The Chicago Bears have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks on the current roster, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, yet both are on the downswing of their respective careers. Tillman is 33 and is signed through just 2014, while Jennings and nickelback Kelvin Hayden are 30.
Despite the vast experience of Chicago's top three corners, which should bode well for the defense this season, none are long-term options. As a result, it's very likely Bears GM Phil Emery will spend an early-round pick in this year's draft on a young, stalwart cornerback.
This year's class of corners is deep, with starters littering the first two rounds. With that in mind, let's break down the cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft projected as first- and second-round selections, to potentially find the Bears' lock-down corner of the future.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6-0, 202)Gilbert is an athletic phenomenon who was extremely productive for the Cowboys. His seven interceptions last season were third most in the FBS, earning him second-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 honors. At the combine, he posted a 4.37 40-yard dash (1st amongst corners) and 20 bench press reps (2nd amongst corners). His size, speed and playmaking ability, along with his dangerous skill set as a kick returner, make him a surefire Top 10 pick. If he falls to Chicago at 14th overall, Satan will need a pair of winter boots.
Projected: Top 10
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Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5-11, 199)Dennard was absolutely dominant for the Spartans in 2013 and was named first-team All-American and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top corner. He had four interceptions last year despite opposing offenses consistently throwing away from him. He's physical in press coverage and his confidence shines through even against the toughest opponents. Dennard has the size, physicality and overall skill set to matchup well against the likes of Jordy Nelson and Calvin Johnson, which is why the Bears could give him a long look if he falls to 14th overall.
Projected: Top 20
Click here to view our full scouting report on Dennard.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-0, 190)Fuller is easily the toughest, most physical cornerback in this draft. His play style borders on that of a linebacker due to his willingness to stick his nose in against the run. Some even feel he's better suited as an in-the-box safety. He's an extremely disruptive hitter and his instincts in coverage are top tier. Fuller breaks hard and quick on short and intermediate passes, which could lead to a lot of big plays at the next level. Some consider Fuller the best corner in this draft and he recently visited the Bears at Halas Hall. If Dennard and Gilbert are gone at 14, and even if one is there, Emery could call Fuller's name in the first round.
Projected: 1st round
Click here to view our full scouting report on Fuller.
Jason Verrett, TCU (5-10, 189)Like Gilbert, Verrett is an athletic specimen. He ran an official 4.38 at the combine, although his best time was a reported 4.30. At his pro day, he posted 19 bench press reps. A high school wide receiver, Verrett has uncanny instincts in man coverage and the agility to make plays on the ball. The past two seasons, he led the nation with 38 passes defended (30 PBUs and eight interceptions). His only knock is his size, which has him viewed by many as a nickel corner. The Bears need a young slot corner and Verrett is an ideal option. He's a borderline first-round pick, and isn't worth the 14th overall selection, but if he somehow fell to Chicago in the second round, he'd be a no-brainer.
Projected: 1st-2nd round
Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 194)Roby nearly jumped to the NFL following a stellar 2012 campaign but returned to Ohio State last season and promptly had a down year. He allowed numerous big plays, dealt with more than a few injuries, was suspended for one game and kicked out of another for "targeting". Yet he has blazing speed (4.39 40-yard dash) and quickness, which has many NFL teams salivating. He's an aggressive tackler and a sudden athlete in coverage. If he keeps his head on straight and focuses on his craft, he could be a draft-day steal.
Projected: 1st-2nd round
Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (5-8, 184)There's a lot to like about Joyner, a first-team All-American and two-time first-team All-ACC honoree, once at cornerback and once at safety. He can play multiple positions and is an experienced kick returner. As a cornerback, he led the Seminoles last season in sacks (5.5). Yet size is his biggest issue. At 5-8, he's about four inches short of being a Top 10 overall pick. Fortunately for Joyner, the Bears know firsthand the potential of a 5-8 corner, which is Tim Jennings' height. Joyner is pound-for-pound one of the top secondary players in this year's class and could be a big boost to the Bears as a corner, safety and kick returner.
Projected: 2nd round
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Phillip Gaines, Rice (6-0, 193)Gaines is a two-time first-team All-Conference USA honoree who started 45 games during his collegiate career. He's experienced and was highly productive, allowing just 13 catches on 40 targeted throws his senior year. He ran a 4.38 at the combine and reportedly blew scouts away during his pro day. He's rising up draft boards due to his athleticism and dominant film. A pure lock-down corner with good size, fluid hips and light feet, Gaines is flying a bit under the radar. Don't count him out as a potential Bears second-round selection.
Projected: 2nd round
Marcus Roberson, Florida (6-0, 191)Roberson has good size and played well in 2012. That's about all the good that can be said about him. He's a grabby corner who doesn't show good instincts or anticipation. He lacks awareness in zone coverage and any semblance of route recognition. At the combine, he was slow (4.61) and weak (eight bench press reps). He struggles against bigger receivers and needs to improve in nearly every area of his game. He's only been a part-time starter the past two years and has missed games with ankle, knee and neck injuries. He's arguably the most overrated player in this year's draft.
Projected: 2nd round
Keith McGill, Utah (6-3, 211)McGill is one of the new breed of big, powerful corners in the mold of Seattle's Richard Sherman. He has intimidating length and can jump out of the gym (39-inch vertical jump). Yet McGill doesn't play tough and doesn't use his size to his advantage. He's hesitant against the run and his footwork needs much refinement. He also lacks experience (he was a one-year starter for the Utes) and has consistently dealt with injuries (he missed all of 2012 with a shoulder injury). Some consider him best fit at safety. McGill is a serious project but his size is very intriguing.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round
Bashaud Breeland, Clemson (5-11, 197)Breeland is an aggressive corner who plays with confidence. He's solid in run support and is a willing tackler. He has fluid hips and does will mirroring defenders. Breeland is a bit of a project and must refine his technique to play press in the NFL. He has good size and a desirable skill set, along with an attacking mentality, yet he's a work in progress. Still, he appears to be a player whose best days are ahead of him and if the Bears think they can help him reach his ceiling, he could hear his name called on Day 2 of the draft.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round
Kim Klement/USA TODAY
The Pick: Lamarcus Joyner
Most NFL teams are looking to copy the Seattle Seahawks and their use of big corners in press coverage. Yet a big body doesn't always equate to a quality player. Most of the Sherman-sized corners in this draft are projects at best.
That's not the case with Joyner, who does everything well and is effective in every phase of the game. He's experienced and can play both corner and safety. He's also a quality return man and a dangerous blitzer.
Joyner doesn't have good size and he's not going to get any taller but he's a pure football player in every sense of the word. He's an intelligent on-field leader who has all the makings of a plug-and-play starter in the slot.
The Bears run a zone-based system, so having 6-3 corners isn't necessary. Joyner is one of the best, most versatile corners in this year's draft and would be great value for Chicago in the second round.
If the team wants to spend a first rounder on a cornerback, Kyle Fuller is my pick. He's a linebacker in a cornerback's body and has playmaking ability for days. Of all the corners in this draft, Fuller is my favorite and would be well worth the 14th overall selection.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.