In the 2010 draft, eight safeties were taken within the first 76 picks, with Major Wright (the seventh) going to the Bears in the third round, at No. 75, after the Green Bay Packers had landed Morgan Burnett at No. 71. Three of the first four became Pro Bowl selections (Eric Berry, KC, 5th; Earl Thomas, Seattle, 14th; T.J. Ward, Cleveland, 38th) and the first seven, including Wright, became starters at some point.
If the Bears could secure the likes of Thomas at No. 14, or Ward in the second round, the 2014 draft likely will go in the books as a success. They may not be able to wait that long, however, certainly not until the third round as they and the Packers did several years ago.
The issue then for the Bears, assuming Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is still available at No. 14, which is looming as less and less likely because of the shortage of impact three-techniques at the top of the draft, is whether to wait. There projects to be fewer elite defensive tackles than safeties, both need areas for the Bears.
Part of the reason is the changing priority on the safety position. And part is that there does not project to be that kind of talent available as late as the third round.
While running back has seen a declining emphasis on one player, safety has gone the other way.
“With more and more tight ends emerging and bigger wide receivers, and with teams just spreading the field and throwing the ball more than ever, you add all of those things up and it creates a demand for defensive backs,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay on a conference call Wednesday. “It creates a demand for a guy who is athletic enough to cover but still big enough that he can go up compete and contest against bigger receivers and taller tight ends.”
The talent pool is an obvious factor as well. In 2011, one safety went in the first two rounds. In 2012, there were three. Last year there were five. This year?
‘It’s not a great class necessarily,” McShay said. “But I think you’re going to see enough of a demand that you’re going to see some guys come off the board even earlier than they would’ve in previous years.”
The consensus top safeties remain Alabama’s Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, both of whom have come to Halas Hall for visits with the Bears. But McShay had high praise in particular for Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, with coverage skills and a true physical streak.
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“And he’s also kind of a madman,” McShay said. “He’ll come up and hit you, for a smaller safety.”