It’s widely expected that the Bears will take an offensive player in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Given their needs at such positions like quarterback, offensive tackle and wide receiver, it would certainly make sense for the Bears to focus on that side of the ball with the No. 20 overall pick, or wherever it is they end up picking on Draft Day.
However, if the Bears do feel that the best value on their board is a defensive player when they pick in the first round, they could consider going in that direction.
The Bears’ defense currently has five starters over the age of 30, and they don’t have too many up-and-coming, quality defenders still on their rookie contract. Roquan Smith had an incredible 2020, Jaylon Johnson had a strong rookie year before his shoulder started acting up again, and Bilal Nichols is a solid interior defender, albeit one entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Chicago very clearly has bigger needs on offense, but their long-term outlook on defense doesn’t appear to be all that sunny. Here are a few defensive prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft they could consider straying from the norm with by taking them in Round 1.
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
If Caleb Farley’s medicals check out and he gets back to full strength, he could be an incredible value get in the second half of the draft.
With 6 interceptions and 19 pass deflections in his two seasons played at Virginia Tech, Farley is one of the best ball-hawks in the 2021 class. He has impressive route recognition skills and can also read the quarterback well, allowing him to time jumps on routes and close in to make a play on the ball. His 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame gives him ideal length for a defensive back, giving him significant value in press and giving him an extensive catch radius in contested-catch situations. Farley is also super fluid, changing direction seamlessly in coverage and accelerating well coming out of his breaks. He played wide receiver a bit in high school, and that experience shows up in the way he attacks the ball in the air.
A big issue with Farley is his durability; he tore his ACL in 2017, dealt with back spasms in 2019, and he underwent a microdiscectomy for his back over this offseason. He has a tendency to fall apart in terms of pad level as a tackler, and he is still fairly new to the cornerback position full-time, but his inability to consistently stay healthy is the biggest factor could knock him down the boards of teams. He’s a lengthy, athletic cornerback with an acute sense of route concepts, though, and if he falls enough to be available at No. 20, the Bears could consider Farley to lock up the cornerback position long-term.
Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Who better to go to in order to fix a big need than a stand-out prospect from your team’s own state?
Greg Newsome put together some of the best tape of any cornerback in the FBS in 2020 with an incredibly short season. The 6-foot, 192-pounder had 7 pass deflections and an interception in only four games, shutting down the opposition every single week. He is a lengthy defender who does a good job of getting his hands active in coverage and entering the frame of opposing defensive backs. Newsome complements that length and physicality with great fluidity and elite route-recognition ability. His oily hips and ability to work across his body to change direction give him the raw lateral quickness needed to take on more intricate route patterns. That body control plays a big role in his ability to contort his body and square up to the ball in the air.
As is the case with Farley, Newsome has had his fair share of run-ins with injury at the collegiate level. Having played in just 19 games over the last three seasons, he has gotten banged up in every single season he played for the Wildcats. He can stand to be a little bit more explosive in a vacuum, but his overall caliber of play makes him a legitimate first-round talent. The Bears could find themselves interested in him if they board doesn’t go their way with offensive talent.
Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
While the 2021 draft class is generally seen as weak at the safety position, there’s a strong chance that Trevon Moehrig could break that mold and make it into Round 1.
One would be hard-pressed to find a rangier safety than Moehrig in this year’s draft. He has fantastic lateral agility in coverage, and his ability to flip his hips and explode coming out of his breaks is nothing short of incredible. He has good downhill speed that allows him to break on sharper breaking routes, and his instincts in recognizing route concepts and reading the eyes of the quarterback to make a play on the ball. Moehrig has good size at 6-foot 1⁄2 and 202 pounds, and he plays with the closing speed needed to deliver a pop in his shoulder pads as a tackler. With 20 pass deflections and 6 interceptions over the course of the last two years, his body control and ability to square up to the ball like a receiver are apparent in his playing style.
Moehrig isn’t the best tackling safety in this class, as he doesn’t bring fantastic physicality or an overall willingness to engage in contact at the point of attack. He doesn’t always drop his hips and get his weight underneath him in pursuit, either. He very much is a coverage-first safety, but he’s the best coverage-first safety this draft class has. It may be perceived as a reach at first, but Moehrig’s upside as a ball-hawking playmaker could make him well worth a first-round pick for a team. If the Bears like him enough and want a high-end complement to Eddie Jackson, he could be a good long-term value.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
Football is becoming more and more of a positionless sport, and no player personifies that in the 2021 class like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
With experience as an inside and outside linebacker, an in-the-box safety, a blitzing edge rusher, and as a nickel defender, Owusu-Koramoah can play just about anywhere on the field. His tremendous athletic ability gives him the speed and agility needed to beat rushers to the edge in run support and mirror route concepts in coverage. He has fantastic acceleration coming downhill or working as a back-side defender, and his fluidity makes him able to change direction seamlessly both against the run and pass. Owusu-Moramoah’s quick processing skills make it easier for him to execute run fits and diagnose routes in man coverage. His sideline-to-sideline range gives him ample upside as a run defender, and with a defender as versatile, athletic and instinctually sound as he is, he would be a dream for any creative defensive coordinator to work with.
The big drawback with Owusu-Koramoah is a general lack of size. If he’s drafted to a team that projects him in a more traditional box linebacker role, his 6-foot-1, 221-pound frame can cause him some issues. He has a skinny frame and gets swallowed up by blockers near the line of scrimmage, and while his quickness and closing burst gives him upside as a blitzer, there are other times he gets swallowed whole as a pass-rusher. Though he doesn’t have a true position, the Bears could be intrigued by the thought of giving young defensive coordinator Sean Desai a positionless, Swiss army knife with elite athletic ability and the talent to produce immediately in numerous different roles at No. 20.