Chicago Bears 2014 Draft: Who Should Be on Chicago's Draft Radar

Matt EurichAnalyst IDecember 24, 2013

Chicago Bears 2014 Draft: Who Should Be on Chicago's Draft Radar

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    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    The season is not over yet for the Chicago Bears, but that does not mean that general manager Phil Emery and his staff have not taken a look ahead at the 2014 NFL draft class.

    Emery's first draft in 2012 has been met with mixed results. Alshon Jeffery has quickly turned into a star, but first-round pick Shea McCellin has struggled mightily in his second season. The 2013 class has had its share of ups-and-downs, but overall, players like Kyle Long and Jordan Mills have helped Emery's second class grade out better.

    The team has a plethora of pending free agents and may need to look to the draft to fill some key roles in 2014.

    Here are seven players who should be on the Bears' draft radar.

Stephon Tuitt, Defensive End, Notre Dame

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    Injuries have decimated the Bears defensive line all season long as its has struggled to find any consistency.

    Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff are set to become free agents in the offseason and the Bears may be looking to get younger up front.

    Strong and powerful at the point of attack, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt could be a perfect fit for the Bears' interior defense at the three-technique in their 4-3 scheme/ He also has the potential to play the five-technique in a 3-4 defense if they decide to make that switch in the future.

    Tuitt plays terrific against the run, both inside and outside, and gets most of his pressure in the passing game rushing from the inside. He needs to work on his explosion off the line of scrimmage, as he tends to pop up instead of explode through the blocker.

    Drafting a player like Tuitt offers the team flexibility moving forward and he could be a force to reckon with in the middle of Chicago's defensive line for years to come.

Lamarcus Joyner, Safety/Nickelback, Florida State

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    While the Bears defense has been a mess up and down the roster all season, the play of their safeties has been the most criticized.

    Chris Conte has not only failed to take the next step in his third season, but has appeared to regress while Major Wright has also struggled in a contract year.

    The Bears could look to free agency to shore up the position, but may also look to the draft to find a young talent.

    Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner would likely be a consensus first-round draft pick if he were taller than .

    Despite his size, he has been a productive player for the Seminoles and has been drawing comparisons to Arizona's Tyrann Matheiu.

    Florida State has used Joyner at the nickel position as well as at safety and he has excelled in both man-to-man coverage as well a zone. Despite his size, he does a good job of getting his hands on the ball and has improved his tackling over the years.

    He will likely drop in the draft due to his size, but considering the talent that is there, he could be worth a look in the second or third rounds.

Travis Swanson, Center, Arkansas

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    Phil Emery made it his top priority last offseason to upgrade an offensive line that may have been the worst in the league during Jay Cutler's tenure in Chicago.

    Emery brought in left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson via free agency and drafted right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. While the line is vastly improved from last season, it still needs some work moving forward.

    Slauson is set to become a free agent, but given his performance, he will likely be near the top of the Bears list this offseason. The other impending free agent is center Roberto Garza.

    Garza has struggled since moving from right guard to center following Olin Kreutz's departure prior to the 2011 season.

    Considering how young the right side of their line is, the Bears may want to look for a center via free agency, but could be intrigued by Arkansas' Travis Swanson in the draft.

    Many big boards have Swanson as their top-ranked center, although where he will ultimately be picked is up in the air. He is quick and athletic and does a good job of pulling and getting to the second level in the running game. He will need to work on getting stronger at the point of attack, as he has a tendency to lean on his opponent instead of pushing him back.

    Considering the fact that most centers are not taken early in the draft, the Bears could find an anchor to the middle of their offensive line in the middle rounds.

Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State

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    It has been no secret that one of the reasons the Bears had success in recent years on the defensive side of the football has been the stellar play of cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.

    Both are slated to become free agents this offseason and it is unknown whether or not either will return in 2014. Tillman has been plagued by injuries all season and despite the fact that his interception totals are down from a year ago, Jennings is quietly having another season worthy of a Pro Bowl.

    Regardless of whether either returns, the Bears will need to address the position during next year's draft.

    Darqueze Dennard has long been at, or near, the top of the cornerback rankings all season. He is strong and physical and does a nice job of jamming receivers off of the line of scrimmage in man coverage and has played well in zone coverage.

    He does need to work on his tackling and does not always appear to give the best effort on the field, but his pros outweigh the cons and he would be a welcome addition to an aging cornerback corps in Chicago.

Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle, Florida State

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    As previously mentioned with Stephon Tuitt, the Bears lack depth along the defensive line and would be smart to look for some help in the 2014 draft.

    Florida Sate's Timmy Jernigan is more of a pure run-stopper as compared to Tuitt, who has the ability to get to the quarterback.

    Jernigan has experience playing the three-technique, but has played better at nose tackle. While he lacks the ideal size to play nose tackle at 282 pounds, he could certainly gain some bulk moving forward.

    He does a good job of maintaining his gaps and uses his long arms and frame to move past strong defenders. If he can bulk up, he could give Stephen Paea a run for his money inside on the defensive line.

Jimmie Ward, Safety, Northern Illinois

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    While Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch was getting all of this season's accolades, Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward was quietly having a terrific season.

    Ward was named first team All-American by SI.com as well as being named third team All-American by the Associated Press.

    He finished the season with a team-high 89 tackles—57 solo—and a career-high six interceptions to lead the MAC and tie for 13th in the country. He made his impact known in some of the team's biggest games of the year, notching interceptions against both Iowa and Toledo.

    Ward has seen his draft stock rise with his terrific season, but will need to show improvement at the Senior Bowl to be considered more than just a mid-round selection.

    He has been good at stopping the run and plays well in the box, but too often dives at the legs of the ball-carrier instead of trying to square them up. His six interceptions reflected his tremendous ball skills and he showed an improvement in pass coverage as the season wore on.

    The Bears have seemingly searched far and wide for an answer at safety during the last decade and may be better off trying to find a starter via free agency. Even if the team looks to free agency for a starter, a guy like Ward might be a good development player for defensive backs coach Jon Hoke.

Aaron Murray, Quarterback, Georgia

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    Aaron Murray was once considered an early-round draft pick until a torn ACL in November ruined his chances of finishing the season and playing in the Senior Bowl.

    Some teams may be scared off by the prospect of drafting a quarterback coming off of an ACL injury, but if the Bears re-sign Jay Cutler and bring back Josh McCown (or another capable backup) then Murray could end up being a steal in the later rounds.

    NFL.com's Gil Brandt compared Murray to guys like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees—and not just because Murray stands around 6'1". Brandt compared Murray's intelligence and work ethic to Wilson and Brees. He was also quick to note it is not a given he will turn out to be the same type of quarterback as either Wilson or Brees.

    Murray has been very effective throughout his career in the short-to-intermediate passing game, which lends well to Marc Trestman's West Coast offense, and while he does not have the arm of a Cutler, Murray can still throw a decent deep ball.

    If the Bears bring back Cutler and want someone who Trestman can develop along the way, Murray may be the perfect fit.