In 2016, the Chicago Bears secondary lacked, more than anything else, leadership and playmakers.
A seven-year NFL veteran who had six interceptions last season, free-agent safety Quintin Demps should help in both areas but, at 32 years old, he's not a long-term option.
The Bears have a number of young safeties with upside -- Adrian Amos, Deon Bush and potentially Deiondre Hall -- but all are questions marks.
If GM Ryan Pace can land a dominant safety in the 2017 NFL Draft, one who could have a Mike-Brown-type impact in Chicago for the next decade, it would immediately legitimize the secondary, turning it from a team weakness to a team strength.
Fortunately for the Bears, that player exists in this year's draft, yet he's going to cost Pace the third overall pick.
Jamal Adams, LSU (6-0, 214)
Jamal is the son of George Adams, a 1985 first-round pick of the New York Giants, so football is in his blood. In spite of LSU's stacked secondary, Adams started two games as a freshman (66 tackles, 5 PBUs) and was the full-time starter the past two seasons. As a sophomore in 2015, he earned second-team All-SEC honors (67 tackles, 4 INTS, 6 PBUs) and was named a first-team Associated Press All-American in 2016 (76 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1 INT, 4 PBUs).
-Physically perfect. Powerful from head to toe. Compact and quick.
-Good vision. Tracks ball carriers well. Good at eluding second-level blockers. Works his way through the trash well.
-Elite lateral agility and change of direction. Smooth, fluid hips.
-Great burst. Crashes the line of scrimmage vs. the run (see play at 1:43 in Wisconsin film below).
-Plays like LB against the run. Goes toe-to-toe with opposing blockers. Does not back down. Loves contact. (See play at 1:11 in game film vs. Florida below).
-Experienced in press man vs. tight ends. Mirrors receivers well and smothers less-athletic tight ends.
-Lined up at free safety, strong safety and in the slot.
-Excels in the box. Great balance and strength makes him tough to move off his spot, especially for wide receivers and smaller tight ends.
-Instinctive and reactive in zone coverage. Closes hard on passes in front of him.
-Slippery as a blitzer. Times the snap well.
-Takes good angles of attack on deep balls. Rarely beat deep. His athleticism and recovery ability make him a turnover risk every time opposing QBs throw at him.
-Intelligent on-field leader. Mature.
-Sometimes stops moving his feet in the open field, which can lead to missed tackles. Will drop his head on occasion as well.
-Aggressive tackler but that can work against him. Will sometimes over-pursue or fail to break down properly in the open field. (See plays at 1:40 and 3:56 in Alabama film below).
-Will sometimes look back at QB in man coverage, thus losing track of his receiver (see play at 1:03 vs. Wisconsin below).
-When in centerfield, he can be looked off by opposing QBs (see play at 2:55 vs. Wisconsin below).
-Aggressiveness vs. run makes him susceptible to ball fakes (see play at 3:19 vs. Wisconsin below).
The last time a safety was selected in the top three overall was Eric Turner in the 1991 NFL Draft, four years before Adams was born.
Conventional wisdom states that only a few positions are worthy of the top five picks in any NFL draft: quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher. Those are the positions that can have an immediate, substantial and long-lasting impact. Just due to the nature of the position, safeties do not fit those criteria.
Yet the vast majority of draft analysts believe Adams is special and will be named to multiple All Pros throughout his career. And in a class void of consensus top-end talent, it can be argued that Adams is the best "football player", regardless of position, in the entire class -- or at least second behind Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett.
Adams is a beast in the box. He brings a linebacker mentality to the line of scrimmage, where he utilizes his unique blend of strength, agility and burst. His balance and lower body power allow him to fight off blocks with ease, and he's an excellent short-area tackler.
In coverage, Adams can drop back to free safety and roam the entire field. He ran a 4.38 at his pro day yesterday and he plays with outstanding game speed.
He's experienced in man coverage against slot receivers, tight ends and running backs, and has the athleticism and instincts to mirror out of press. In zone sets, his closing speed and awareness are off the charts, although he does have sporadic lapses in concentration.
Adams is a sound tackler but he does miss the occasional ball carrier, often due to a failure to break down. Better body control will help him cut down on the missed tackles.
Adams was the leader of LSU's defense as a junior, bringing maturity and swagger to the field. He's a high character athlete with elite skills and bloodlines.
In essence, Adams has it all, and plays arguably the biggest position of need in Chicago. Outside of Garrett, there is no other surefire, slam-dunk prospect in this year's class. If Adams is the best player on the board when Pace picks at third overall, why pass on him because he's just a safety?
Bears desperately need leadership and playmakers on defense, and Adams is overflowing with both, which is why he could be the first safety since George H. W. Bush was in office to be selected in the top three overall.