Finding a playmaker for the Chicago Bears’ secondary is just as important as solving their quarterback crisis.
Holders of the third overall pick in the upcoming 2017 draft, the Bears must weigh all options, including adding to a defensive backfield that tied for the second-lowest interception total (eight) in the league.
Only two Chicago players picked off multiple passes this season: Tracy Porter and Cre’Von LeBlanc, with two each. Those low numbers are especially troubling because the Bears generated decent quarterback pressure, with 37 sacks. A strong pass rush is supposed to help the secondary intercept more passes, but that didn’t happen.
“A big-time playmaker on the back end in the secondary is a big need for the Bears,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on ESPN 1000’s Carmen and Jurko Show. “In this league, you’ve got to have that.”
Kiper is among the many draft experts to voice concerns about the 2017 quarterback class. The highest-rated quarterback on Kiper’s board, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, made only 14 starts in college.
“I was one of the guys trying to convince him to go back to school,” Kiper said.
After missing the playoffs six straight years, the Bears cannot reach for a player at No. 3 overall, especially not at quarterback. The Bears certainly don’t want to draft the next EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder -- quarterbacks who were pushed up draft boards out of desperation.
But at defensive back -- particularly safety -- the top-level talent is in greater supply. The league typically values cornerbacks over safeties (Chicago needs both). The Bears have been searching for a stable safety combination since Chris Harris and Danieal Manning patrolled the backfield in 2010, which was the last time the Bears reached the postseason.
“We know where Jamal Adams from LSU is going -- top five, top seven ... he’ll be a high pick,” Kiper said. “Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers somewhere in the top 10. Ohio State’s Malik Hooker is somewhere in the top 10 to 20. That’s three first-round safeties.”
But safety depth extends to the top of the second and third rounds, where the Bears will be picking (barring a trade).
“I think Budda Baker from Washington, who is kind of in that Bob Sanders/Troy Polamalu/Earl Thomas mold, Kiper said. You look at him heightwise [5-foot-10] -- who cares? Throw that out. The kid is all over the field. I almost put Baker in the top 25. He’s still 26. So he’s still, in my opinion, a first-round-caliber player. Will he drop to the second? Possibly. So I think Baker fits the mold of exactly what you want at safety. Marcus Williams from Utah somewhere in the second round I think would make sense. Josh Jones from NC State is an underclassman coming out early. You get to the third or fourth round and you’re looking at Eddie Jackson from Alabama, Marcus Maye from Florida and Josh Evans from Texas A&M.”
There’s a reasonable chance that one of those safeties will call Chicago home next season. The temptation is to fixate on offense, but defensively, the Bears are only a couple of impact players away from being in the top tier. There can be no more projects in the top 10. The third pick has to contribute immediately and be a difference-maker. If he happens to play defense, so be it.