Take your pick
Act fast to get a playmaker at safety
Ten years from now when NFL fans recall the 2013 Chicago Bears season, one statistic will jump off the page: 161.4.
That's the average rushing yards per game (last in the league) the Bears defense surrendered in the first year under Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker.
The defense eroded up the middle, starting with the tackles and working back to the linebackers and the safeties. All three remain positions of need in the draft, but in what order?
That is what makes the draft so much fun to cover, because for all the mock drafts and speculation, we really have no concrete idea how the first round will actually unfold Thursday.
Bears general manager Phil Emery said last week the Bears have narrowed their list down to approximately six players the organization would feel comfortable drafting at No. 14.
Without being privy to the actual list, here is my best guess: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and a safety to be named later.
I badly want to put UCLA OLB Anthony Barr on the list because of his breathtaking athletic ability, but I don't know exactly where he projects in a 4-3 defense. Do the Bears take another defensive end-type after signing free agents Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston?
That's why I'm not sure Barr is in play for the Bears in the first round unless they trade the pick. But let's say there is no trade. If Donald is off the board before No. 14 (as many expect), the next best run defender of the group is Pryor.
His ESPN Insider draft card lists him as a "heavyweight fighter in run support." Exactly the kind of player the Bears need.
The Bears wanted to find nastier players on defense in the offseason. Drafting Pryor further advances that goal. But the reason I wrote "safety to be named later" on the original list of six is because two other safeties are expected to be drafted in the first round, but on different ends.
The Bears could covet Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 14. But if Emery is able to move back into the 20s, Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward might be an intriguing option. The Bears also visited with Washington State's Deone Bucannon at Halas Hall in March. Pryor, Clinton-Dix, Ward and Bucannon are the consensus top four safeties in the draft.
All are expected to be gone by the second round. Three could come off the board in the first round. Maybe all four will be gone Thursday.
Emery called the Bears' current safety position "wide-open."
If the Bears want to find a playmaking safety, they better be ready to draft one Thursday night.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
Bears should have DL options at 14
We don't know whether Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings or Danny McCray can get it done, and Chris Conte's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery isn't a slam dunk. So with both safety spots up for grabs in 2014, sure, it makes a ton of sense to add at safety via the draft.
But at No. 14, defensive line is where the value is for Chicago.
"There's positions that have bigger impact in terms of when you look at [the draft] overall," Bears general manager Phil Emery said last week. "To our staff, the defensive line has more impact overall in the defense than any position. That's where it all starts in terms of stopping the run, and that's where it starts in terms of rushing the passer."
Given the depth of the class along the defensive line, once Chicago goes on the clock, several solid prospects should still be on the board who would provide more value at the slot than a safety or cornerback. And value is what it's all about usually in the middle of the order in the first round.
Besides, strong defensive line play makes a secondary -- namely safeties -- look good; not the other way around.
It's not a fact lost on me that Chicago invested heavily along the defensive line throughout free agency, but why not finish the deal by filling out the rotation with a young player capable of starting the next 10 years in the middle of that defense?
I keep going back to something Emery said after last season when pondering the direction the Bears should take at 14.
"We went from the beginning of the season of being a little over 20 percent per play of creating disruption against the pass. When we first started having injuries we were in the 15 percent range. There was a dramatic drop-off," Emery said. "So for me, I have to look at [whether] we [had] enough depth to win football games? The answer is no, OK? From my perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth. We were at least one defensive lineman short."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPN.com.