- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite veterans Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings being firmly locked into the starting cornerback spots for the Chicago Bears, don’t assume the team wasted a pick Thursday when it selected Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 14.
In drafting Fuller, the Bears addressed the future at the position while also adding a versatile Day 1 starter.
“Obviously a player picked that high, we expect him to contribute his first year,” general manager Phil Emery said. “With the number of multiple wideout sets you face, we expect him to come in and contribute right away, and as time permits and our roster change[s] over time like they all do, to be a starter on the outside.”
But right now, Fuller is pretty much a sure bet to be the club’s Week 1 starter at nickel corner. Sure, it would be easy to try to minimize the value of the nickel corner in Chicago’s defense. But what’s important to realize is that Fuller will play more than the team’s starting strongside linebacker in 2014. Why? Because the Bears play nickel more than they play base personnel.
Historically, during Emery’s tenure in Chicago, the Bears have operated out of nickel between 54 and 60 percent of all defensive snaps, he said. That means Fuller will be on the field quite a bit. What’s more is Fuller’s versatility allows the Bears to be more creative with the scheme and how they deploy him. Emery has already said Fuller can play inside against tight ends or bigger slot receivers, but he also can move outside against speedier pass-catchers.
“We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different types of athletes. That’s where his length really helps him,” Emery said. “You can see him on tape covering the North Carolina tight end [No. 10 overall pick Eric] Ebron. You see him cover inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him cover outside. This is a corner that had 173 tackles in his career, 123 solos; a corner with 23½ tackles for loss. You don’t see that every day; 4½ sacks, six picks, 28 PBUs (pass breakups). [He’s a] versatile, tough, hard-nosed, smart football player and a great person on top of that. He’s got run-support toughness. There wasn’t any reason not to take Kyle Fuller.”
Fuller embodies what Emery and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker covet in the players the club looks to add to the defense moving forward. He’s versatile, athletic and tough. He has played nickel/whip linebacker at Virginia Tech as well as corner.
Interestingly, Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis rated Fuller as the best special-teams player in the draft. So he’ll contribute there, too, this season.
“Coming in, I like feel they know I can play corner or nickel; possibility of safety, whatever it is. I’m a versatile player," Fuller said. "I know they’ll put me in the best situation for myself and the team."