So don’t be surprised if the number increases after the 2011 draft.
The team finally solidified the position in 2010 by bringing back Harris to start alongside Danieal Manning, who finally came into his own as an NFL safety. But there’s still uncertainty for the future, given the status of Harris' and Manning’s contracts (Harris is entering the final year of his deal, while Manning -- depending on how things play out with negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement -- is set to test free agency, or play on a one-year tender offer) and the team’s insistence on finding a way to get 2010 third-round pick Major Wright into the starting lineup.
Based on the fluidity of the situation with the players on the roster, and the Bears' track record for adding to the position in recent years, they might look to bolster depth at safety next week in the later rounds of the NFL draft.
Here’s a look at the top 20 at the position, and what rounds they’re projected to be drafted:
The next 10:11. Will Hill, Florida 6-1, 202; 12. Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina, 5-11, 223; 13. Chris Culliver, South Carolina, 6-2, 197; 14. Chris Conte, California, 6-2, 197; 15. Deunta Williams, North Carolina, 6-2, 205; 16. Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech, 6-0, 204; 17. Mistral Raymond, South Florida, 6-1, 194; 18. Jermale Hines, Ohio State, 6-1, 219; 19. Nate Williams, Washington, 6-0, 211; 20. Eric Hagg, Nebraska, 6-1, 209.
Position grade: C+
Analysis: Despite having emerged as one of the NFL’s better strong safeties, Manning doesn’t appear to be in the Bears' 2011 plans as a starter, partially because of their desire to find a prominent role for Wright, a talented third-round pick in 2010.
As it stands now, Manning is a restricted free agent who was given a one-year tender offer in February. But once a new CBA is reached, it’s likely that Manning becomes an unrestricted free agent, and there’s sure to be a market for his services. So there’s a chance Manning won’t be back.
Perhaps that’s why the Bears appear to be going into 2011 with Wright and Harris penciled in as the starters.
If that turns out to be the direction the Bears take, Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz would be the primary backups, meaning there’s a strong possibility the club looks to the later rounds to add training-camp competition for those spots.