With Chris Conte undergoing shoulder surgery and facing a job fight even before his procedure, and Major Wright gone, the Bears’ most immediate 2014 need projects to be safety. Elsewhere the pipeline needs filling behind 30-plus’ers like Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff and Charles Tillman, but safety, like right guard last draft, has a clear “Help Wanted…now” sign on it.
Which assures nothing when the Bears’ turn comes at or around No. 14 of the first-round. But some measure of analysis is in order with respect to whether that is a position worth investing a No. 1 at. The last two times the Bears selected Pro Bowl safeties, they found them in second rounds.
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The obvious reality is that every draft is unique in itself, whether for the quality or depth, both or lack of both. And first-round talent in one draft does not correlate to first-rounders at the same position in another draft. More quarterbacks went in the first 12 picks of the 1999 draft (five) than in the first 12 of 1983 (two). It took almost the whole first-round in 1983 for a sixth quarterback to be picked, but three of that class (John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino) wound up in Canton.
A second reality is that there is no consistency in returns from strata of picks. Few teams invested more high draft picks – rounds 1-3 – over the past eight drafts with less to show for them in terms of starters – maybe Conte, maybe – than the Bears.
Conversely, the Bears used a No. 2 for Tony Parrish in the 1998 draft and a No. 2 for Mike Brown in 2000. Both wound up in Pro Bowls, albeit Parrish as a 49er, but for a couple of years the Bears were staffed at an elite level at the back end of their defenses for their draft troubles.
Using the rough range of the Bears’ 2014 first-round pick, only two safeties were taken last year within the first 18 picks. Kenny Vaccaro went 15th to New Orleans, Eric Reid with 18th to San Francisco. Reid went to the Pro Bowl and Vaccaro was an impact player used in myriad positions by one of the NFL’s best defenses.
The only safety taken in even the top two-thirds of the 2012 draft was Mark Barron by Tampa Bay at No. 7, who has started 30 games over the past two seasons.
Barron was out of the Nick Saban Alabama program that is sending Ha Ha Clinton-Dix into this draft, perhaps to the Bears. Barron already was in Dix’s corner before the NFL Scouting Combine.
“He said, ‘stay humble, stay calm,’” Dix said of advice from Barron. “You enjoy this game. You love this game. You play this game for a reason. So just go out there and have fun every day and enjoy it.”