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Bears Fri May 09 2014
There wasn't the run of quarterbacks Phil Emery hoped for in the top half of the first round, but the dominoes fell almost perfectly otherwise, with three of Emery's mystery six still on the board when the Bears came up at 14 around 8:30pm last night.
Fans were teased well into the Bears' time on the clock because the announcements of each pick were incredibly slow on television. Aaron Donald, the favorite choice of just about everyone not named Hub Arkush, was still there when the Rams were up at 13, and the consensus was the Bears would take him if the Rams passed. They didn't, taking the three-technique defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh right at the footsteps of Halas Hall.
With their assumed top target gone, a trade down seemed like a real possibility with both safeties (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor) still on the board, along with cornerback Kyle Fuller and linebacker C.J. Mosely. But Emery had already decided after the Giants' selection of Odell Beckham Jr. at 12 that the Bears were staying put and taking "a really good football player."
Kyle Fuller (5-11 3/4, 190 pounds) was the number one cornerback on the Bears board. He can play inside against the slot or outside against top receivers, has incredibly long arms (which he said this morning makes it very difficult to buy a suit), and is very willing to help in the run game. A perfect example of the last trait can be found in his game tape against Georgia Tech, which Emery raved about in last night's press conference. Georgia Tech runs the "spread flexbone" offense, which is more than 80 percent running with a lot of misdirection. Fuller lined up inside quite a bit that game, and shot the A- and B-gap (between the center/guard and guard/tackle, respectively) to blow up running plays.
He can't be called a mirror of Charles Tillman because he's more than two inches shorter than the lanky veteran, but his toughness against the run and ability to make plays in the passing game will remind you a lot of the guy he'll be learning from at the next level. He received high grades for his football IQ and character and doesn't have any off-the-field red flags. The only non-football minus was a torn groin muscle he suffered mid-season that cost him the rest of the year. The Bears medical team says he's fully recovered and it is not a worry of theirs.
Fuller will start right away in nickel packages for a Bears team that hasn't drafted a cornerback in the first three rounds in 10 years (yup, Tillman was the last). If you were crying for a safety and can't understand the need for a corner, just remember that Isaiah Frey played almost 50 percent of the defensive snaps last season playing nickel corner. And that number is probably on the low side because the Bears were in a ton of third-and-short situations where teams would keep larger personnel in to take advantage of the team's inability to stop the run. After Tillman's contract expires following this season, Fuller can easily transition to the outside and replace his veteran mentor. Both Bears starting corners (Tim Jennings the other) are on the wrong side of 30, and getting someone young at the position was mandatory.
Despite filling a need with the top rated corner on the Bears' board, ignoring the safety spot could pose a major problem now. With no safeties coming off before the Bears picked, Emery and his staff probably felt confident that they'd be able to get a guy like Jimmie Ward or Deone Bucannon during day two. Instead, those two guys got scooped up late in round one after Pryor went to the Jets, and Clinton-Dix went north to Green Bay in the late teens and early twenties.
The safety position doesn't appear to be falling in the Bears' direction, but they're apparently OK with that. Remember that Chris Conte was actually a useful player two years ago when the Bears defense was one of the best in the NFL. Multiple levels of breakdowns in front of Conte this season put a lot of weight on his shoulders, and he crumbled. The thought is that the upgrades made along the defensive line should take the load off the back seven -- making their jobs a lot easier.
Taking a safety tonight isn't out of the question for the Bears, but there isn't much available that matches up well with the spot they pick in. Florida State's Terrence Brooks is probably the only safety that could make sense in the second round, but he'd be one of the smaller players at the position in an NFL that's morphing into a league with much taller and athletic guys playing defensive back. Brock Vereen out of Minnesota is a round three option who looks the part of a safety, but he didn't produce a ton in college with only four interceptions.
Defensive tackle is one of the most likely options in rounds two and three, and there is plenty of talent available at an enticing position for the Bears. Louis Nix, Will Sutton, Ra'Shede Hageman and Timmy Jernigan were all thought of as first round picks at one time or another, and would fill needs along the defensive front (though it's not a full-blown need because of the vast versatility they have at DT).
The Bears could also use a backup tight end, and two guys fit the mold of what they're looking for as a block-first type player. Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington and Troy Niklas from Notre Dame are both massive bodies that could make the offense even more dynamic, and might be very hard to pass on. When Martellus Bennett needed a break or was nursing an injury last season, the Bears often times went with tackle Eben Britton at tight end, which is great for running but really limits the variety of plays that can be called.
The Bears filled a major hole with Fuller in the first round, and even with a run of safeties late in the first that might scare Bears fans, it was a successful night. Emery didn't surprise anyone. Fuller was a high ranked player on almost all boards, and high character guys that ooze talent are something the Bears will always covet. Hopefully they can follow up with picks tonight and tomorrow that fit the same mold.