The Chicago Bears have a gap to fill at safety heading into 2022. As the defense prepares to switch from 3-4 to 4-3, the current depth chart lacks depth at free safety behind Eddie Jackson.
At strong safety, the Bears re-signed DeAndre Houston Carson and acquired a free agent in former Tennessee Titan Dane Cruikshank. But both players signed to one-year deals, leaving the Bears with a long-term need at safety.
Here are some safeties the Bears could target in each round of the upcoming draft to fill an important need — starting in Round 2.
2nd Round: Daxton Hill, Michigan
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Daxton Hill did it all for the Wolverines. He played outside corner, box safety, and free safety. He can cover receivers and tight ends on short to intermediate routes but is best at the line of scrimage. He’s a willing tackler with sound technique.
The Bears will likely take a cornerback, wide receiver, or offensive tackle in the second round. But what’s intriguing about Hill is his athleticism. On paper, his combined performance ranks in the 90th percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.38), 3-cone (6.57), and wingspan (79.25″) when compared to cornerbacks.
If the Bears think he can play cornerback, maybe they take Hill at pick 39 or 48.
3rd Round: Bryan Cook, Cincinnati
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When it comes to Bryan Cook, there is a lot to appreciate about the safety from Cincinnati. He is willing to show up against the run, and he’s above-average against all three levels (short, intermediate, and deep) in pass coverage.
Cook is a high floor, low ceiling prospect. But he lacks in agility. In the open field, he tends to miss when attempting to tackle ball carriers. In addition, he’s expected to have 4.6 speed which isn’t ideal for playing man coverage against NFL wide receivers.
It’s hard to imagine the Bears taking him in the 3rd round, but he’s an outstanding prospect with the potential to become great.
4th Round: Verone McKinley III, Oregon
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Verone McKinley III is a deep safety with limited experience playing other positions. He’s a bit undersized at 5’10” and 198 pounds which makes it challenging to project success for him in the NFL. But he’s a ball hawk (11 interceptions in three years) despite tending to gamble.
McKinley didn’t run the 40-yard dash and is rumored to be a 4.6/4.7 guy. That doesn’t help a guy who’s already a bit too small. When needed, he’s a willing tackler, but he shouldn’t be counted on for run support at his size.
Suppose the Bears take McKinley in the fourth round. In that case, they’re committing to a ball-hawking safety and former teammate of current cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and hoping they can clean up some of McKinley’s desire to make the big play.
5th Round: Kerby Joseph, Illinois
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Kerby Joseph is likely a single high or two high safety. He will excite teams who think they’re getting a ball-hawking safety (5 interceptions in 2021). While he’s shown flexibility and played in the box for Illinois, he’s not a run-stopping safety.
As a defender, he takes faulty angles and often overruns plays. In pass coverage, he lacks elite speed and consistency. As a result, there are plays where Joseph will look terrific and other times where he’s bewildered and just trying to avoid getting beat.
Any team that drafts the Illinois safety will hope to improve his football IQ, tackling technique, and run fits. If they’re successful, Joseph could become a long-time starter taken in the fifth round.
6th Round: Smoke Monday, Auburn
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Smoke Monday is the draft’s best-named prospect and a classic run-stopper. The Auburn thrives in the box and, at times, was another linebacker. Smoke racked up over 170 tackles in his four years at Auburn as proof of his run-stopping capability.
In coverage, he’s better at zone than man. In zone coverage, he’s able to maximize his aggression and physicality. By keeping routes in front of him, he can read the quarterback’s eyes and drive on receivers, separating them from the ball. Conversely, he struggles to keep up with speedier receivers on vertical and breaking routes in man coverage.
The Bears will get a player eager to throw his body around and deliver big hits to opponents on Monday. While he might need time to develop into an NFL safety, he’d be an immediate contributor on special teams.
7th Round: Tycen Anderson, Toledo
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Tycen Anderson is very athletic and wore many hats for Toledo. During his five years for the Rockets, he played slot corner, deep safety, and box safety and racked up 233 tackles. What’s exciting about Anderson is his size and speed. He appears to be a prototypical box safety at 6’2″ 209 pounds and ran a 4.36 40-yard dash.
Some teams might give Anderson a look at cornerback given his 79″ wingspan and 35.5″ vertical. While Anderson seems to lack the range and agility to cover as a deep safety consistently, he’s an excellent Cover 2 box safety with the skills to play linebacker in nickel and dime packages.
In a seventh-round pick, the Bears would get a player with the size and tenacity needed to stop the run, the pass coverage skills to cover short and intermediate routes, and the potential to become a zone cornerback.