4th round (#111) – S Justin Evans, Texas A&M (6’0 | 199 | 4.47)
The Bears haven’t prioritized the safety position in recent drafts, with last year’s 4th round pick Deon Bush being the highest selected safety under the Pace regime. Given the Bears awful play from the position last year, they may use a much higher selection this season. This is a very deep class at safety though, so they could find a starting-caliber player like Evans early on day three.
Evans had built a lot of momentum early in draft season but wasn’t able to run at the combine, which hurt his draft stock a bit. He’s been passed by workout freaks like Obi Melinfonwu, Josh Jones, and Budda Baker, but is rumored to be in the same tier athletically. It’s very possible that this pick could look two rounds late once Evans is healthy enough to run for teams.
Evans’ tape certainly warrants a higher pick than the fourth round. He was one of the best safeties in the league during the second half of the 2016 season. Over his last nine games Evans gave up just 107 receiving yards in coverage and didn’t give up a catch longer than 14 yards. Evans has elite range as a coverage safety with the speed and aggressiveness to cover sideline to sideline.
He also has above-average ball skills and can win contested battles on jump balls. Evans had four interceptions last year and flashed the ability to both high-point the ball and reach around receivers to break up passes without making contact.
Evans would also give the Bears an enforcer in the middle of the field which they haven’t had since maybe Mark Carrier in 1990. He was a force for the Aggies over the middle with multiple highlight hits shown in the clip below. Evans hits like a missile against both receivers and running backs, but occasionally misses tackles trying to stock his highlight reel.
He doesn’t have great size, which can be a problem against bigger backs, but when he has a few steps of momentum Evans can knock anyone back a few yards (as he proved in the clip below against 240-pound Derrick Henry). While his tackling technique needs to improve at the next level, the rest of Evans game appears NFL ready and he could step in as a coverage safety on day one.
Evans hitting ability has been compared to Raiders safety Karl Joseph, his coverage ability to Jimmie Ward who regularly covers slot receivers, and his overall ceiling to Seahawks All-Pro Earl Thomas. Those are exciting comps for a player expected to go in the third or fourth round and a testament to how deep the draft class is in the secondary.
The Bears badly need an infusion of talent at the safety position and Evans would give them a coverage safety to groom under free agent acquisition Quintin Demps. It may take a year or so for Evans to be a starting caliber safety, but he could eventually team with the recently converted Deiondre Hall to give the Bears two ball-hawking safeties with both ball skills and the ability to stop the run.