Chicago Bears Huddle Draft Notebook: A look at safety prospects

Chicago Bears Huddle Draft Notebook: A look at safety prospects
Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Safety Prospect Rankings

  1. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
  2. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
  3. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
  4. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
  5. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

Safest pick: Calvin Pryor – One of the top two safety prospects in the draft, Pryor is the safer pick, because, between him and Clinton-Dix, Prior has the best positional flexibility. In coverage, Pryor plays with good instincts and plays the ball well while still having room to grow in that area of his game. Pryor is also solid in run support as he often takes the right angle to the ball carrier even when he’s making one his highlight reel hits. If Pryor doesn’t work out at FS, his skill-set allows him a chance to become a solid starting SS.

High risk/high reward: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix – Alabama is surely a powerhouse in the SEC and in college football in general, but they struggle to produce quality NFL prospects. There’s a myth going around football circles that although ‘Bama prospects look pro ready on the surface, head coach Nick Saban works them too hard, to the point that NFL teams are getting already worn-down players.

That myth certainly shouldn’t stop Phil Emery from strongly considering Clinton-Dix at pick No. 14, however. Clinton-Dix has everything you want in a FS; athleticism, speed, quickness, great instincts, solid tackler, solid in zone coverage, solid in man coverage, and just a pure ball-hawk. While Emery should be wary of past failed defensive backs out of Alabama, Clinton-Dix’s skill-set tells me that he is worth the risk.

Good value pick: Deone Bucannon – Most teams are trying to emulate the Seattle Seahawks’ big physical secondary, and one of the prospects who fits that description is Washington State SS Deone Bucannon, whose skill-set compares favorably to Seahawks’ SS Kam Chancellor. Like Chancellor, Bucannon has very good size for the position and is a big time hitter over the middle of the field and coming down in run support.

Bucannon is also pretty good in coverage, as he has the speed to cover a lot of areas of the field and has decent ball skills. Bucannon is really everything you want in a safety.

Sleeper Prospect: Tre Boston, North Carolina – In an era where TEs are posing as big athletic WRs and the slot WR is a big emphasis in most offenses around the league, a FS who can come up to the line of scrimmage and man up against those type of pass catchers is quite the luxury for defensive coordinators. Tre Boston has that ability as he’s often lined up at FS as well as CB in some of North Carolina’s formations.

Boston has a very good athleticism and displayed nice ball skills with the Tar Heels. If the team is looking for competition for Chris Conte at the FS position, taking a guy like Boston in the third or fourth round would be an ideal pick.

Analyzing the safety depth

Ryan Mundy: Fringe Starter

A former backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants, Emery signed Mundy with the intention of him being a starter at one of the safety spots. Mundy made clear in his introductory press conference that he’s comfortable at either one of the starting spots. On the Chicago Bears website, Mundy is currently listed as a FS, although his skill-set suits him best at SS.

Chris Conte: Fringe Starter

Conte still has the potential to be a solid starting FS in the league. He has the range and athletic ability to cover a lot of ground in coverage. The problem with Conte is the speed and athleticism would look great if his instincts were up to par. The G.M. and coaching staff still believe in Conte, but time is running out.

M.D. Jennings: Special Teams/Depth

Jennings has good size at 6-0, 187 pounds, but he shouldn’t be counted to play a high number of snaps. He’s likely a backup who can come in and fill in for a game in case of an injury, but he will likely need to be a solid contributor on special teams to make the roster.

Craig Steltz: Special teams

A spot player who shouldn’t be relied on to play big snaps. His worth to the team is on special teams. Unlike past years, Steltz will be in a serious competition for a roster spot on the depth chart.

Danny McCray: Special teams

A former special teams standout for Decamillis, McCray was signed to recapture the magic by re-uniting with Decamillis.

Priority Level: 9

The Bears made free agent additions at the position with Mundy, Jennings, McCray, and re-signing Steltz, but there’s still work that needs to be done at the position. Who knows what Conte the Bears will get in 2014. He was solid in 2012, but his level of play fell off when injuries to the front seven started settling in.

Jennings had just as bad of a 2013 season as Conte as a member of the Packers. Mundy seems to be a capable starter, but the Bears need a big time playmaker back there. Especially in a division that has large fire power offenses in the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

Prospect Spotlight: Jimmie Ward S, Northern Illinois

STRENGTHS: Compact frame. Remarkably fluid athlete with quick feet, smooth change-of-direction agility and easy acceleration. Dropped down to cover slot receivers with solid man-to-man skills to handle a similar role in the NFL.

Good balance and lateral agility, including the ability to sprawl to avoid cut-blocks. Physical, competitive defender who doesn't back down from the challenges of bigger opponents. Very good diagnosis skills and closes quickly and forcefully. Takes proper angles in pursuit, limiting breakaway opportunities for opponents. Eased concerns that his stellar play was due in part to questionable competition at the Senior Bowl.

WEAKNESSES: Shorter than scouts prefer, a fact that could lead to some projecting him at cornerback. Good but less-than-ideal speed to recover if beaten initially. Gets too grabby once he's turned around. Leaves his feet to tackle, creating some impressive collisions but occasionally failing to wrap up securely. Misses tackles against the bigger, stronger athletes.

Compares To: Glover Quin, Lions - Quin might not be the most popular player in the league but the six-year veteran out of New Mexico has quietly proven a quality starter despite marginal size (6-0, 205).

Via CBS Sports

My Analysis: A lot can be made about the injuries to the front seven of the Bears defense having a lot to do with the regression of safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, but you can make the argument that the injuries just exposed them as mediocre. The Bears upgraded the defensive line this year by bringing back Jay Ratliff, who can play both the three-technique and one-technique on the defensive line.

Nate Collins was also brought back, who at one point was outplaying Pro Bowler Henry Melton last year at the three-technique spot. DE Lamarr Houston gives defensive coordinator Mel Tucker a versatile DL who can play multiple positions on the line. Jared Allen at 32 is still a high quality pass rusher, and Willie Young gives the defense a pure speed rusher off the edge.

With the front seven upgraded and veterans Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings back in the secondary, the Bears could use a talented safety like Ward to complete their defense.

Ward is one of the more complete safety prospects in this draft. When you watch him on film, it’s obvious how impressive of an athlete he is and how he has the speed to cover a lot of zones on the field. However, what stands out are his instincts and just how physical he is for a guy his size. What also stands out is his ability to come up and man up on slot receivers.

The Bears haven’t had a safety capable of doing that in a long time. What is holding Ward from being a first-round pick is his size, but if the Bears can land the Northern Illinois Huskies prospect in round two, they would be getting a very talented safety and a possible steal in the draft.

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