The Bears have the likes of DeAndre Houston-Carson and Dane Cruikshank competing for a starting spot at safety alongside Eddie Jackson. Those are the only safeties on the roster.
More cheap veterans will likely be brought in over the course of the offseason. Ryan Poles has shown a large amount of patience in free agency, and it’s likely he’ll be active with veteran minimum contracts over the next few months. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears take a safety at some point in the 2022 NFL Draft.
This year’s class has plenty of talented safeties, and while there’s a big drop-off from Kyle Hamilton to the rest of the class, the Day 2 and Day 3 value is impressive.
When Matt Eberflus was the defensive coordinator for the Colts, they drafted two safeties: Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon. Marvell Tell was a safety in college, but he currently serves as a cornerback in Indianapolis. Willis and Blackmon are different players, but they do seem to have a bit in common.
Here’s the overview from Willis’ Combine page:
Team leader known for his leadership and work ethic, Willis has been a reliable performer with a good nose for the football. However, he’s an average athlete with below-average speed who needs to keep plays in front of him, so finding a roster spot on the next level could be a challenge. His high football character and consistent effort level, give him a shot at finding work as a backup with special teams value.
As well as the overview from Blackmon’s Combine page:
While Blackmon displayed some inconsistencies in recognition and ball tracking in his first season at safety, the move clearly gives him his best chance to become a pro. The former cornerback has soft hands and carryover route-anticipation that should allow him to match against tight ends as a pro. He can play split safety, big nickel or help support the run as a down safety. His field recognition and angles to the football are still behind from his new position, but he should keep getting better. His December knee injury will push him down the draft board, but he has the traits and talent to make it in the league.
Some of the core factors are apparent in both safeties: intelligence and a high motor.
The Bears could end up pursuing a safety at some point in this year’s draft, and these 6 safeties could be targets at very points of the 2022 draft.
Jalen Pitre, Baylor
What Pitre may lack in measureables, he more than makes up for with his relentless style of play.
Pitre is a versatile defender who can play in single-high, two-high, in the box and in the slot. His intelligence stands out on tape, having three years of starting experience and being able to play just about anywhere. His quick processing allows him to maximize his athleticism, and he plays with a red-hot motor that shows up in run support and when closes in on routes to make a play on the ball.
He’s a reliable tackler, an effective blitzer, and an intelligent coverage defender with the fluidity needed to translate to the NFL level. If the Bears want to go after a safety in Round 2, Pitre could be the guy.
Kolby Harvell-Peel, Oklahoma State
Who is Khari Willis’ most similar safety from an athletic perspective on MockDraftable? That’s right: Harvell-Peel.
At 6 feet and 213 pounds, Harvell-Peel is a well-built defensive back with a muscular frame, and he puts that to good use. He’s an aggressive downhill thumper who hits hard and plays with above-average play strength at the point of contact as a tackler. He plays with very good intelligence, and while he doesn’t have elite athletic upside, he maximizes his tools with quick processing abilities, which contributed greatly to his 10 interceptions in three seasons at the collegiate level.
A lack of top-notch mobility and overall deep speed could see him struggle in coverage in the NFL, which limits his draft stock strictly to Day 3 territory. However, if the Bears want to find some depth and special teams value in Round 6, Harvell-Peel could be the guy.
Bryan Cook, Cincinnati
As I’ve mentioned on Twitter before, Bryan Cook stands out to me as a perfect Eberflus safety.
Cook was a key member of a loaded Cincinnati secondary in 2021, tallying 96 tackles, 2 interceptions and 9 pass deflections. He’s a safety with good size at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, and he uses that size effectively. His high motor both in run support and closing in on routes in coverage allow him to make plays that some safeties are able to. Cook hits very hard and plays with a mean streak while maintaining control as a tackler. In coverage, he plays with above-average route recognition and good straight-line speed.
Though Cook’s draft stock is all over the place — presumably due to a lack of elite athletic upside — he projects as a Round 3 talent on my board. If he’s available for the Bears in a trade down into the fourth round or somehow falls to Round 5, he would be a fantastic enforcer for their defense.
Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
Brisker finishes the draft process as the second-ranked safety on my board and the No. 39 overall prospect. That said, the Bears would be wise to consider him as a possibility for one of their second-round picks if he’s available.
At a bit over 6-foot-1 with solid length for the safety position, Brisker has a large catch radius and good value at the catch point. His range in coverage stands out on tape, as he has fantastic footwork and fluid hips, as well as the high effort level needed to maximize his athleticism. His straight-line speed is helpful as a downhill defender, and he’s a hard-hitting tackler with isn’t afraid to lower the shoulder.
His instincts and ball skills are still improving, but Brisker has a high floor and the potential to become a quality starter in the pros. He isn’t the sexiest prospect for the Bears in Round 2, but he’d be a very good addition to Chicago’s secondary.
Qwynnterrio Cole, Louisville
An All-American at Alcorn State before transferring to Louisville, Cole is a physical player with the edge needed to make it to the next level.
Cole is a 6-foot, 206-pound safety who lays the wood down as a tackler. He isn’t afraid of contact when he engages with ball-carriers, and he plays with a high motor and a desire to finish off plays consistently. He dominated against other HBCU schools prior to 2021, and as he made the move to the ACC, his aggressive edge didn’t change. Cole’s production in coverage is also impressive — he had 9 interceptions in three seasons — and he excels at squaring up to the ball in the air and tracking it down.
The issue with Cole stems from a lack of athleticism compared to NFL safeties, as his hips are a bit stiff when he changes direction, and his straight-line speed is pretty pedestrian in the grand scheme of things. He projects as a late Day 3 pick at best, but if the Bears want someone with a mean streak to compete for a roster spot, Cole could be a nice addition.
Markquese Bell, Florida A&M
Bell is arguably the best HBCU prospect in the 2022 draft, and he solidified himself as an NFL-caliber talent at the Combine.
Two things stand out about Bell in particular: size and speed. He’s 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds with long arms, and he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the Combine. That combination helped propel him to a 9.53 RAS score, along with solid vertical and broad jump numbers. His speed shows up on tape, as his acceleration closing in on the ball is remarkable. Bell hits hard as a tackler and takes precise angles in pursuit, filling his highlights with plenty of eye-opening tackles.
As is the case with a handful of these safeties, hip stiffness is an issue for Bell, who can struggle working across his body and changing direction sharply in coverage. With his raw size and speed, though, he certainly has upside, and the Bears would be wise to keep him on their radar as early as Round 5.
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