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Chicago Bears 2016 Draft Preview: Cornerback (Rounds 1-3)

Detailed analysis of the top cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft, with a specific focus on which players can best fill the needs of the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears invested a first-round pick in Kyle Fuller two years ago, yet the returns have been far from ideal.

Fuller has been hot and cold during his first two seasons, although he finished 2015 on a strong note. Still, the jury is still out on Fuller's potential as an NFL starter. 

Tracy Porter played well at times last season but, like Fuller, his performance was somewhat sullied by some serious rough patches. Still, Porter did enough last year to earn another contract with the Bears this off-season. Yet he'll be 30 by the start of the 2016 campaign, so he's hardly a long-term option. 

Beyond those two, the cornerback cupboard is dangerously bare. Bryce Callahan wasn't horrible in the slot last year, and neither was Demontre Hurst, yet neither player is a reliable foundation piece for the secondary. 

With Porter's age, Fuller's inconsistencies and a lack of viable depth, the Bears will surely be targeting cornerbacks in this year's draft. 

With that in mind, here is a detailed break down of the top corners in the 2016 class, those projected to come off the board in the first three rounds. 

Vernon Hargreaves, Florida (5-10, 204)

Hargreaves doesn't have ideal size or speed but he makes up for it with his physical brand of football and outstanding quickness. A three-year starter at Florida, he was named first-team All-SEC each year, while also earning All-American honors in both 2014 and 2015. An instinctive defender with great read-and-react ability, Hargreaves is aggressive when the ball is in the air. He's highly competitive, intelligent and tough near the line of scrimmage. Many folks compare Hargreaves favorably to Joe Haden. View our full scouting report on Hargreaves here.
Projected: Top 15

Eli Apple, Ohio State (6-1, 199)

Apple was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes who posted 22 pass breakups, which was enough for him to enter the draft as a redshirt sophomore. He has the size, length and speed (4.40 40-yard dash) NFL teams look for in No. 1 corners. He's very active when the ball is in the air and uses his hands very well to reroute receivers. He's also a willing tackler in run support, although he'll need to refine his tackling technique. Apple lacks ideal awareness, so he's a bit of a project, but his ceiling is very high.
Projected: 1st Round

Mackensie Alexander, Clemson (5-10, 190)

Like Hargreaves, Alexander is on the small side, yet he's arguably the top lock-down corner in this draft. Alexander excels in man coverage, where his quickness allows him to effortlessly mirror receivers. He's extremely confident and competitive, which should bode well for him in the NFL. He's not great in zone sets but one-on-one, he's a beast. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio loves using man coverage out wide, which makes Alexander an intriguing first-round option. View our full scouting report on Alexander here.  
Projected: 1st Round

William Jackson III, Houston (6-0, 189)

In terms of athleticism, Jackson is the best cornerback in this draft. He has NFL size and he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine. In 2015, he led the nation with 23 pass breakups, which is outstanding. He doesn't excel in press coverage due to a lack of refined technique but there are no corners in this class who are better when the ball is in the air. Jackson must improve in a few technical areas but his upside is off the charts, and he's climbing up draft boards. 
Projected: 1st Round

Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech (5-11, 187)

Fuller is the younger brother of the Bears' Kyle Fuller and Lions receiver Corey Fuller. NFL talent runs in his blood. Fuller was a freshman All-American in 2013 after picking off six passes, and was named first-team All-ACC his sophomore year while playing through a broken wrist. He's an aggressive, confident defender who displays good footwork and instincts. Like his older brother, he is a downhill tackler who excels in run support. Injuries are a huge concern for Fuller, as he missed most of his junior year due to a torn meniscus. His medical exams will be important to NFL teams. If he drops to the Bears in the second round, don't be surprised if it's a family affair in Chicago's secondary. 
Projected: 1st-2nd Round

Artie Burns, Miami (Fla.) (6-0, 193)

An all-conference hurdler for the Hurricanes, Burns was a two-year starter in Miami. He intercepted six passes in 2015, the most by a Miami player since Sean Taylor's 10 in 2003. Burns excels in press coverage, where he's able to best use his length and athleticism. He has a ton of potential but he's seriously lacking in the technique area. It may take him a year or two to become an NFL starter but he has all the makings of a top cover corner at the next level.
Projected: 2nd Round

Xavien Howard, Baylor (6-0, 201)

Howard was a two-year starter for the Bears, racking up a combined 9 interceptions and 23 pass breakups. He's a feast or famine player, one who has had success in press coverage, where he can utilize his size and quick feet, yet whose grabby style of play could limit his effectiveness at the next level. He also needs to get better in run support. Howard has a high ceiling but also a pretty deep floor. 
Projected: 2nd Round

Will Redmond, Mississippi State (5-11, 182)

When on the field, Redmond was very productive for the Bulldogs. He's a quick, athletic playmaker who has the footwork and awareness to excel in man coverage. The problem is that Redmond was hardly on the field. He was a backup until his senior year, then he tore his ACL midway through 2015. Redmond was an ascending player before the injury. He carries some risk but also plenty of upside. His medicals will likely determine where he's drafted. 
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Maurice Canady, Virginia (6-1, 193)

Canady has great size and length, and he ran a 4.47 at the combine. He was productive in 2014 (three interceptions) showing good ball skills and playmaking ability. He also has experience as a punt returner. Yet there are concerns about Canady's toughness, as he's not a wiling tackler, as well as his drop off in production last season (no interceptions). Over the last two seasons, he allowed 10 TDs and had just 3 INTs, which is concerning. He's physically gifted but an NFL team is going to have to coach some toughness into Canady. 
Projected: 3rd Round

Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma (5-11, 185)

Sanchez was named first-team All-Big 12 the past two seasons and an All-American in 2015. In three years as a starter for the Sooners, he tallied 15 interceptions and 28 pass breakups. He has quick feet and fluid hips, and he anticipates very well passes thrown in his direction. Sanchez is very thin and struggles to bring down bigger backs. He's also a risk taker in coverage, which leads to a lot of big plays for opposing receivers. He'll need to bulk up and improve his fundamentals if he's going to start in the pros. 
Projected: 3rd Round

Cyrus Jones, Alabama (5-10, 197)

A two-year starter for the Tide, Jones accumulated 25 pass breakups and 9 interceptions in 2014 and 2015 combined. He also served as Alabama's primary punt returner last year. Jones is at his best in press coverage and he heavily challenges pass thrown his way. Jones doesn't have blazing speed and struggles in run support, but he could be a starting nickelback, as well as a punt returner, as early as next year in the NFL. 
Projected: 3rd-4th Round

The Pick

Eli Apple: If Hargreaves falls to the Bears at 11th overall, he'll be tough to pass up. He's a Day 1 starter in the NFL, one who could play at either the boundary or the nickel spot. Yet there's a very good chance Hargreaves will be off the board when it's Chicago's turn to pick in the first round. 

If that happens, then Apple becomes the pick. He has ideal NFL size and speed, and he's adept in man coverage, an area in which Bears corners struggled last year. He's big, athletic, confident and experienced, which are all first-round traits. 

Apple has the potential to be a long-term starter for the Bears at arguably their biggest position of weakness. He's well worth the 11th overall pick in the draft and he would immediately improve Chicago's secondary, while allowing Porter to slide inside to the slot. 

If the Bears want to go out on a limb, I feel Jackson would be worth Chicago's first-round pick, although there isn't a single mock draft that has him slated as high as 11th overall. If he somehow falls to the second round, he'd be a slam dunk. 


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