In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, much of the talk is focused on what direction a team will go with its first-round pick and what each team's greatest needs are.
While a team's first-round selection is very crucial, the middle to late rounds can also become just as important.
All of the injuries during the 2013 season for the Chicago Bears on defense proved how much the team lacked depth, and they will look to the 2014 draft to find players that can help make the team not only younger but can also produce when called upon.
Some players slip to the later rounds for various reasons, but many in the league were once later picks and have proven that value can be found in every round.
Here are six late-round sleepers who would be perfect for the Chicago Bears.
2013 was a tough year for Bears' safeties, as both Chris Conte and Major Wright struggled mightily against both the pass and the run.
Wright is set to become a free agent, and his return does not seem likely. Conte still has one year remaining on his rookie contract.
The team will undoubtedly look to upgrade the position this offseason and will likely try to do so in both free agency and the draft.
One of the lesser known but quickly rising safeties is Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward.
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 participated in the Senior Bowl last week and told the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley, ‘‘I take pride in coverage, but also I take more pride tackling. I love big hits.’’
The Bears' safeties seemed to both lack coverage and tackling abilities, making Ward the type of player that would be an ideal fit for any defense. He has experience playing both safety positions but excelled as an inside-the-box safety that can come down and make tackles against the run.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller did not even have Ward listed in his mock draft from back in late December, but CBS Sports' Dane Brugler has him currently listed as a third round prospect. Both of their rankings prove that predicting draft stock is not an exact science and that Ward could potentially go as high as the third round but could still be available later for the Bears.
Despite the Bears bringing back Tim Jennings before he was able to hit the free-agent market, the team still lacks depth at the cornerback position.
Other than Jennings and Isaiah Frey, the Bears currently have no other cornerbacks on their roster with NFL experience.
Charles Tillman is set to become a free agent, and a return to the Bears is currently in question. The team may look to free agency to find a starter opposite of Jennings or could opt to bring back Zackary Bowman, but they still need to add depth and youth at the position.
At just 5'9" and 190 pounds, Purdue's Ricardo Allen does not exactly fit the mold of the new-age big cornerbacks in the NFL, but he was extremely productive during his time with the Boilermakers.
He played tough and fearless against big receivers and has a knack for making big plays, averaging nearly 30 yards per interception return. His strength is questionable against stronger receivers and sometimes is too easily moved by bigger receivers.
His size will likely limit his ability to be drafted early but his abilities as a playmaker, particularly in the slot as a nickelback, could make him a fifth-round pick.
While the Bears currently have Frey penciled in as their nickelback, he could use some competition, and Allen would immediately provide that.
Getting to the quarterback and forcing pressure is always at the top of the list for a defensive line, but stopping the run can be just as important.
In 2013 the Bears' defense ranked dead last against the run, allowing an average of 161.4 yards per game, nearly 30 yards more than the next-closest team. Injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins did not help the situation, but the team was unable to find reliable tackles in the middle of their line that could be a force against the run.
Stephen Paea currently holds down the role as the team's best run-stopper on defense, filling the team's need at nose tackle, but they could look too draft a guy like Cal's Deandre Coleman.
The Bears have not addressed whether or not the team will be strictly a 4-3 defense in 2014 and could look to work as a hybrid between the 4-3 and 3-4. Coleman has the versatility to play inside at the nose tackle position or work as a five-technique defensive end in the 3-4.
He plays quickly off of the ball but does not possesses the lateral agility and quickness that allows others to get to the quarterback, but he does a good job of maintaining his gaps and has the right size in his upper body to help clog up running lanes.
The fact that more teams are concerned about getting after the quarterback, a guy like Coleman may drop considering that his best traits are suited against the run. He could be a solid backup behind Paea and have the ability to play outside if the team opts to move to the 3-4 in the future.
After a terrific career at Michigan State, senior linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for the Rose Bowl and has not spoken about why he was not allowed to play the final game of his collegiate career.
He was invited to the East-West Shrine game earlier this month but weighed in at 265 pounds, 20 pounds more than his listed playing weight at Michigan State.
He finished his finished his senior season with 76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 10 passes defended and a forced fumble. He was known for his hard-hitting, downhill style of play and excellence against the run.
The Bears started the 2013 season with D.J. Williams manning the middle linebacker position, but he was injured in Week 6 and finished the year on the injured reserve with a ruptured pectoral tendon. With Williams' injury, rookie Jon Bostic was thrust into the starting middle linebacker role and struggled.
In late December, general manager Phil Emery told The Waddle & Silvy Show, according to ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson, "(Bostic is) at middle linebacker; maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability.”
If the team opts to move Bostic to outside linebacker, the team still has a need at the middle linebacker position. Williams is set to become a free agent and while the team could re-sign him or look to other free agents to fill the spot, the team still needs young depth at the position.
Bullough is the type of player that could contribute immediately on special teams and could develop into a solid option at middle linebacker, particularly against the run.
As mentioned earlier, the safety play of the Bears in 2013 was some of the worst in recent memory. The team could look to add to the position via free agency or early in the draft for a starter and could look to the back half of the draft to find depth.
Washington's Sean Parker has had little fanfare but has been a productive safety for the Huskies during his four-year career.
Parker has good-but-not-great speed for the position and has a penchant for making the big hits. His tackling skills can be in question because he too often goes for the big hit instead of securing the tackle. He is great at attacking the run downhill and excelled when playing inside of the box.
He plays well in man coverage when he has the ability to play physical but struggles at times in space while in zone coverage.
Parker would benefit from being alongside a free-ranging safety that has the ability to cover a lot of ground, as he seems to be limited in his coverage skills.
Parker, much like many others on this list, will likely not be immediate impact guys, but could carve out a niche' as a special teams contributor and eventually develop into a solid option at the strong safety position.
There is little doubt that the Bears will need to address their defensive line this offseason. Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Jeremiah Ratliff and Corey Wootton are all set to become free agents, and Julius Peppers' future is currently up in the air.
The team will likely look near the top of the draft for help at either the defensive tackle or defensive end position, but they could still look for depth during the later stages of the draft.
One sleeper the team should keep its eye on is Princeton's Caraun Reid. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler currently lists Reid with a fourth round grade but Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him in the fifth round of his latest draft.
Reid was invited to the Senior Bowl, and Miller was impressed with what he saw, tweeting:
#Princeton DT Caraun Reid has been fun to watch. Short, squat body but explosive. And really good hand use to disengage, swat.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
He measured in at 6'2", 301 pounds during last week's Senior Bowl weigh-in and showed that he possesses the perfect size for a 4-3 defensive tackle.
Scouts will question the level of talent he faced in the Ivy League, but he has a good enough first step to find a role at the next level. He was at his best when asked to bull-rush to the quarterback but will need to improve against the run in the NFL. His solid week in Mobile may push he stock higher, but as of now, he looks to be a fifth-round pick and could be a player that can be developed down the line.