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Chicago Bears: 5 Mid- to Late-Round Draft Prospects

Matt EurichAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2012

Chicago Bears: 5 Mid- to Late-Round Draft Prospects

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    Year after year, players come out of the late rounds of the NFL draft to become household names such as Tom Brady, Jason Taylor and Donald Driver.

    Teams are often criticized for poor decision making at the top of drafts so often times teams look to take a risk later on.The main benefit of taking a risk on a guy in the later rounds is that if he does not produce, it never costs you much to begin with. 

    Everyone knows the needs and wants for the Bears early in the draft, but the cards very rarely fall the way they are expected to. If the Bears cannot hit on the players they want early, there is a chance similar but more risky versions await them later in the draft.

    Here is a list of five potential mid-to-late round prospects that the Bears would be wise to take a risk on.

No. 5 Matt Daniels, S, Duke

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    Throughout Lovie Smith's tenure as head coach, the safety position has held the title to the position with the most turnover (and not in the good way).  Throughout the years Smith has used various combinations of safeties, from Mike Brown/Chris Harris to Daniel Manning and Al Afalava.

    I would not be surprised to see the Bears try and upgrade the safety position in free agency despite their confidence in Chris Conte.  After an up and down season, Major Wright may get a push from an incoming rookie.

    Enter Matt Daniels. 

    At 6'1" and 210 pounds, Daniels appears to have the build of an NFL free safety, but struggles a bit in the passing game and is best suited playing in the box as a strong safety.

    Daniels is known as a solid tackler who closes well on ball carriers but often is looked at as being to tight of a defender and not allowing his hips to open up when trying to take on a ball carrier in space.

    Despite some of his deficiencies, Daniels' overall aggressiveness and strong run defense should interest the Bears who could use him on special teams and eventually groom him in the strong safety position.

No. 4 Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M

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    Every good quarterback wants a nice big target to throw to. Since his arrival in Chicago, Jay Cutler has been stuck with "big" receivers like Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett, whose average height is six feet tall.

    The Bears more than likely will try and target a big receiver, if they are available via free agency (ex. Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson) or try and go after a big receiver with their 19th overall selection (ex. Alshon Jeffrey, Michael Floyd). But if the past is any indication of the future, many good wide receivers can be found in the later rounds.

    Enter Jeff Fuller. 

    At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Fuller has the body to the perfect big receiver.  Despite struggling this past season, totaling 70 catches for 828 yards and six touchdowns (in comparison to his junior campaign: 72 catches, 1,066 yards, and 12 touchdowns), Fuller's size alone will entice many teams. 

    Fuller struggled this past week during the Senior Bowl, dropping routine catches and often losing focus, but every once and awhile you will see him make the spectacular play.  If given the chance to learn from NFL coaches, Fuller possess all the tools to become a legitimate NFL wide receiver. All he needs to do is strengthen the mental part of his game. 

    Look for Fuller to land somewhere in the fourth to fifth round, and do not be surprised to see the Bears take a chance on him if they find a way to sign one of the big-name free-agent wide receivers.

No. 3 Audi Cole, MLB, North Carolina State

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    With the injury to starting linebacker Brian Urlacher in the Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings, it should make the Bears realize that Urlacher will not be able to play forever.  For many seasons, we the fans have had the comfort of seeing No.  54 in the middle of the Bears defense, and it is about time the organization brings in someone to groom as his potential successor.

    Enter Audi Cole.

    Instinctive.  Aggressive.  Smart. Experienced.  These are all great adjectives to describe North Carolina State middle linebacker Audi Cole.  Cole was undoubtedly the leader of the NC State Wolfpack defense and led by example on the field, amassing over 100 tackles and two sacks this past season.

    Cole is known to have good instincts and has the ability to shed blockers to get to the ball carrier.  Having prior experience as a strongside linebacker in previous seasons has improved Cole's pass-defending game.  Where Cole is known to struggle is in pass-rushing, but given the Bears' defense at this point, the middle linebacker position does not blitz that often.

    Cole may be the highest drafted player on this list, more than likely expected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round, but if the Bears get the chance to take him, he will have the ability in a few seasons to take over Urlacher's reign at the middle linebacker position.

No. 2 Chris Rainey, RB, Florida

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    All over the league, every general manager is looking for the same thing: explosive offensive players.

    Enter Chris Rainey.

    The first word that comes to mind while watching Rainey play is speed.  Rainey is a threat to take it to the end zone almost every time he touches the football. Rainey brings explosiveness, unbelievable speed, quickness and great hands. 

    Despite his size, 5'8" 178 pounds, Rainey plays tough, and although he is listed as a running back, Rainey's bet opportunity in the NFL may be as a slot type receiver, much like former Florida standout Percy Harvin.

    A team like the Bears could use Rainey as a change of pace running back behind Matt Forte, as well as utilize his receiving abilities by designing a set of plays for him at the wide receiver position. 

    Along with being a great offensive player, Rainey excels at special teams, having blocked six punts in his career. 

    With the impact that similar running backs like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush have had this past season, Rainey could be a steal in the late rounds for their Bears.

No. 1 Dwight Bentley, DB, Louisiana-Lafayette

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    In the 2003 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears selected little known cornerback Charles Tillman from little known Louisiana-Lafayette.  In 2012, the Chicago Bears will look to strike gold for the second time with a cornerback from Louisiana-Lafayette.

    Enter Dwight Bentley.

    Very little was known of Dwight Bentley before the start of the season.  Coming into this past week's Senior Bowl, very little had changed, as Bentley was still not very highly regarded by many scouts.  After a strong showing throughout the week in practice and also in the game, many view Bentley as being a mid-to-late round steal.

    Bentley plays well in both man and zone coverage, looks great in his backpedal and has an explosiveness in his break to the ball.  A bit small for an average cornerback, 5'11" 173 pounds, but he does possess the frame to bulk up a bit.  Bentley was fearless going against much bigger receivers during Senior Bowl practices, and will be expected to do the same at the next level.

    With Bentley's strong showing in the Senior Bowl, he may find his way into Day 2 of the NFL draft.   Bentley can offer a good compliment to Charles Tillman as well as an upgrade to a struggling secondary.

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