The 2013 Chicago Bears season was arguably the greatest for a pair of starting cornerbacks in franchise history. Both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings were named All-Pro, as well as Pro Bowl starters. Tillman led the league in forced fumbles (10), while Jennings led the league in interceptions (9). Much of the success of the club's defense last season can be attributed to the play of the two corners out wide.
In the slot, it was a different story. D.J. Moore struggled out of the gate and was eventually replaced by Kelvin Hayden. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayden graded the worst of any Chicago corner last season. Despite the poor grade, Bears brass were satisfied with his leadership and ability to play multiple positions, so GM Phil Emery signed Hayden to a one-year deal again this offseason.
Yet all three of the aforementioned players are 29 or older and have contracts expiring after 2013. The Bears have no other options in the pipeline, so the team will be looking to grab a young player that can be a secondary starter in a year or two.
With that in mind, we break down the early round cornerbacks in this year's draft to find a fit for the Bears.
Dee Milliner, Alabama (6-0, 201)
Milliner is the consensus best cornerback in this year's draft. He has ideal size to be physical at the line of scrimmage, accompanied by blazing speed (4.37 40-yard dash). His junior season in 2012, he defended a whopping 22 passes, earning him All-American and All-SEC honors. He has top-tier athleticism and is very intelligent on the field. If he's not a Pro Bowler in a year or two, then something went horribly wrong. For the Bears, Milliner isn't really an option, as he's expected to come off the board far ahead of the 20th overall selection. Projected: Top 10
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6-2, 210)
Rhodes is one of the biggest, most physical corners in this year's class. He thrives in press coverage, using his strength and size to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. He'll need to work on his technique as a tackler but he brings some pop. His biggest weakness is in zone coverage, where he struggles mightily with awareness and recognition. He's a pure press corner and has no experience in the slot. He's not a good fit for Chicago's slot needs in a zone-heavy scheme, and he's almost guaranteed to go in the Top 15, so the odds of Rhodes landing in Chicago are extremely slim. Projected: Top 15
Desmond Trufant, Washington (6-0, 190)
Trufant is the brother of NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah, so football is in his blood. He didn't have a highly productive collegiate career but he has very good size, speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and quickness (3.85 short shuttle). Athletically, he's similar to both Milliner and Rhodes but he's not as polished. Trufant has playmaking ability and a very high ceiling. He can play outside or inside in the slot, so his positional versatility could make him attractive to the Bears. He's a borderline first-round pick. It's doubtful Chicago would reach for him in the first and he may not be around when the team picks at 50th overall in the second round. If he does fall though, the Bears will surely consider him at 50. Projected: Round 1-2
Jamar Taylor, Boise State (5-11, 192)
Taylor was a three-year starter for the Broncos whose outstanding senior season (51 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles) earned him All-Mountain West honors. He has good size, strength (his 22 bench press reps at the combine were the most of any secondary player), and speed (4.39). He has the quickness to play in the slot yet he's physical enough to play out wide. He's not the greatest tackler but that appears to be his only real weakness. Taylor is projected as a second-round pick. Emery drafted a Boise State defender early in last year's draft (Shea McClellin) so it wouldn't be out of the question for him to snag Taylor at 50 if he's available. Projected: Round 2
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St. (6-2, 185)
During his senior season in 2012, Banks was named first-team All-SEC, second-team All-American and earned the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top corner. He's big, physical and very aggressive when the ball is in the air. He started his collegiate career as a safety and brings that mentality when attacking the run. Banks has poor speed (4.63), isn't very strong and must fill out his lean frame. If he does, he has the potential to develop his game similar to that of Tillman. He doesn't fit in the slot but he has the potential to be a starter out wide. He's a second-round pick that would be an ideal fit for the Bears as a long-term starter option if he drops to 50. Projected: Round 2
David Amerson, North Carolina St. (6-1, 205)
During his sophomore year in 2011, Amerson intercepted 13 passes, which is second most in NCAA history. For his efforts, he was named All-ACC, All-American and earned the Jack Tatum Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He struggled at times during his junior year and had some very poor outings, getting beat deep far too often. Yet his playmaking ability can't be ignored. He doesn't have fluid hips, so he might fit better as a safety in the pros. If the Bears are looking for a versatile second rounder with excellent ball skills and sound tackling ability, they could do much worse than Amerson on Day 2. Projected: Round 2
