When I first started to analyze who the Bears might draft this year, I had them slated for a defensive tackle. With the flurry of moves on the defensive line, I now believe the team will go a different route.
The Bears will still need a tackle, but I see them waiting until the second or third round for one. There's a long-term need at cornerback and a short-term one at safety. I have the Bears drafting a safety, but not the one you might expect.
Jimmie Ward was a standout at Northern Illinois. He played in every game during his freshman season and blocked a school-record three punts. He recorded over 100 tackles in his second and third seasons and had 95 tackles last year.
Tackling isn't all Ward excels at. Last season he had seven interceptions and 12 pass deflections. He works best at strong safety but can certainly play free safety if needed.
When you hear any talk of safeties in this draft, you hear Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Clinton-Dix is the best safety in this draft and should be off the board by the time the Bears pick. As for Pryor, I value Ward over him.
During his pro day, Ward informed scouts he will undergo surgery soon to insert a screw into his foot. After the proclamation, he proceeded to show his toughness by running through the pain all the way to a 4.47-second 40-yard-dash time. Ward's time comes in better than Pryor's 4.58.
Pryor's greatest strength is his ability to lay the wood. He's a hard hitter who loves to stick his nose in on plays. His strengths can be a concern in the NFL. Pryor might have to adjust his game at the next level as the league continues to force players away from the bone-jarring hits.
The overzealous technique Pryor has could get him exposed. He has a tendency to cheat up and jump the gun, leaving him susceptible to double moves and shifty running backs.
Ward's instincts are outstanding. He plays well within himself and has the speed to match up with a slot receiver if needed. He's a smart player who puts himself in the right position to succeed.
The Bears can ill afford to have a safety who takes chances and plays out of position. We saw too much of that in Major Wright over the years.
Louisville had everybody thinking Pryor was this big athletic safety, but he showed up to the combine under 6'0'' tall and not as fast as many expected. He did nothing at the combine or pro day to really stand out.
People who say Ward's size is an issue should just stop. Troy Polamalu is going to the Hall of Fame and he's all of 5'10".
Would Ward be getting more love if he went to a big school? Absolutely. Take nothing away from Calvin Pryor, but he got a ton of exposure just by playing on the same team as Teddy Bridgewater. While Jordan Lynch and the Huskies of Northern Illinois got some national coverage, it just wasn't the same.
What it really comes down to is the best fit for the team. Many thought Kyle Long was a reach last year, but it turned out to be a great pick because he was the best fit for the team. Jimmie Ward is a player who fits the way Long did.
Look at this defense right now. The defensive line has to be rebuilt and the starting corners are back, but there are still major questions at linebacker and secondary.
The Bears need a safety who is not only interchangeable, but helps in stopping the run and the pass. Ryan Mundy is a few inches taller than Ward. He would best be served as the free safety while Ward patrols the box at strong safety.
What works with the tandem of Mundy and Ward is the versatility they bring. They can run two deep or single high. The Bears can have both step up in the box or have either cover the slot.
The two of them together would give the Bears a pair of good cover safeties who have no problem stepping up to make a big hit when needed but won't go out of position for the play.
As of now, expect Clinton-Dix, Aaron Donald, Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert to be off the board by the time the Bears draft at No. 14. They are all top-10 talents who should go anywhere from when Detroit drafts at No. 10 to the St. Louis Rams at 13.
This leaves the Bears with options like defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, cornerback Kyle Fuller, Calvin Pryor and Ward. Out of all those players, Ward is the best fit and could turn into a Pro Bowl safety for years to come.
Our own Matt Miller has the Green Bay Packers taking Ward in his latest mock draft. He also has Ward coming off the board one pick before Pryor. People need to take notice, Ward is indeed a top-level talent and would look really good in Chicago.