The 2014 draft has brought with it a considerably higher level of one important element for a football team than either of GM Phil Emery’s previous two:
Teams can talk about open competitions and such. But the 2012 draft finished with no picks considered highly likely to threaten a starting job anytime early. Alshon Jeffery would begin starting early in the regular season but he never started through the preseason.
Other than Kyle Long, the 2013 class was coming into a team off a 10-6 season, linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene weren’t expected to start except for injury (which happened), and Jordan Mills became a starter initially out of default when J’Marcus Webb played his way out of a job and off the roster entirely.
The 2014 draft, by an 8-8 team, is different. It is a draft class that comes in putting jobs immediately in jeopardy.
“Obviously, we have a number of young players at the position that we feel the competitive level of fighting for a starting job is going to be very high,” Emery said. “In terms of who comes out that end as far as the starters, the best players win.”
Bears picks through the first four rounds have decided chances to be those “best players:”
No. 1 Kyle Fuller
Projects as the starting nickel back perhaps by day one of training camp. If Charles Tillman falters or is injured, Fuller is reasonably certain to take over that starting job and not give it back for some years.
No. 2 Ego Ferguson
Was talked to pre-draft by Bears coaches about a role that has been Stephen Paea’s for the last two seasons. Paea has not played 16 games in any of his three seasons and Emery has never talked about Paea in the superlatives that he used for Ferguson as a run-stopper. If Paea has another training-camp injury, his job could be Ferguson’s by the time he recovers.
No. 3 Will Sutton
Has taken down his weight to the level it was (290) when he had 13 sacks as a junior at Arizona State. He will not unseat Jeremiah Ratliff as the No. 1 three-technique but Nate Collins will have more than just knee rehab to overcome for a spot right behind Ratliff.
No. 4a Ka’Deem Carey
Was a targeted player for the Bears as the first-alternate to Matt Forte. Michael Bush is gone; Michael Ford did not merit a single carry last season. He is unlikely to see one in 2014, either.
No. 4b Brock Vereen
The Bears thought enough of Vereen to give up draft capital to trade up into the fourth round to grab him for their safety competition. Emery declared that job wide-open well before the draft, and Chris Conte will still be recovering from shoulder surgery through the offseason and early training camp when Vereen, with proven cornerback coverage skills, will be getting time to secure a job alongside Ryan Mundy.