CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Last in a series.
Bears pre-draft situation
A focus of the offseason was unmistakable: Upgrade a secondary that was among the NFL's historically worst at generating takeaways. Less than one month into free agency the Bears had turned over three-fourths of the starting secondary, with no sign that the makeover of a defense that produced a record-low 11 takeaways was done.
The Bears cut veteran cornerback Tracy Porter after signing Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper as the presumed starting cornerbacks. The team also re-signed cornerback Johnathan Banks, a late-season pickup last year, and added B.W. Webb to that group, although the Bears become Webb's fifth team in five years, so expectations are tempered. Quintin Demps was brought in from the Texans to start at one safety spot. The other safety has been Adrian Amos, who has started 30 games in his two NFL seasons, played more than 1,800 snaps and has yet to intercept a single pass.
Bryce Callahan started five games at cornerback and another five as the nickel corner but, like Amos, is 20 games into his NFL career with zero interceptions and has yet to force or recover a fumble. Cre'Von LeBlanc was a promising waiver pickup from New England and becomes part of the competition at nickel.
The 2016 draft placed a mid-level emphasis on the secondary, with picks of Deon Bush, Deiondre' Hall and DeAndre Houston-Carson all drafted in the mid rounds but not staying healthy or on the field enough to make any appreciable impact. Add Kyle Fuller, the 2014 first-round pick and last No. 1 from a previous regime, to the non-impact ledger, missing all of last season because of an August knee surgery; the organization did not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, and the Bears are unlikely to keep him around as a backup with a $1.74 million base this year.
Pre-draft depth-chart'ing starters
CB - Prince Amukamara
CB - Marcus Cooper
SS - Quintin Demps
FS - Adrian Amos
NB - Bryce Callahan
Reserves: Johnathan Banks, De’Vante Bausby, Deon Bush, Kyle Fuller, Jacoby Glenn, Deiondre’ Hall, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Harold Jones-Quartey, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis, Chris Prosinski, Rashad Reynolds, B.W. Webb.
Bears draft priority: High
Callahan, LeBlanc and depth like Banks and Harold Jones-Quartey may develop into serviceable NFL players but the Bears have had too much “serviceable” and not enough “elite” in their cornerbacks and safeties. The 2017 draft is rated as potentially one of the best-ever for cornerbacks, and two safeties – LSU’s Jamal Adams, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker – could lead to a rarity of both being picked in the top 10.
“I love Malik Hooker. I think he’s the best centerfield safety I’ve seen in years on tape,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who considers Adams a safer pick but not the ball-finder that Hooker is. But Mayock expressed serious concerns about Hooker’s injury history and durability.
GM Ryan Pace has placed a premium on a ballhawking safety and acknowledged that such a creature does indeed live within this year’s draft. During Pace’s tenure with the New Orleans personnel departments the Saints selected defensive backs with one of their top two picks in eight of the 10 drafts between 2005-14.
Those picks included safety Kenny Vaccaro at No. 15 in 2013, safety Malcolm Jenkins at No. 14 in 2009 and safety Roman Harper in the 2006 second round. Safety Josh Bullocks (second round, 2005) finished his career in the 2010 with the Bears.
Pace has selected four defensive backs among the 15 Bears picks in his two drafts as general manager. But two were fourth-rounders, one a fifth and one a sixth, and none were expected to be day one starters; Amos became a starter when neither Ryan Mundy nor Brock Vereen proved capable. He is unlikely to go that deep into his third draft before picking another.
Keep an eye on ...
Jamal Adams, S, LSU Not the interception maker that Hooker was in ’16 but his 4.33-sec. time in a post-Combine 40 sent his stock soaring. A hitter and possibly a prototype strong safety rather than a ball hawk, but “I can play everything in the back end, whether that's covering in the slot, whether that's playing man-free, whether that's being in the A and B gap, filling that hole, or locking down tight ends,” Adams declared during the Combine. “I feel like I'm versatile to play everything in the back end, and that's what makes me a special player." ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has slotted Adams going 7-10 in the first round.
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State Bears arranged a private meeting but too much of a major injury cloud hangs over Hooker, arguably the best pass-defender among the safety prospects. “Hooker, he’s got a little Ed Reed in him,” Kiper said. “I think when you look at Hooker, he’s not that super-aggressive tackling safety, but you sacrifice a little bit now because the NFL is a pass-happy league. But he’s an adequate tackler.”
John Johnson, S, Boston College Four-year player with excellent coverage skills and ability to make plays on the football. Good prospect if he lasts into third round.
Josh Jones, S, N.C. State Another DB with whom the Bears set up a private workout. Jones had 8 interceptions over three productive college seasons and showed impressive (4.41) 40 speed at 220 pounds. Not rated as highly as Adams or Hooker but projects as a day one starter even coming via second round.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State The consensus top cover corner but who has missed significant time in two seasons because of hamstring injuries, which are a red flag because of recurrence possibilities – which included another strain while running at the Combine. The fact that Lattimore later tweeted that it wasn’t a hamstring, but instead a hip flexor problem, made matters worse on some teams’ draft boards. Lattimore has elite speed and had 4 interceptions last season but the injuries have dropped him down in some first-round projections. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock projects Lattimore going within the first seven picks of the draft.
Ezra Robinson, CB, Tennessee State The Bears thought enough of Robinson to meet privately with the alum from a program that has sent Claude Humphrey, Ed Too Tall Jones, Richard Dent and others to the NFL. If teams are satisfied with his mindset, he did intercept 5 last season and may be a mid-round bargain.