- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery finished up a 17-minute news conference Thursday night at Halas Hall, the muted TV to his right showed the Green Bay Packers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the draft.
Emery passed on Clinton-Dix, a mock draft favorite, when he took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in the first round of Thursday’s made-for-TV draft.
If Fuller struggles and we see Clinton-Dix picking off Jay Cutler next year, we’ll have a good laugh (ha ha) about it, right, Bears fans?
Don't answer that.
You'll be surprised to know Fuller was the player the Bears wanted all along. Emery played coy about Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who ended up going a pick before the Bears’ turn, but he couldn’t help but effuse over Fuller, a tough, versatile cornerback who should excel playing Chicago Bears defense in Chicago Bears weather on Chicago Bears chewed-up turf.
He can hit and he can cover. Basically, he's the perfect football player, according to Emery's news conference.
"He's even a great person," Emery said.
Emery's a wild card around draft time, but we all figured he would go defense, given the glaring needs up front and, well, all over. But you shouldn't be surprised he wasn’t monomaniacally focused on safety. It’s a long draft. I think it’s over in July. So there will be more chances to draft a young safety this season.
This wasn’t a best-player-available situation, either. The Bears have a need, a hybrid defensive back, and Fuller filled it. ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. even picked this one.
“We decided on Kyle Fuller, the player,” Emery said. “That’s the important thing. He’s a good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage.”
Versatility is a word thrown around a lot around this time, and Fuller said, as draft picks are wont to do on draft night, that he’s open to playing anywhere.
“I feel like they know I can play corner, nickel and possibly safety,” Fuller said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m a versatile player.”
Versatility is nice. The Bears just need more bodies. Let’s go back to how last season ended, with safety Chris Conte blowing coverage, however it happened, and Packers receiver Randall Cobb going 48 yards for a division-clinching touchdown. At that time, the call was for a complete demolition of the defense, starting at safety.
This isn't a leap. Fuller makes perfect sense. Emery just wants someone to cover the wide variety of receivers and tight ends in the modern NFL offense. The Bears need to match up with Green Bay and Detroit, not to mention the various offenses they see around the league.
Emery mentioned how Fuller covered tight ends like Eric Ebron, who was taken 10th by Detroit.
“His versatility of coverage was a big attraction,” Emery said.
We already know the Bears are going to go more “hybrid” this season under coordinator Mel Tucker. That’s the new rage, and of course, the old one. Disguising coverages is nothing new.
Fuller, who will line up inside and eventually supplant Tillman or Jennings on the outside, is expected to play right away, wherever.
“We see him as a corner with a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different sorts of athletes,” Emery said. “That’s where his length comes in.”
Ah, length, another favorite buzzword come draft time. Fuller’s no giant, he’s a shade under 6-foot and 190 pounds, but Emery fell in love with him when he live-scouted Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Fuller forced a fumble and made two tackles for loss in that game.
“I knew that day that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears,” Emery said.
Let Emery explain.
“He was playing Georgia Tech, and they lined him up at inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback,” Emery said in plain English. “And he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player.”
On Thursday, Emery marveled at Fuller’s physicality, including 129 solo tackles as a four-year starter (with some injury history, that is of course, no concern whatsoever). In 2011, as a hybrid “whip linebacker/nickelback,” he led all college defensive backs with 14 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also a highly-regarded special-teams player, blocking two punts in his career with the Hokies’ always dangerous unit. He's got a good pedigree, with two older brothers who have played in the NFL. His brother Corey is a practice squad receiver with Detroit.
Emery, of course, raved about Shea McClellin when he drafted him as a versatile pass-rusher. Two failed years later, McClellin is being moved to linebacker this year as a last-ditch effort to save his Bears career.
A confident Emery left the press room Thursday sure the Bears have hit on this pick. Fuller was the best player on their board and is the start of a new defensive generation.
After all, he was the guy they wanted all along, and maybe the guy you wanted all along, too. Even if you didn't know it.