While it's long been debated in the media, Lovie Smith, without being prompted, mentioned the possibility of sliding Charles Tillman into the free safety role this season. Cornerbacks just moved up on the Bears' list of priorities this draft. Here are five corners who could take over for P-Nut.
Aaron Williams, Texas, 6' 0" 1/2, 192-pounds
Williams is projected to go in the late first round, so Chicago would have to bypass its offensive-line needs with its 29th overall pick. That said, he is a talented corner whose size would make him a good fit in the Bears secondary. In coverage, he is only average. He often backpedals too upright and has a tendency to bite on double moves. In press coverage, he will need to become more physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. His biggest knock is inconsistency.
On the other hand, Williams is very good in run support. He shows a great ability to shed blocks and is very aggressive in attacking the ball carrier. His technique in tackling is above average and he has the ability to bring down bigger runners. He is also solid when trailing receivers and has enough make-up speed to knock down balls from behind.
While he doesn't have the ball-stripping ability of Tillman, Williams shows a lot of the same talents. He's a big corner who would fit well in the Cover 2 scheme. If Chicago decides to forego the offensive line until later rounds, Williams would be a solid first-round replacement for Tillman.
Brandon Harris, Miami, 5' 10" 1/2, 193-pounds
Harris is a prototypical cover corner. He excels in man coverage, and while his awareness in zone coverage needs work, his athleticism often makes up for his lack of positioning. Due to his blazing speed, he is outstanding at breaking on the ball and covering ground while the pass is in the air.
He is not afraid to come up in run support and does a good job of keeping contain on the edge. While not the best tackler -- he can beat by ball carriers when one-on-one in space -- he often finds a way to bring the runner down.
Harris has good size and instincts. Physically, he might not be the ideal fit for the Bears' Cover 2 but he's a talented player who, at the very least, would be a solid nickelback. Many scouts at the combine feel he will be a solid-to-spectacular defender in the NFL.
Davon House, New Mexico State, 6' 0", 190-pounds
House was a three-year starter for the Aggies who didn't miss any time due to injury. He is at his best in bump-and-run coverage due to his long arms and strong upper body. He has good speed and the big body the Bears look for in cornerbacks. Against the run, he shows great effort but often wraps up too high and can be run over by bigger backs.
House is coming off the board in mock drafts in the late second round. He is a project and most likely wouldn't be able to come in and start right away. Yet his size and physicality, along with a few years learning at the NFL level, could make him a solid shut-down corner in a few years. The Bears will most likely have an opportunity to pick him up at 62, and while he may not be able to take Tillman's spot immediately, the intangibles are there for him to be a solid producer in years to come.
Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, 6' 1" 1/2, 201-pounds
Dowling is one of the biggest, and arguably one of the most talented cornerbacks in the draft. He has outstanding instincts and is great at reading offensive sets before the snap. He has above-average ball skills, long arms and good leaping ability. Against the run, Dowling is a beast. His tackling is above average and he is very aggressive in getting to the ball carrier.
Man-to-man coverage is not his strong suite but he can hold his own against possession receivers. Speedier receivers at the NFL level will give him trouble. He's at his best in zone coverage and is great at reading the eyes of opposing quarterbacks. His body control and balance are very good, and he's not afraid to get physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Dowling's height and skill-set make him a perfect fit for the Bears' Cover 2. Many scouts feel he may be better suited at safety due to his average top-end speed, but corners don't need to be lightning fast in coach Lovie Smith's system. He only needs to be able to jam receivers, cover his zone and give solid run support -- three areas where he excels.
In addition, he played under Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid, who spent two years with the Miami Dolphins. Reid runs a pro system in Charlottesville, meaning Dowling could most likely jump in and start from day one. He is projected to come off the board in early Round 2. If he falls to Jerry Angelo and company at 62nd overall, it's hard to imagine them passing him up.
Shareece Wright, USC, 5' 11", 182-pounds
One scout at the combine said Wright could turn out to be the best cover corner in the 2011 draft. He's a gambler who will often get beat and then come back strong on the next play. He has great playmaking ability and can mirror most collegiate wide receivers. In zone coverage, he has demonstrated solid diagnostic skills. He's big and very strong, and flashes a mean streak at times, especially in run support.
The knock on Wright has been his off-the-field issues. He was ruled academically ineligible for the 2009 season, yet many scouts believe he has matured immeasurably since then and will not be a distraction to any NFL team. He most likely won't show great measurables at the combine, which could cause him to fall to the middle rounds. If he's available in Round 3 or Round 4, Angelo could end up getting the steal of the draft.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.