If you feel like many have been pushing for the Chicago Bears to draft a safety with the third overall pick, you’re not alone.
In fact, it’s happening for good reason. The Bears have a need at safety – and have for quite some time.
Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock is the latest in which the Bears move toward being the team that plucks a safety with the highest pick in NFL Draft history (#3). The Kansas City Chiefs currently own that record, after drafting Eric Berry fifth overall in 2010.
And more specifically, Kiper joins the growing crowd of voices putting LSU’s safety, Jamal Adams, on the Bears. In our two most recent, mock-draft-fueled posts, Adams has been mocked to the Bears by seven different pundits. Clearly, this has some legs.
Picking a safety third would go against NFL norms, but that might change sooner rather than later considering the league’s pass-happy status. And for the Bears, it would be a move that has been a long time coming. So with the push for a safety looking stronger than ever, let’s look at the need.
Over the last three years, the Bears have ranked 29th, 30th, and 30th in defensive interceptions. Defensively, Vic Fangio’s group bottomed out in 2016, forcing only 11 turnovers overall. However, this isn’t to say that the current state of the Bears’ secondary should be pinned on the current regime, because the fact is the team’s defensive problems are deeply rooted.
For many, the last time the Bears had a playmaking safety was Mike Brown – a second-round pick in 2000 who played with the team until 2008. Brown played 100 games in Chicago, picking up 17 interceptions, forcing eight fumbles (recovering seven more), and scoring seven defensive touchdowns. Injuries derailed Brown’s career, specifically ones that piled up from 2004-07 – a four-year stretch in which he missed 43 games. Since Brown’s departure after the 2008 season, the back-end of the Bears’ defensive secondary has been a mess.
The primary pairs of starting safeties has left much to be desired. Only Major Wright and Chris Conte (who combined to make 82 of 96 possible starts from 2011-13) were paired long enough to gain traction and familiarity, but neither excelled in their position. Safety tandems such as Danieal Manning and Al Afalava, Manning and Chris Harris, and Conte and Ryan Mundy roamed the secondary in the years that followed Brown’s departure … but no player in any of those pairings ever brought Brown’s stability or playmaking skills.
But it’s not as though the Bears haven’t tried.
Between 2009 and 2016, the Bears selected seven safeties in the draft, but none were chosen before the third round. Further, only two were among the top 10 at their position according to WalterFootball.com’s rankings at the time of their drafting.*
The others include Afalava in 2009 (sixth-round pick, 23rd ranked), Adrian Amos in 2015 (fifth-round pick, 13th ranked), and a pair of 2016 picks in Deon Bush (fourth round, 16th ranked) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (sixth round, 15th). The Bears even traded up to select Brock Vereen in the fourth round in 2014 – a player who wasn’t ranked among the top 21 safeties by Walter Football. Ouch.
The Bears haven’t drafted a safety in the first round since picking Mark Carrier with the sixth pick in the 1990 draft – a bench mark we can re-visit in the days and weeks leading up to the Draft.
Football has changed significantly since players like Carrier and Brown were secondary fixtures. Perhaps it’s time for the Bears to catch up with the times, and possibly be trendsetters by selecting a safety higher than any other team in the draft’s history. And if they do it, Adams might be the guy most worthy of that selection. We’ll see.
*Kudos if you guessed Wright (8th best safety in 2010) and Conte (7th best in 2011).