Improving the Bears defensive secondary has become a fairly obvious need moving forward.
Consider in 2016, the Bears defense allowed the 11th most touchdown passes, gave up the sixth most yards to opposing receivers, and tied for the second fewest interceptions in the NFL.
Luckily for the Bears, Head Coach John Fox and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio have the unique opportunity to scout the next wave of defensive talent in the days leading up to the Senior Bowl.
To be sure, identifying the team’s next quarterback remains a top priority, but stopping opposing quarterbacks from torching the Bears secondary is important as well.
So for today, I thought it’d be helpful to go discuss a few of the better defensive backs Fox will get the opportunity to coach (and scout) in the upcoming Senior Bowl, to see if any might be a good fit for the Bears. Let’s dive in.
There are a total of nine defensive backs – five cornerbacks and four safeties – playing for the Fox-coached North team in the Senior Bowl. A handful of those prospects, however, also stand out for their ability to lend a hand on special teams. Why do I bring that up?
Well, while the Bears had the third most kick returns and the seventh most return yards last season, their yards/return actually ranked 18th (on kickoffs) and 19th (on punts) overall. It would be quite prescient, then, if the Bears could kill two birds with one stone by finding a defensive back who could also excel in the return game. Let’s take a look at a few.
Next to the nine players listed below, I’ve included the various prospect rankings from WalterFootball.com and CBS Sports. You can (and should!) learn more about each of them and their relative positioning on those lists here and here.
Cornerback Desmond King (Walter Football 8, CBS Sports 5)
Over at CBS Sports, Rob Rang wrote that Desmond King and the cornerbacks were the defensive standouts in advance of the Senior Bowl. King is the only Big Ten player to have 12 or more career interceptions and more than 1,500 return yards (punt and kickoff). He was a starter as a true freshman in 2013 and led Big Ten freshmen with 69 tackles.
Both Walter Football and CBS Sports project King to be a first or second round pick.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis, Michigan (Walter Football 8, CBS Sports 5)
A three-year starter at Michigan, Jourdan Lewis owns the school record for both the single season and career pass breakups. He was a two-time All-Big Ten honoree, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, and a first-team All-American (according to Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press and AFCA). He might ultimately be destined to be a slot corner, but with a 25.2 yards/return average on kicks from his junior year, he could be helpful in two areas of need for the Bears.
A CBS Sports projection has him as a second-round pick, while Walter Football has him landing in rounds 2-3.
Safety Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis (Pa.) (Walter Football 20, CBS Sports 3rd SS)
A productive player at the FCS level, Lorenzo Jerome can be considered a deep sleeper in this year’s draft. The Senior Bowl is the second senior showcase game Jerome will participate in this offseason, as he’s coming off a two-interception, MVP-winning performance in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Jerome, who used an All-American performance to lead St. Francis to its first conference title and FCS playoff berth his senior year, could be a unique fit for the Bears, because of his skills in the kick return game.
Walter Football has Jerome going in the 4-6 range, but CBS Sports (projected round 2-3) has him much higher on their board. He’ll be an interesting name to follow in the coming months.
OTHER NORTH DEFENSIVE BACKS
- Aarion Penton, CB, Missouri (Walter Football NR, CBS Sports 24)
- Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia (Walter Football NR, CBS Sports 14)
- Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar (Walter Football 19, CBS Sports 21)
- Josh Johnson, FS, Boston College (Walter Football 21, CBS Sports 5th FS)
- Obi Melifonwu, SS, Connecticut (Walter Football 5, CBS Sports 6th SS)
- Nate Gerry, SS, Nebraska (Walter Football 15, CBS Sports 16th SS)
The Bears might not end up selecting any of the above players in the upcoming draft, but at least John Fox will get a good look at each of them. If there’s value to be taken or talent to be had, the Bears might be in a unique position to identify and act upon it.