There was a clear offensive emphasis by the Bears with each of their first two draft picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. After some necessary patience, Chicago finally went with defense when they selected former Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley at No. 205 overall in the sixth round. Contrary to popular belief, it did not have to be a pick from Alaska Wesleyan. It was a selection people were actually aware of!
Let’s grade the Bears’ addition of Shelley in the sixth round.
Shelley is the first glimpse we have of a cornerback that new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano prefers at Halas Hall. As someone who would be rightfully described as a defensive back guru with his extensive background from Cleveland to Baltimore, Pagano assuredly had a lot of input into Shelley’s selection. The veteran coach has oft-discussed how much pride he takes in individually mentoring and coaching players, especially cornerbacks. Shelley should expect to hear a lot of both Pagano and new secondary coach Deshea Townsend in his ear. You can do much worse than these two as your mentors.
A smaller player at a generous 5-foot-9, 181 pounds, Shelley theoretically could be in the mix at nickel cornerback for the Bears. In a very ideal world, he’s eventually pushing veteran Buster Skrine for playing time and becoming Chicago’s slot defensive back of the future. However, during Shelley’s last collegiate season he only played 10 snaps in the slot while mostly featuring on the left boundary. The ledger shows he actually has minimal experience playing inside, even if his athletic profile and fit with the Bears maintains he could shine there.
If Chicago brass plans to have Shelley make a transition toward nickel cornerback, they have to understand there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period before he has his sea legs under him. To their credit, the Bears wouldn’t use a pre-draft top-30 visit on Shelley if they didn’t have confidence and patience in what he can become. Shelley is someone who would’ve reportedly had a fourth-round grade at Halas Hall but fell due to a toe injury in his last year with the Wildcats. The Bears may believe they have the makings of a draft “steal” on their hands.
Overall, Shelley is a savvy and instinctive player who needs polish at a new granted position before he can take on some of the league’s best offensive slot weapons. Regardless of how the Bears feel at this present moment, Shelley more realistically carves out a career as a special teams contributor and depth player than anyone making an impact as a regular starter. Keep in mind that crazier things have happened in an individual prospect’s development on the fringes.
Fortunately for Shelley’s sake, he seems adept to making a transition to the inside if you’re optimistic in his outlook. The polished and experienced player with 31 pass deflections and eight interceptions in four seasons changes direction seamlessly in coverage. He’s a physical grinder and tough competitor. There are no easy yards or plays in direct opposition to Shelley. If that description sounds familiar to any recent Bears’ nickel cornerbacks like Bryce Callahan or Cre’Von LeBlanc, it’s because the comparisons are more than apt.
The Bears’ secondary depth is thin and unproven until further notice. With any luck, Shelley might soon become someone Pagano and company can rely on.
How would you grade the Bears’ selection of Duke Shelley at No. 205 overall?
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