A safety at No. 3? Historically it's a reach, but maybe not for Bears in 2017

A safety at No. 3? Historically it's a reach, but maybe not for Bears in 2017

Since 1991, only eight safeties have been among the first 10 players selected in the NFL Draft. Of those, only three have been top five picks.

With the Bears having across-the-board needs, grabbing a safety with the No. 3 pick in three months may seem like a stretch. But ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Jacksonville Jaguars nabbing LSU safety Jamal Adams with the fourth overall pick, and mentioned on Thursday that the Bears could be in the mix for him as well. If Ryan Pace & Co. are looking for the best available player, Adams could wind up being that guy. 

Adams' versatility, notably, would answer a question Pace will have to pose when looking at a safety: Would he prefer a safety who can be a rangy cover guy, or does he want a physical, downhill player who can line up closer to the box? 

"He can do anything you want," Kiper said. "He can cover on the back end as a center fielder, he can come up in the box, he tackles well, he works hard. He's going to be a premier player."

The 6-foot-1, 213 pound Adams totaled 76 tackles his junior year at LSU, with 7 1/2 tackles for a loss, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and four pass break-ups. Kiper has him ranked sixth on his big board, though with the same grade as the third-best player on it. Scouts Inc rates Adams as the fourth-best player in the 2017 draft class. 

As things stand in January, Kiper has the Bears selecting Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen at No. 3. A defensive lineman would be a far more conventional pick at No. 3, where a franchise-altering talent can be plucked (the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers took defensive end Joey Bosa there in 2016). 

[MORE: A list of players drafted by those who coached them in the Senior Bowl]

The last safety taken in the top five was Eric Berry, who the Kansas City Chiefs took fifth overall in 2010. Since 1991, only one safety has gone higher than that — Eric Turner, who was the No. 2 pick in the 1991 draft by the Cleveland Browns. The success rate of top 10 safeties in the last 25 years is high, too. 

Turner led the NFL in interceptions with nine in 1994 and made two Pro Bowls, though his career was tragically cut short when he died of stomach cancer in 2000. Berry is widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the NFL and is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All Pro. 

Roy Williams (2002 No. 8, Dallas) was a five-time Pro Bowler for the Cowboys; Sean Taylor (2004 No. 5, Washington) was a two-time Pro Bowler who died far too young at the age of 24 in 2007; Donte Whitner (2006 No. 8, Buffalo) made three Pro Bowls, though none with the Bills; and LaRon Landry (2007 No. 6, Washington) reached the 2012 Pro Bowl but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in 2015 for a third violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug testing. 

Stanley Richard (1991 No. 9, San Diego) and Michael Huff (2006 No. 7, Oakland) are the only players among those eight top-10 safeties who didn't go on to reach a Pro Bowl.

Those eight players, though, only represent 3 percent of top 10 picks since 1991. Conversely, 20 percent of the top 10 picks in the last 25 years have been defensive linemen. 

Or, to put it another way, only 2 percent of top five picks since 1991 have been safeties. That would signal that, most years, taking a safety at a pick as high as the Bears have is a reach. 

Still, Kiper doesn't necessarily see Adams like that at No. 3. But given the recent history of success with highly-picked safeties, perhaps the Bears will wind up considering him with such an critical selection. 

"Chicago certainly could use a player with his capabilities," Kiper said. "He's going to go very high. … Anywhere in the top five, he could go."

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list


Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

Brian Urlacher played his way into the pantheon of Bears linebackers and the Hall of Fame over his 13-year career in Chicago, leaving no question he belongs among the all-time greats.

Where he stacks up with the best of the best in team history is still up for debate.

Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson ranked the top 100 players in franchise history for the team’s official site, and Urlacher fell outside of the top 10.

Urlacher came in one spot ahead of fellow legendary linebacker Mike Singletary, but the greats of pre-merger era earned many of the top spots on the list.

Dick Butkus came in second to only Walter Payton, while old school legends Bill George and Bulldog Turner ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.

It’s difficult to compare linebackers that played 50 years apart, especially when stacking them up with players at other positions.

Urlacher is still near the top of the list of the best Bears ever. They just have so many all-time greats, the likes of Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Jimbo Covert just don’t have a spot in the top 10.

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