Safety is reasonably set with Chris Conte and Major Wright in place and the Bears having Brandon Hardin, their third-round pick last draft, effectively in his “rookie” season after the year on IR with a neck injury. Wright is in a contract year and has curbed some of the excesses of his early NFL years and he and Conte are developing a complementary chemistry for stability in the back end. Add in depth with Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters and Tom Zbikowski and there are few positions less in need of stocking.
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Cornerback is another matter. The performance level is there; Tim Jennngs and Charles Tillman were Pro Bowl cornerbacks. They are also in the final years of their contracts, and Tillman is 32. Nickel back Kelvin Hayden is back, but also on a one-year deal.
Safety is deep, meaning late-round possibilities for Bears upgrades on special teams. Three cornerbacks could go in the first round: Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Mississippi State’s Johnathan Banks and Washington’s Desmond Trufant. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes is projected in several first-round scenarios.
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What makes some of the prospects especially notable is size, something in high demand as receivers have been upsized in more offenses. The long trending toward passing games also makes it imperative for teams to have three cornerbacks and starter-grade corners should be available in rounds 2-3 in this draft.
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For the Bears and their interest in trading down, the depth at the CB position could be key.
Whether because of age, performance or contracts, the Bears will face a need situation at cornerback in 2014 at the latest. The best strategy is going best-available when it coincides with a need area.
Waiting until a cornerback need is acute, particularly if it is coming off a winning season that translates into a later draft choice, is high risk. So a chance to acquire a franchise cornerback that falls to them cannot be squandered.
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The organization has spent third-round picks on safeties for three straight drafts. If a safety can help special teams, that is something to be addressed very late in the draft.
Likelihood to draft:
CB: High. Rounds 1-3
S: Low. Rounds 6-7, UFAs