven interceptions in three seasons, with strong a strong 2014 season and size (213 pounds) to be a Kam Chancellor type.

Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame: Physical tackler (136 over last two seasons) with size (6-0, 210). Not a top cover safety but may be ideal fit as nickel LB.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?


Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.