The 2022 NFL Draft is fast approaching. And even though new GM Ryan Poles doesn’t have a first-round pick, he is set to usher in a new era of Bears football with Assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Head Coach Matt Eberflus, and a host of other newbies. Starting today, we’re looking at some of the best prospects at various positions leading up to the Draft in search of fits for the Bears’ needs.
Need: Roquan Smith is holding it down, but LB partner Nicholas Morrow is here only on a one-year deal. In other words, a new defensive scheme should have the new front office targeting a different type of linebacker to pair with Smith moving forward.
Currently on the Roster (2021 PFF Grade):
Eddie Jackson (59.0), DeAndre Houton-Carson (78.0), Dane Cruikshank (56.6)
Jaylon Johnson (64.2), Tavon Young (60.4), Thomas Graham Jr. (84.5), Duke Shelley (53.7), Kindle Vildor (50.2), BoPete Keyes (26.2), Michael Joseph (59.9), Greg Stroman Jr. (N/A), Lamar Jackson (no, not that one),
BN’s Composite Ranking
Ranking prospects is difficult, in part, because no one publication has the same set of fundamentals or preferences. In an attempt to work through that noise, we’re using a composite ranking based on opinions from PFF, ESPN, CBS Sports, and NFL dot com, and adapting them to a points scale. The best of the top-10 prospects gets 10 points, the 10th ranked prospect gets 1, and prospects outside the top-10 get 0. From there, the prospects are ranked by total points.
Here’s how the cornerbacks and safeties stack up (points in parenthesis):
1. Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati (39)
2. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU (35)
3. Trent McDuffie, Washington (32)
4. Andrew Booth, Clemson (30)
5. Kaiir Elam, Florida (22)
6. Kyler Gordon, Washington (20)
7. Roger McCreary, Auburn (17)
8. Marcus Jones, Houston (9)
9. Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska (6)
10. Cordale Flott, LSU (4)
Also receiving Top-10 consideration: Tariq Woolen (UTSA – PFF, ESPN), Coby Bryant (Cincinnati – NFL), Martin Emerson (Mississippi State – CBS), Alontae Taylor (Tennessee – CBS), Zyon McCollum (Sam Houston State – NFL)
1. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (40)
2. Daxton Hill, Michigan (34)
3. Lewis Cine, Georgia (31)
4. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (28)
5. Jalen Pitre, Baylor (28)
6. Bryan Cook, Cincinnati (17)
7. Kerby Joseph, Illinois (17)
8. Nick Cross, Maryland (12)
9. JT Woods, Baylor (6)
10. Juanyeh Thomas, Georgia Tech (4)
Also receiving Top-10 consideration: Dane Belton (Iowa – PFF), Verone McKinley (Oregon – CBS, ESPN), Tycoon Anderson (Toledo – PFF), Kolby Harvell-Peel (Oklahoma State – NFL)
Chicago’s secondary is in a transition phase. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, safety Eddie Jackson, and multi-positional defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson return from last year’s team, but the rest of the positions are up for grabs. Will Dane Cruikshank fit in as a starter somewhere? Or will he take on DHC’s responsibilities, allowing the long-time special teams ace an opportunity to take his game to another level. Can Tavon Young stay healthy long enough to be an impact slot corner? Will Thomas Graham Jr. be given a shot to play after the previous regime put his development on the back burner?
Answering these questions will be easier after the draft. Especially if the Bears add to this group with a Day 2 pick.
Most Likely to be Available When the Bears Are on the Clock:
Choosing three players who project to be available when the Bears go on the clock with each of their picks.
Round 2, Pick 39: S Jalen Pitre (Baylor), CB Kaiir Elam (Florida), S Lewis Cine (Georgia)
Round 2, Pick 48: CB Kyler Gordon (Washington), Roger McCreary (Auburn), S Jaquan Brisker (Penn State)
Round 3, Pick 71: CB Cam Taylor-Britt (Nebraska), CB Marcus Jones (Houston), S Kerby Joseph (Illinois)
Round 5, Pick 150: CB Josh Jobe (Alabama), S Verone McKinley III (Oregon), CB Coby Bryant (Cincinnati)
Round 6, Pick 186: CB Tariq Castro-Fields (Penn State), S Yusuf Corker (Kentucky), S Percy Butler (Louisiana)
• Top-30 visit: Kerby Joseph (Illinois)
• Unspecified visit: Josh Thompson (Texas), Tariq Carpenter (Georgia Tech)
Zack Pearson of Bear Report does a tremendous job compiling Bears prospect visits. You can follow his work here.
If I Had to Pick One:
Illinois football isn’t a gold standard college football program. But it still finds a way to churn out a surprising amount of draft-able prospects who can turn in solid pro careers. Finding a safety isn’t a high priority right now. But the later rounds could be a place where the Bears take a chance on someone who fits what Matt Eberflus and Alan Williams want their defense to be in the years to come. And perhaps Illini safety Kerby Joseph fits the bill. A solid safety in coverage, Joseph has a knack for making plays on passes deep in defense.
Considering how forcing turnovers is at the heart of what this “D” wants to do, maybe snagging this type of safety in a later round puts a stop to the merry-go-round of players coming in-and-out of the mix playing next to Eddie Jackson for now (and then perhaps replacing him later).