By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Ever since the bitter end to the 2013 regular season, Bears general manager Phil Emery made no secrets about his desire to dedicate his draft resources to rebuilding the defense.
An optimistic way of looking at their situation was, given all their needs, they really couldn’t go wrong. Stick to your board, and draft the best remaining talent at a position of need.
On Thursday’s start to the NFL Draft, eight of the first 13 picks were offensive players, so the board broke the Bears’ way. Only one cornerback (Justin Gilbert) and one defensive tackle (Aaron Donald) were off the board — potential members of the infamous “Emery Six” — so the Bears were left with their choice of several top defensive prospects a their primary positions of need: safety, defensive tackle and cornerback.
The Bears opted for Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
With the top three cornerbacks currently on the roster all 30 years or older, selecting Fuller made a lot of sense. He’s a highly productive and complete cornerback who is a willing, physical tackler in run support, and he also possesses quick enough feet and fluid hips to turn and match a receiver up the field. In a division with high-octane passing attacks, the Bears will be in their nickel packages more often than not, so Fuller should see the field plenty as a rookie.
The Bears bypassed the consensus top two safeties — Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — but likely didn’t anticipate the run on the position at the end of the first round. The Arizona Cardinals selected Washington State’s Deone Bucannon, and the San Francisco 49ers selected Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward. Given the remaining class of available safeties, none of their grades may match the Bears’ next selection (51st overall), but some intriguing options remain.
So let’s look at some of the top remaining defensive prospects still on the board heading into the second round, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Only two defensive tackles were selected in the first round, so there’s plenty of interior defensive line talent remaining.
* Ra’Shede Hageman – Minnesota (6-6/310) – Fits the mold of a “size/speed” player who Emery covets. Late bloomer who didn’t have the productivity you would expect, but he possesses the versatility to play virtually any technique on the defensive line.
* Timmy Jernigan – Florida State (6-2/300) – Jernigan is a stout run stuffer with a powerful punch, but he doesn’t offer much in the pass rush department. Still a player with plenty of upside who can play zero-, one- or three-technique in a 40-front.
* Louis Nix – Notre Dame (6-2/331) – Nix is a classic shade/nose tackle who may not be a perfect fit for the Bears’ scheme. However, he’s a powerful force on the interior with a violent punch and would help their leaky run defense.
* Kelcy Quarles – South Carolina (6’4/297) – It may surprise some to hear that Quarles — not teammate Jadeveon Clowney — led the Gamecocks in sacks last year. Quarles uses his length to disengage and is quick for a man his size; however, conditioning is an issue.
* Will Sutton – Arizona State (6/303) – Sutton was flat-out dominant as a junior when he played around 285 pounds. He added extra weight prior to his senior year, and it affected his game. With a proper offseason conditioning, Sutton could be a steal and an ideal fit as a 4-3 under tackle.
* Kony Ealy – Missouri (6-4/273) – He’s the wild card of this group. Ealy played defensive end at Missouri but has the frame to potentially add on a few pounds to move inside to the three-technique. Ealy has a quick first step and is an excellent hand fighter who displays a full repertoire of pass rush counter moves.
* Brock Vereen – Minnesota (6-0/199) – Vereen possesses a nice combination of size and speed, and he’s a heady, four-year starter with NFL bloodlines. He was a team captain and high-character guy who plays with great vision and takes proper angles to the ball. His productivity was low though, ending with only four career interceptions.
* Terrance Brooks – Florida State (5-11/198) – Brooks has the looks of a hybrid safety prospect, as he was effective both in coverage and run support. Brooks has a tendency to sometimes become out of control, which led to some missed tackles in the open field.
The Bears took at step at improving their defense with Fuller, but it will be interesting to see Emery’s approach to addressing the safety position moving forward, as it was arguably their most pressing need heading into the draft.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin