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Saturday, April 21, 2012
Bears draft preview: Cornerbacks

By Michael C. Wright

Titus Young
Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin, left, who has visited with the Bears, could wind up at safety in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears upgraded the talent of their depth at cornerback by replacing free-agent departures Zack Bowman and Corey Graham with veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite.

If healthy, Hayden should challenge Tim Jennings for the starting job opposite Charles Tillman. But with Hayden the key word is “if,” which is why it makes sense for the Bears to strongly consider adding a cornerback in the draft capable of challenging for a starting job.

Improved quarterback play around the division with players such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, coupled with the dangerous receivers of the NFC North intensifies the need to stock rosters with top-notch cover men.

“I don’t have the statistics to say, but I would say from two years ago through last year, our division has definitely improved. I would say it’s going to continue to improve and you start at the quarterback position,” Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You have four relatively young quarterbacks that are getting ready to play in the high part of their careers.”

The Bears see what’s developing and are making the appropriate moves to compensate. Surely they also view the current situation at cornerback as somewhat unsettled because of Jennings’ struggles last season, paired with the health of Hayden.

Hayden struggled to play with a dislocated toe last season in Atlanta, and the Falcons eventually placed him on the injured reserve. Having started in 47 games in seven seasons, Hayden has also failed multiple team physicals in the past because of a 2010 neck injury, and isn’t yet fully recovered from the toe injury that ended his 2011 campaign.

Wilhite, meanwhile, is viewed as a backup, although he’s displayed the ability to start in the past.

So the Bears could be looking for insurance. The Bears have held private workouts with West Virginia’s Keith Tandy and Montana’s Trumaine Johnson, in addition to bringing in Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin in for a visit.

Johnson projects as a second-round pick, while Tandy will likely go undrafted or taken late. Although Hardin and Tandy played corner in college, scouts project both could move to free safety in the NFL.

The next 10: 11. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 178; 12. Chase Minnifield, Virginia, 5-11, 183; 13. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, 5-11, 206; 14. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, 6-0, 197; 15. Ron Brooks, Louisiana State, 5-10, 190; 16. Trevin Wade, Arizona, 5-10, 192; 17. Omar Bolden, Arizona State, 5-11, 202; 18. Leonard Johnson, Iowa State, 5-10, 196; 19. Shaun Prater, Iowa, 5-10, 190; 20. Asa Jackson, Cal Poly, 5-10, 191.

Position grade: B-.

Analysis: Passing offenses are becoming much more prolific, heightening the demand for shutdown corners. Three appear to be first-round locks, but some of the NFL’s future stars could come from the raw small-school prospects such as Montana’s Johnson, and Coastal Carolina’s Josh Norman. Because of the uncertainty at cornerback opposite Tillman going into 2012, look for the Bears to be in the mix to add at the position.

The Bears have also shown interest in Louisiana State cornerback Ron Brooks, who projects as a fourth to fifth-round pick that would provide added value on special teams as a gunner.