Draft Dissection: Defensive Prospects

The NFL Draft kicks off Saturday, and the Chicago Bears are busy making their final preparations at Halas Hall. There are immediate-impact players on their wish list, but which ones are most likely to be selected by the team this weekend? JC offers his final draft primer, this time on defense ...

Tackle

The skinny: While defensive coordinator Bob Babich waxed poetically Tuesday during the team's pre-draft media luncheon at Halas Hall about how much he likes the defensive tackles he currently has on the roster, the fact remains that incumbent starter Dusty Dvoracek has missed 31 of 32 career games because of injury. Sure, Anthony Adams played well before getting hurt and Matt Toeaina wasn't bad after being signed off the Cincinnati practice squad, but another impact trench warrior would make a lot of sense.

First-round focus: Glenn Dorsey of LSU and Sedrick Ellis are the elite players in this year's draft, but both should be long gone by the time the Bears are on the clock at No. 14. Kentwan Balmer of UNC and Trevor Laws of Notre Dame appear to be next on most everyone's list, although that spot would be way too high for either of them.


DT Andre Fluellen
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Middle-round bargain: Head coach Lovie Smith prefers undersized tackles that can penetrate the backfield and rush the passer consistently, and Andre Fluellen of Florida State fits that mold perfectly. Marcus Harrison of Arkansas and DeMario Pressley of North Carolina State are also on the team's radar, and both of them could be had in the late third or early fourth round.

Late-round flyer: Jason Shirley of Fresno State is a behemoth of a young man at 6-5 and 330 pounds, but he moves awfully well at that size and could be an interesting project at nose tackle. Ahtyba Rubin of Iowa State, 6-3 and 320 himself, has also been opening up some eyes lately.

Best bet: The Midway Monsters have serious holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball and would be wise to address them on Day 1 of the draft, but don't be shocked if general manager Jerry Angelo finds a tackle he can't pass up in Round 2. Both Smith and Angelo have always been defense-first guys, so it may be hard for them to resist that urge in the heat of the moment.

Safety

The skinny: The Cover-2 defense simply does not work without excellent play from both the free and strong safety, but the Bears had a revolving door at each position for most of this past season. Mike Brown just can't stay healthy these days, and workout warrior Adam Archuleta was nothing short of a disaster after being acquired in a pre-draft trade with Washington.

First-round focus: The only safety apparently worthy of being chosen in Round 1 is Kenny Phillips of Miami, and there are several scouts out there who aren't sold on him either. The Hurricanes have produced Pro Bowlers like Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor at that position in recent years, so perhaps Phillips is being given more credit than he actually deserves.


S Tom Zbikowski
IrishEyes.com

Middle-round bargain: DaJuan Morgan of North Carolina State and Tyrell Johnson of Arkansas State have been moving up draft boards leading up to the big weekend, with Johnson even making it into the first round at No. 25 to Seattle in the Scout.com Intersite Mock Draft. Josh Barrett of Arizona State is arguably the best pure athlete available regardless of position, although he was never particularly productive for the Sun Devils.

Late-round flyer: Tom Zbikowski of Notre Dame could go just about anywhere, as teams seem to be all over the place with their evaluation of him. If the Bears are simply looking for a nasty football player who can come in and be a heat-seeking missile right away on special teams, it's Jamie Silva of Boston College.

Best bet: Both Angelo and Smith continue to sing the praises of Brown, even though he hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2003. Last year's fifth-round addition, Kevin Payne, could push safety down the list of priorities if he recovers from a broken arm and starts to develop.

End, Linebacker, and Cornerback

The skinny: This team didn't need any help at defensive end this past April, but that didn't stop the front office from spending a second-rounder on Dan Bazuin. There is plenty of depth at linebacker and cornerback as presently constituted, although both positions are used liberally on special teams.

First-round focus: The NFL community would be nothing short of blown away if the Bears called the name of a defender in Round 1, but crazier things have happened. While Angelo has always been a stickler for the best-player-available approach, you are not going to see an elite end like Phillip Merling of Clemson, a top linebacker like Keith Rivers of USC, or a blue-chip cornerback like Mike Jenkins of South Florida in the Windy City.


CB Justin McKinney
Dave Weaver/AP Images

Middle-round bargain: Team officials have spent some time with Cliff Avril of Purdue, but he plays best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Wesley Woodyard of Kentucky has the look of a 4-3 `backer on the weak side, and the speedster even played some safety for the Wildcats.

Late-round flyer: There are a few corners we could see in the latter stages of the second day, especially since Ricky Manning Jr. started to lose playing time in the nickel package last year. Justin McKinney of Kansas State is a tough guy in every sense of the word, and Zack Bowman of Nebraska has all the tools but just can't seem to avoid injuries.

Best bet: Angelo could justify passing on end, linebacker, and cornerback because he has plenty of players at all three positions, but there will most likely be one or two added anyway. The team has talked to a few corners leading up to the draft, so that's where some of those compensatory picks in Round 7 might go.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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