Free agency is over, the combine came and went, and Mel Kiper is currently working on Mock Draft version 24.3, which means we are just a few short weeks, and 13.6 mock draft versions, away from the NFL Draft.
By now we not only have a good idea of where each prospect will get drafted but also the positions the Bears will be targeting.
With the signing of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Bears filled an immediate need at safety, thus reducing the need to find an impact starter. Although, considering Clinton-Dix only signed a one-year deal, the Bears would be wise to find his 2020 replacement in this year’s draft.
It is not a foregone conclusion that the Bears won’t draft a safety with their lone Day 2 pick, but assuming they are satisfied with Clinton-Dix and backup Deon Bush, it makes more sense for them to address other positions and wait until Day 3 for a safety.
So who are some players they might want to target on that day? I am glad you asked …
Round 4: Mike Bell (Fresno State)
Bell is a player I was very high on before the combine. I loved his combination of size, physicality and instincts. He was one of those players whose tape matched the numbers. Plus, his numbers were good enough to warrant some day two hype.
This past season Bell totaled 87 tackles, three interceptions and eight pass breakups helping lead the Bulldogs to the Mountain West title and a Las Vegas Bowl win. The arrow was pointing up for the talented safety
Then the combine happened …
While I did not expect Bell to blow away the combine, his 4.83 40-yard dash was hard to look past. However, when I went back and watched him again, my pre-combine opinion didn’t change much. He is still a player who wins due to instincts and physicality allowing me to look past his sub-par combine performance. It is worth noting that at Fresno State’s pro day he ran a much more respectable 4.64 40-yard dash.
I mentioned Bell’s instincts as something that popped up on tape for good reason. His instincts put him in the right spot and allow him to make plays on the ball that other, more athletic safeties, might not be able to.
In the play below he is lined up in man coverage on the inside slot receiver. If you watch carefully. He breaks on the route before the receiver breaks and before the quarterback starts his throwing motion.
That is a sign of a player who takes film study seriously. He saw a tendency on tape and he was ready for it on gameday. He is an incredibly cerebral player which should help him at the next level.
This was far from the lone example of his instincts. In this play, Fresno State runs a Cover 4 defense. Bell is responsible for half the deep left side of the field and reading the inside slot receiver, protecting against a vertical release.
The slot receiver runs a middle cross. In this scenario, a safety in Bells position is supposed to bracket the number one receiver on his side to protect against a dig or post pattern. Instead, he reads the quarterback’s eyes and jumps the deep crossing route of the slot receiver on the other side of the field.
This was a tremendously instinctual play, and while an interception is great, it also highlights one of his weaknesses: a tendency to freelance in zone coverage.
As I said Bell’s responsibility on that play was to guard against a dig or post from the outside receiver. Instead, he abandoned his zone to make a splash play. That will work sometimes, but it will also backfire.
It is ok to take risks. In fact, I wouldn’t want to necessarily prevent a player from making an aggressive read if they see a tendency they saw in film study, but Bell needs to learn when and when not to take those risks.
Other Fourth-Round Options: Mike Edwards (Kentucky), Ugo Amadi (Oregon)
Round 5: Delvon Randall (Temple)
Randall has been flying under the radar, often overshadowed by his more heralded, and awesomely named, teammate Rock Ya-Sin. Randall is a good player in his own right.
Randall wasn’t invited to the combine but has put together some impressive production which matched the tape. Over the past three seasons he accumulated 230 tackles, 14.5 for loss, and 12 interceptions (exactly four in each of the last three seasons).
Like Bell, he is not going to blow you away with his athleticism. But his instincts and ball skills give him the ability to make a difference at the next level.
Randall has a little more range than Bell. This allows him to potentially play as a single high safety which is the role in which Eddie Jackson excels.
He starts this play smack dab in the middle of the field. Despite the quarterback’s efforts to look him off to the other side, he is able to get all the way to the left sideline to contest the wide receiver and break up the pass. He times his jump perfectly to reach the ball at its highest point and prevent a big completion and possible touchdown.
Randall more than just a finesse safety though. He also has shown he has the physicality to lay a big hit on a receiver to jar the ball loose.
Here Temple runs a cover one robber look which is meant to disguise the coverage as a simple Cover 2 shell. Randall drops down into the middle hole to disrupt crossing routes. The quarterback, who most likely read cover two man pre-snap, thinks he has an easy completion, but Randall is able to step up and deliver a devastating hit to break up the play.
Like every prospect available in the fifth round, Randall does have his issues. As I mentioned he is not the most athletic safety available. He also is prone to poor angles in the run game and struggles to react in the open field.
When he is able to come downhill and work through traffic he is fine. However, when he is backpedaling he has a tendency to stop his feet and stand flat-footed, allowing for receivers and running backs to run right past him.
Other Fifth-Round Options: Saquan Hampton (Rutgers), Marvell Tell (USC)
Round Seven: BJ Blunt (McNeese State)
Blunt played linebacker at McNeese state although given his pro day measurables (6-foot, 220-pounds) he will most likely need to make the switch to safety in the NFL.
Blunt was ultra-productive at the FCS level tallying 102 tackles, 20 for loss, and 11 sacks his senior season.
As you can probably guess from his usage in college and stats he is at his best when he is close to the line of scrimmage. He is not going to be a player you will want in a single high safety situation.
Seeing as how the Bears current safety tandem of Jackson and Clinton-Dix are known more for their coverage ability, Blunt’s physicality would provide a nice change of pace to the position.
Blunt has physicality to spare. He will be at his best in the NFL playing from the box helping out in the run game with big hits that showed up often in the games I watched.
While I would be hesitant to match him up against slot receivers in man coverage, he has shown some ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
Blunt won’t be able to contribute much early on his career on defense. What he can do is be a terror on special teams. His speed, hit power, and relentless pursuit would be a special teams coordinator’s dream. When you’re drafting a safety in the seventh round you look for someone who can improve the third unit.
Other Seventh-Round Options: Jonathan Crawford (Indiana), Andrew Wingard (Wyoming)
I wouldn’t completely rule out the Bears drafting a safety in Round 3 as there should be some intriguing options such as Amani Hooker or Darnell Savage. However, if Chicago decides to wait until Day 3, there should be some talented prospects to choose from.
There are no guarantees but it would be pretty shocking if the Bears don’t address the safety position at some point. All three of these players would be great options.