In the final part of my “Fixing the Bears Defense” series, I will look at defensive players the Bears might target in the 2014 NFL draft. There aren’t any glaring holes on offense, so I expect most of this year’s draft picks to be on the defensive side of the ball. Both GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman have harped on adding youth and speed to the defense and there is no better (or cheaper) way to do that than through the draft. I had originally planned to cover all positions in one article, but that would have resulted in a 20 page epic, so I am splitting it into three parts: defensive line prospects, linebackers, and defensive backs. This is just the start of my draft coverage so I’m keeping the lists to 5-6 players per position. I will have more extensive and detailed positional rankings for you later this off-season.
One of the deepest positions in the draft with 7-8 players with starting CB potential. The Bears are weak at corner with only Tim Jennings & Isaiah Frey under contract, but they should be able to grab a decent CB as late as the 3rd round.
Justin Gilbert (6’0, 195) OK ST: Has the best combination of size, speed, and athleticism in the draft at the corner position. Gilbert excels in man coverage and has very good ball skills (6 INTs in 2013). He made it look easy at times, but also had occasional lapses in effort and concentration. The biggest knock on Gilbert is in run support. He’s a decent tackler when challenged, but is not aggressive vs the run and isn’t much of a hitter. Gilbert is a dangerous kick returner with 6 kick return touchdowns in 4 seasons. For a team looking for a lock-down CB and a weapon on special teams (Bears), Gilbert would be an excellent first round choice.
NFL comparison: Antonio Cromartie
Darqueze Dennard (5’11, 197) MSU: Had a very impressive senior year, only allowing 17 catches on 111 attempts (15%) and an average of 5.35 yards per catch which was not only the lowest in college football this year, but the lowest since the NCAA starting keeping track of that stat in 1998. When you consider that Dennard was left on an island more than any corner I saw all year, those numbers are pretty darn impressive. Dennard doens’t have elite size or speed (4.50), but plays a physical style that is reminiscent of Seahawks CB Richard Sherman. He makes up for his lack of size with excellent strength and you can tell by his build that he spends plenty of time in the weight room. Dennard is a good hitter for a CB and will be an asset against the run. My primary concern with Dennard is that his physical style of play that was so effective in college might not be when he is facing bigger NFL receivers (like B-Marsh or Alshon). Dennard seemed to get away with more contact than is normally allowed and his first reaction when beaten was to use his hands to slow down the opposing WR. That’s not going to fly as a rookie in the NFL. Dennard is a very skilled CB with good size who I think might struggle acclimating to the NFL, but eventually become a solid starter in the league.
NFL comparison: Vontae Davis
Bradley Roby (5’11, 192) OSU: Has all the physical tools to be an elite NFL corner; I have him right behind Gilbert in terms of size, speed, and athleticism. One area where Roby has the edge over GIlbert is in run support. Roby attacks ball carriers with aggression and is willing to go all out for a big hit. If Roby would have entered the draft after his sophomore season he might have been a top-10 pick, but he struggled as a junior. Roby was dominated by Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis (3rd round prospect) last season to the tune of 10 catches for 207 yards. Abbrederis controlled Roby physically and made him look bad on a few double moves. That game alone really hurt Roby’s chances of going in the first round, but he could move up again if he runs well at the combine. Roby is rumored to run the 40 consistently in the 4.3 range, so there is a chance a team falls in love with his speed and takes him late in round 1. If Roby is available when the Bears pick in round 2, his natural tools merit taking a chance on him. With added strength and some fine-tuning of his cover skills, Roby could eventually be a Pro Bowl caliber corner.
NFL comparison: Jonathon Joseph