There are not a lot of first-round locks at cornerback this year after Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, who’s a top-10 candidate.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is regarded just as highly as Ward, but we’re considering him as a safety. He played both at Alabama and could be an immediate starter at either spot in the NFL.
Even without Fitzpatrick, there’s enough depth that as many as 15 cornerbacks could hear their names called by the end of the second day (Round Three). And there will still be some players with intriguing size-speed combinations available when Round Four begins.
Bears depth chart
Bears draft need: Moderate.
Bears draft picks
Round 1 (eighth overall)
Round 2 (39th)
Round 4 (105th) and (115th)
Round 5 (145th)
Round 6 (181st)
Round 7 (224th)
If Fuller plays the way he did in 2017, the Bears’ four-year, $56-million investment in him will pay off handsomely. Almost as impressive as his 22 pass breakups was Fuller’s physical play in run support, which made most detractors forget that he missed the entire 2016 season following preseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
Amukamara is infamous for his low interception numbers – just seven in seven seasons, including zero in the past two – but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good cover corner. Durability is a concern, though, as Amukamara has played 16 games in a season just once, in 2013.
The nickel spot is in good hands with Callahan and LeBlanc, both of whom have started games in the slot and outside, although size-wise, both are better suited to play in the slot. The 5-9, 191-pound Callahan has 19 starts in three seasons, but he has had some minor durability problems, while the 5-11, 190-pound LeBlanc has made 10 starts in two seasons.
Cooper was cut after a disastrous first season in Chicago but then re-signed for less money to provide depth. McManis is just marginal as a defensive back but is perennially one of the Bears’ top special-teams players.
2018 salary-cap situation: The Bears are 25th in the league in spending on their secondary, according to spotrac.com, but $18 million of their $22.5 million is allocated to cornerbacks. They splurged on the two starters, with each getting $18 million in guaranteed money. But Fuller’s deal, which came after the Packers extended him an offer sheet that the Bears felt compelled to match, only counts $6.5 million against the cap this year. Amukamara’s three-year, $27 million deal counts $7.5 million against the cap this year.
Day One: Given the Bears’ expenditure on Fuller and Amukamara, investing a first-round pick on another corner is unimaginable. Ward has some elite qualities, but he was only a one-year starter in a Buckeyes secondary that produced 2017 first-round draft picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Ward played in a rotation with those two in 2016. He had just two career interceptions, but he had 15 pass breakups last year. Ward’s just 5-foot-10 and isn’t a strong presence in run defense, but he has a 39-inch vertical and ran a 4.32 40 at the combine, showcasing his rare athleticism.
Day Two: There are a handful of quality corners projected for late in the first round or early in the second – including Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, Central Florida’s Mike Hughes, Iowa’s Josh Jackson, Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver and LSU’s Donte Jackson.
Josh Jackson’s 4.56 40-time is pedestrian, but his abilities to redirect, mirror a receiver and play the ball are excellent. He gets knocked a bit for being a one-year wonder in 2017, but what a year it was. The 6-foot-1 Jackson had 27 pass breakups, picked off eight passes and played his best in the biggest games – three interceptions vs. Ohio State and two pick-sixes against Wisconsin.
Hughes comes with concerns after playing at three schools in three years, but he has undeniable talent. He’s undersized at 5-10 and 189 pounds, but he plays with much more toughness than his size would indicate. He’s more twitchy than fast and has exceptional return skills.
Hughes intercepted four passes in 2017 and returned three kicks for touchdowns (two kickoffs and one punt), but he is also a one-year starter. Hughes averaged 31.8 yards on 20 kickoff returns last year and 16.6 yards on 14 punt returns. He left North Carolina after one year following a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a fracas at a frat party and played one year at the junior-college level before his one season at UCF.
Day Three: Among the Bears’ potential CB targets in the middle or late rounds could be Texas’ Holton Hill and Stanford’s Quenton Meeks, who both have great size and impressive athleticism. But, as is often the case with talented players who appear much lower on draft boards than their physical attributes would indicate, there are questions with both.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hill was suspended for the final four games last season for violating team rules, and he has allegedly failed multiple drug tests. But he runs 4.49, has nice cover characteristics and, when asked to shadow Oklahoma State’s highly regarded James Washington, limited him to four catches for 32 yards. Hill has enough size and physicality to be considered at safety as well. He had just three career interceptions but returned all of them for touchdowns, and he also blocked a field goal and returned it for a score.
Meeks is 6-2 and 205 pounds, and with a 39-inch vertical, he should be able to match up physically with even the biggest wide receivers. Although he will support vs. the run, Meeks lacks some speed and quickness and is a better fit in zone, where he can keep things in front of him. He might require a switch to safety at the next level, but his 4.49 in the 40 at Stanford’s pro day keeps him in the CB mix.
Fifth in a series. Next up: safety.