The Chicago Bears secondary struggled last season. Charles Tillman was placed on injured reserve in Week 3, Tim Jennings appeared a shell of himself and Kyle Fuller failed to live up his first-round billing.
Bright spots Demontre Hurst and Al Louis-Jean are young corners with high ceilings but neither is a building-block player.
At safety, Chris Conte has become an injury liability and Brock Vereen played like an inexperienced rookie. Ryan Mundy was above average but the back end of Chicago’s defense needs at least one substantial upgrade.
Defensive backs take the field on Sunday at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. The on-field workouts will be of special interest to Bears brass, who should pay close attention the following prospects.
Williams is a cover corner with good size and speed. He excels in man coverage, using active hands and a physical press to reroute receivers. He’s also a very aggressive tackler, reminiscent of Tillman in his heyday. He’s the type of “island” corner Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio relied on in San Francisco.
The Bears had a formal meeting with Williams, who has some minor off-field concerns, at the combine. If he falls to Chicago in the second round, he could be asked to fill Tillman’s shoes as the club’s shutdown corner of the future.
Collins only started 10 games at LSU, so his inexperience is a concern, yet his ceiling appears very high. He’s the same size as Tillman and is very strong in man coverage. Down the field, he plays the ball like a wide receiver. He’s also a willing tackler.
Collins is just a one-year starter, so his on-field workout in Indy will be important in helping NFL squads get a better grasp of his skill-set. If he shows instincts and athleticism, he’ll be a quality option for the Bears in the third round.
Johnson was an aggressive cover corner at Wake Forest. He can mirror receivers and he’s a playmaker when the ball is in the air. In terms of pure skill-set, Johnson is one of the most talented cornerbacks in this class, yet he’s wiry. He played at 175 pounds in college, so many have questioned his ability to hold up at the next level.
Johnson may have put those concerns to bed though, weighing an impressive 188 pounds at the combine. NFL teams in Indianapolis are curious how extra pounds will affect his movement on the field. If he’s still fluid, he could jump into the second-round conversation for the Bears.
CB Djoun Smith, Florida Atlantic (5-10, 187)
A relative unknown on a 3-9 mid-major team, Smith has NFL-level talent. He’s not a big player but he’s very physical in coverage and has an outstanding closing burst. He was one of the most impressive secondary players at the Senior Bowl, repeatedly shutting down receivers from larger schools.
A lot of buzz is building around Smith, so all eyes will be on him during his Sunday workout. If he shines, he could be a legitimate candidate for the Bears in the second round.
Prewitt is a powerful safety who can lay the lumber as a tackler. He played both strong safety and free safety at Ole Miss. A two-time All-SEC player, he was highly productive the past two seasons playing in the best conference in the country.
The Bears had a formal meeting with Prewitt, whose versatility would have a lot of value in Fangio’s defense. He has some technique issues but if he puts those to bed with a strong on-field showing at the combine, the Bears may call his name in the second round.
Smith is the best cover safety in this year’s class and many believe he’s best fit as a nickelback at the next level. He’s slightly undersized but he plays downhill and with power. He has outstanding quickness and ball skills, and was also very effective as a blitzer.
Smith is a hybrid corner/safety who would provide Fangio flexibility in coverage, allowing him to use base sets against opposing three-receiver formations. If he shows off his versatility in Indianapolis, he’ll climb Chicago’s draft board.
Harris is a ball-hawking safety with great hands and downfield ability. Some project him as a cornerback at the next level. He’s long, fluid and has a top-tier second gear. His height and jumping ability gives him a leg up on deep balls.
Harris is a bit of a tweener but could be a very good free safety with man cover ability in base sets. His size and quality tackling give him Day 1 starter potential in the NFL. If he shows well at the combine and falls to the Bears in the third round, he may be playing in Chicago next season.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.