Kyle Fuller is no longer a member of the Chicago Bears.
It was announced on Thursday that the team would be parting ways with the two-time Pro Bowler in order to free up cap space. The move has proved to be unpopular among fans, and though it gives the Bears some financial flexibility, it also opens up a major hole at the cornerback position.
Though the Bears have signed talented veteran Desmond Trufant, the 2015 Pro Bowler is 30 and has missed 19 games over the past two seasons. That said, the team could end up looking to the 2021 NFL Draft to find their replacement for Fuller as their starting field-side cornerback.
Luckily for them, this year’s group of cornerbacks is a pretty talented group. It’s a deep class, but if the Bears plan on adding a starter at the position, they would be wise to target one in the first three rounds.
These five cornerbacks are among those whom the Bears could consider drafting as replacements for Kyle Fuller.
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
One of the biggest late risers in the 2021 draft class, Greg Newsome II’s tape looks the part of a first-round talent.
A lengthy defender at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Newsome has long arms and an extensive catch radius. He complements that size with impressive fluidity in coverage, changing direction easily in coverage and showcases loose hips when he drops back. Newsome accelerates well coming out of his breaks and has the deep speed needed to defend the vertical route pretty efficiently. Perhaps most impressive about his game is his high IQ: he has tremendous route recognition abilities and is sharp in his diagnoses. Reading the eyes of the quarterback and timing his breaks on the ball well, his 20 pass deflections in 19 games — including 16 in his last 11 games — are a testament as to how fundamentally sound Newsome is.
Durability is a major concern in Newsome’s game, having missed time to injury in all three of his seasons he spent at Northwestern. They say that availability is the best ability, and his struggles with staying healthy could push his draft stock down a bit. Regardless, Newsome is a talented cornerback prospect who would be best targeted in a trade-down scenario for the Bears, but he wouldn’t be much of a reach at all if they took him at No. 20.
Eric Stokes, Georgia
With strong tape and an incredible performance at his Pro Day, Eric Stokes may very well have risen into first-round territory.
The 6-foot, 194-pound cornerback made headlines with a stellar 4.25 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Even if those numbers may be inflated due to the nature of Pro Day testing numbers, he’s a legitimate athlete whose skills translate to the field. He’s a fluid defender who has great straight-line speed and accelerates well vertically coming out of his breaks. Stokes offers good route-recognition skills and is calculated in the movements he makes in coverage. He is especially good at picking up smash concepts, and his fluidity helps him cover a significant chunk of the field in zone. Though he didn’t have any interceptions prior to 2020, he exploded this past year with four picks in nine games.
Stokes has added some weight to his frame over time, but he can still stand to be a bit more physical through a receiver’s stems. He doesn’t offer stellar strength in his upper body at the top of a route, and his abilities in run support are fairly average. Like Newsome, Stokes would be an ideal target for the Bears if they trade down from No. 20, but with his stock rising like crazy, it wouldn’t shocking if they went back to Georgia for another first-round draft pick.
Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Paulson Adebo opted out of the 2020 season, but his tape and ball production from 2018 and 2019 look the part of a future NFL starter.
In his two seasons at Stanford, Adebo tallied 8 interceptions and 27 pass deflections. He showcases very good route recognition skills, as he is patient in his movements and is able to mirror routes incredibly well. He showcases good physicality at the line of scrimmage, using his hands well at the top of the route and jamming receivers through their stems . Adebo is a fluid defender who changes direction with ease and has the flexibility in his lower body needed to match receivers athletically.
Having the chance to speak with Adebo at his Pro Day on Thursday, I came away impressed by his football IQ:
“Especially in the NFL, you can run one route six different ways,” Adebo told Windy City Gridiron. “You’re kind of [using] process of elimination. Your guy’s coming at you, you’re reading it from there, and then you’re eliminating the different possibilities. As far as pre-snap, just looking at down and distance, alignment — you’ll see on the divider, he has a wide split, tight split. Personnel — is this a speed guy, a big, physical guy, what kind of release does he normally do, is he somebody who just speed releases, does he switch it up, is he going to slide you.”
Adebo can be a bit handsy in coverage, and his deep speed is good, but not great. A lack of 2020 tape could prevent some teams from taking him any higher than late in the second round, but make no mistake about it: he’s legit. The Bears could give him a look in Round 2
Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
More than just the son of a four-time Pro Bowler, Asante Samuel Jr. has the potential to fill the massive shoes that his father left for him.
Samuel is a scrappy cornerback who plays the game with plenty of swagger and a high motor. He’s active at the point of attack and plays with an edge in run support. He offers plenty of fluidity in coverage, mirroring receivers easily in man and making intelligent breaks on a route in zone to make a play on the ball. Samuel accelerates well downhill coming out of his backpedal, as well as vertically out of his breaks. With 4 interceptions and 29 pass deflections to his name at the collegiate level, his statistics back up his strong ball skills and willingness to enter the frame of opposing receivers to make a play.
The big concern with Samuel is his size, or lack thereof. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, he’s shorter for an outside cornerback and doesn’t have a super filled-out frame. That could see him moved inside at the next level, but if the Bears see him as a quality field-side cornerback, he could be a target for them in Round 2.
Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
Kelvin Joseph is an enigmatic prospect with only one year of starting tape to his name, but that one year of tape is legitimately impressive.
At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Joseph has the length to project as a boundary cornerback at the next level, but he’s also athletic enough to play on the field-side in the pros. He accelerates well coming out of his breaks and has a quick first step coming downhill out of his backpedal to jump a route. Joseph’s fluidity is apparent on film, as he seamlessly flips his hips and changes direction in coverage. He tracks the ball down like a wide receiver, showcasing strong hands and the ability to square up to the ball and come down with it. With 4 interceptions in nine games in 2020, his ability to create turnovers was certainly apparent in his redshirt sophomore year.
Joseph has just two career pass deflections to his name, which is somewhat concerning. He also isn’t as physical at the line of scrimmage or through a receiver’s stems as his size would indicate. His lack of experience could also push him down some teams’ boards, but if he’s available in Round 3, the Bears could go after him as a high-upside option for their secondary.