Tillman's return narrows Bears' first-round NFL Draft focus

Tillman's return narrows Bears' first-round NFL Draft focus
March 14, 2014, 9:00 pm
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The Bears still need to draft a starting cornerback of the future to pair with Tim Jennings. But with Friday's re-signing of Charles Tillman for 2014, they just don't have to do it with the 14th overall pick in the first-round of May's draft.

Likely, one of the top defensive tackles will still be on the board when the Bears are on the clock, and if Henry Melton doesn't return, Mel Tucker can use an anchor at that position for the future to rotate in with Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins.

[MORE: Bears bring Charles Tillman back in the fold]

All the edge rushers that might be available in that spot are 3-4 linebackers. The Bears have candidates at that position they want to try, and after Jadeveon Clowney is selected within the first two or three picks, there's not a true defensive end worth drafting that high.

Newly-signed free agents Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings will compete for starting roles at safety along with Chris Conte, but none are slam dunks to start. The top two safeties, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, could very well both be available when Phil Emery's number comes up. Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois has seen his stock climb to the point where he might not be around for the Bears' second-round turn.

[RELATED: Breakdown of Bears' salary cap situation]

While many teams will look to copycat the Seattle Seahawks' formula with big, physical defensive backs, the postseason All-Star games and NFL Scouting Combine revealed several taller, raw types who have high upside in the second-to fourth-round range that can develop as backups, allowing the Bears to potentialy sit tight at that position until the second or third day.

Any player is just an injury away, and "Peanut" Tillman fought through a knee issue until the torn triceps ended his 2013 with seven games to play. Kelvin Hayden will try to stay healthy in a backup role and Isaiah Frey gained invaluable experience filling in as the nickel back when Hayden went down. This could well be the season where we find out if Frey is future starting material. So there's still a need to develop a corner once Tillman departs. His return buys the Bears time at that position, and probably allows them to focus elsewhere for their first draft selection.