D.J. Hayden, Houston (5-11, 191)
Hayden was named first-team All-Conference USA his junior year and was having a strong senior season before a freak injury in practice derailed his campaign. He tore his inferior vena ceva, the vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart. It's common in car-crash victims and holds a 95 percent fatality rate. By all accounts, Hayden has recovered nicely and reportedly ran a 4.33 at his pro day. He's more physical than his size suggests and he's a beast when the ball is in the air. If the Bears are convinced Hayden is fully healthy without risk of re-injury, he could be steal in the second round. Projected: Round 2
Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut (5-11, 201)
Gratz is a three-year starter who earned second-team All-Big East honors the past two years. He's a physical corner who was used often as a blitzer, which would give him extra value as a slot corner. He's also a downhill player against the run who can hit like a safety. Gratz isn't the fastest or most fluid player, so there has been talk of moving him to safety at the pro level. At either position, his size, strength, quick feet and hands will give him the potential to be a quality nickelback at the next level. Projected: Round 2-3
Darius Slay, Mississippi St. (6-0, 192)
In his only year as a full-time starter at Mississippi State, Slay recorded 40 tackles, six passes defended, and five interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. For his play, he was selected to the Coaches All-SEC second-team. He's a lean, long cornerback who uses strong hands to chuck receivers at the line and disengage them from the ball when passes come his way. He's also a very physical tackler. He doesn't have quick feet, so he isn't a great fit for nickelback. As a special teams coverage player, Slay was exceptional. The Bears don't have a third-round pick but if they trade into that round, Slay would make a quality selection as a potential starter out wide in a year or two. Projected: Round 2-3
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5-9, 186)
There's no denying Mathieu's playmaking ability. In 2011, the "Honey Badger" forced six fumbles and intercepted two passes on his way to winning the 2011 Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. Yet his problems with marijuana led to multiple team violations, ultimately resulting in LSU dismissing him from the squad, costing him his entire 2012 season. Mathieu subsequently joined a rehab program and entered the draft. He's undersized but he's an outstanding athlete who plays bigger than his frame. He ran a 4.50 at the combined, demonstrating good speed as well. Mathieu is a talented player who, had he played last year, likely would be a Top 15 pick in the 2013 draft. As such, teams have to decide whether his baggage makes him worth a third-round pick. The Bears likely won't have to make such a decision, as the team is without a third-round selection in this year's draft. But if they trade into the third, Mathieu is definitely worth the risk. Projected: Round 3
Robert Alford, Southeast Louisiana (5-10, 188)
Alford isn't as big as most of the other players on this list but he was an extremely effective lock-down corner in college, arguably the best the FCS. He was also a beast at the combine. He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash (4.39), bench press (17 reps), vertical jump (40.0 inches) and broad jump (132.0 inches). He was used primarily in the slot and dominated throughout most of his senior campaign. Alford is outstanding in press coverage, strong against the run and was very effective as a nickelback blitzer. He's a third-round prospect but he has a second-round skill set. If the Bears want to snag a pure slot corner who has starter potential as early as next year, they'll find a way to trade into the third and grab Alford. Projected: Round 3
The Bears don't have a first-round need for a cornerback, so Emery isn't likely to start considering corners until the second round. If he's looking for a nickelback in the second, then D.J. Hayden is the pick. He's a pure slot corner who, if he's fully healed from his freak injury, would likely overtake Kelvin Hayden as the club's starting nickelback at some point in 2013.
If Emery is looking for a player with the potential to start out wide, the Johnthan Banks is the pick. Banks has the same size, speed and skill set as Charles Tillman. He would be ideal as a starting Cover 2 corner.
If Emery can trade into the third round, possibly by trading back in the first, then Alford is a perfect selection. The small-school prospect is flying under the radar but his production and measurables are as good as any player in this draft. He'll fall due to his competition in college. If the Bears can somehow snag him, they'll be getting the perfect slot corner to fit their needs.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.