We all know what happened. It was Week 17, and the Chicago Bears had a chance to clinch the NFC North with a win over the rival Green Bay Packers. Safety Chris Conte’s poor play had been the subject of much of the criticism the Bears had gotten all of last year, and the team’s playoff hopes came crumbling down in what was an all too familiar scene for Bears fans — Conte had blown his coverage and allowed the game-winning 48-yard touchdown. With the news that Conte will be out four-to-five months due to shoulder surgery, he will have to fight to retain his job for the 2014 season. Let’s take a look at why addressing the safety position in the draft is the Bears’ biggest need.
Potential ‘safety’ nets for the Chicago Bears
While going for depth at defensive end is important for the Bears’ 2014 success as well, it can be argued no other position has had more questions than both the free and strong safety positions. Major Wright and Chris Conte both under-performed last season, which was unfortunate because the expectation was the Bears would make a run in the playoffs. When this didn’t happen, everybody and their mother seemed to point the finger at first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. No matter what anyone says, the players have themselves to blame for their underwhelming play.
The key to these issues could very well be found in the draft, as the safety position has some very promising prospects who could contribute almost immediately, especially with Conte’s job status in question.
Jimmie Ward, NIU
Ward, who measured in at his pro day at 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds, was a big part of NIU’s past success, as last season he was named a first-team All-American by both USA Today and Sports Illustrated, the first time a Huskie defensive player has been given such honors. Ward does not let his size get the best of him, however, and he led the team with ten pass breakups, 95 tackles as well as seven interceptions last season.
Ward’s playmaking ability is what the Bears drastically need at this position. His speed could not hurt, either, as he ran a blazingly fast 4.45 forty-yard dash. He is speculated to be an early second-round pick, so the team could certainly add some depth at safety or other positions before selecting him.
Deonne Bucannon, WSU
The Washington State product weighs in at 6-feet and 216 pounds, so at the outset we know Bucannon has an imposing build and can hold his own. A first-team All-American, Bucannon is very active near the line of scrimmage, as he had 78 solo tackles (tied for 11th in the country), three forced fumbles, along with seven interceptions in coverage. His last name says a lot about him, as he appears to shoot out of a cannon at times.
While he has his share of weaknesses (difficulty changing direction fluidly, choppy backpedal, struggles with tunnel vision), his ability to rip the ball out of ball carriers and make the big hit makes Bucannon a viable option. He is projected to be selected in either the second or third round, so he could fall into the Bears’ lap.
It’s been speculated the Bears will set their sights on the defensive end position, and both the safety and cornerback position. No matter what way they go, these two prospects would provide depth and durability at a position in which the Bears desperately need an upgrade.