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Why Kyle Fuller Is a Legitimate First-Round Option for the Chicago Bears

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Why Kyle Fuller Is a Legitimate First-Round Option for the Chicago Bears
USA TODAY Sports

A Chicago Bears defense that is getting long in the tooth on the perimeter could soon find its fountain of youth in the form of Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller

According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Fuller will make an official visit to the Bears on Tuesday, exactly a month before the opening of the 2014 NFL draft. He is also expected to make official visits with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Denver Broncos in coming days and weeks, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.  

Many still believe he falls into the second tier of cornerbacks—behind both Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard—but Fuller has first-round potential for the Bears at No. 14 overall. 

There are major needs elsewhere on the defensive side, including at tackle, where Henry Melton departed in free agency, and safety, a position flush with bodies but lacking in talent. And either position could be provided an answer in the first round, whether it's Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor at safety.

Don't rule out the possibility of a cornerback, especially one as versatile as Fuller. 

The Bears brought back Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Charles Tillman this offseason, giving the position a potential starting trio to start next season. However, the three are all over the age of 30, and injuries stole big chunks of the 2013 season from both Hayden and Tillman. 

USA TODAY Sports
Tillman was limited to eight games in 2013.

Hayden, who turns 31 in July, is coming off a torn hamstring. He was put on injured reserve in early August. Tillman, now 33, played in only eight games last season after tearing his triceps. Jennings played in all 16 games in 2013 but will be 31 in December. 

The cornerback position in Chicago needs an infusion of young talent. 

The Bears haven't drafted a cornerback since 2012, when Isaiah Frey was picked in the sixth round. Overall, Chicago hasn't taken a player at the position in the first two rounds since Devin Hester in 2006. 

There simply hasn't been much of a need for the Bears to invest in the position. Lovie Smith ran a Cover 2-heavy system that somewhat decreased the demand for high-priced cornerbacks, and the presence of players like Tillman and Jennings has provided Chicago positional stability. 

But Smith is now coaching in Tampa Bay, and Father Time is starting to erode the cornerback security. 

Yet identifying need is only half of the puzzle. Finding the right fit is equally important, and the Bears will have plenty of options if they decide to go with a corner in the first round. 

Breaking Down Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Positives Negatives
+Ideal size and length -Can be overaggressive
+Quick, fluid athlete -Falls for occasional double move
+Understands route combinations -High backpedal
+Physical, fearless against the run -Injured to finish final season
+Special teams experience
+Two older brothers played in NFL
+Team captain

*Rated as No. 3 CB at CBS Sports

Gilbert is still ranked by many as the draft's top player at the position. An athletic freak with ideal size and elite return ability, he should come off the board somewhere before or near Chicago's range. 

Dennard was a standout college corner who is now widely rated alongside Gilbert at the top of the class. His grabby tendencies and sometimes stiff hips are red flags, but most consider him a lock first-rounder. 

There's also Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett, two accomplished cornerbacks who tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. 

On one level or another, all four of the players listed above make some sense for the Bears. But Fuller might be the best overall fit. He doesn't have the kick returns for scores like Gilbert, or the award trophies of Dennard or the flashy combine numbers of Roby or Verrett. What he does have is arguably the best college tape of any cornerback in the 2014 class. 

Long and lean, Fuller has experience playing all over the defensive formation. A 42-game starter at Virginia Tech, he worked the boundary and slot as a corner and even spent some time as a nickel linebacker. 

Maybe his best attributes as a cover corner are the quickness of his feet and how his advanced understanding of angles and pattern recognition allows him to close on the football in a flash. 

An example of this came against Alabama in the first game of the 2013 season:

Fuller lines up against the innermost slot receiver in a bunch set to the left. The route he faces is a deep crosser, designed to get the receiver one-one-one against Fuller on a 3rd-and-long situation.

He gives up a clean release, but Fuller's best work comes at the stem of the route, where he flips his hips and accelerates laterally to stay right on the receiver's hip. Once the ball arrives, Fuller smartly knocks away the throw with his right arm, avoiding the contact that would have come by trying to extend with the left. 

Fuller was a menace to No. 1 Alabama throughout the night, whether he was shutting down top receiver Amari Cooper, flashing into the backfield or causing problems on special teams. It was maybe the single finest collegiate showcase of his overall skill set.

This play against North Carolina shows his discipline and ball skills:

A clever fourth-down run fake doesn't fool Fuller, who reads the play perfectly and then runs stride for stride with a receiver who very easily could have broken free down the field for an easy score. Instead, Fuller breaks in front of the throw and takes away the attempt with a game-changing interception. 

Cornerbacks in today's game still need to do more than just cover, especially those playing inside against the slot. Run support is a factor, as the Bears know all too well. 

Without Tillman healthy and a number of others missing time, the Bears regressed into the worst defense in football at stopping the run. The team allowed 5.3 yards per carry and over 160 yards per game in 2013. 

Cornerbacks can only help so much in stopping the run, but an aggressive, fearless perimeter player like Fuller can't hurt. 

Against Georgia Tech last season, he showed off his ability to attack against the run:

In an effort to combat the Yellow Jackets' triple-option run game, Fuller actually played a lot of nickel linebacker. And in the above example, he displayed how he can shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. 

He gets to the quarterback's mesh point untouched, which forces a quick decision. With just a second of hesitation from the ball-carrier, Fuller pokes his hand in—the ball-hawking Tillman would be impressed—to force a fumble that Virginia Tech recovers. 

Throughout the game, Fuller attacked downhill to the mesh point and then pursued if the ball changed hands. It was an impressive display of controlled aggression and physicality from a player weighing only 190 or so pounds. Not many college cornerbacks could play the role Virginia Tech asked him to and pull it off so effortlessly.  

Is Kyle Fuller a legitimate first-round option for the Chicago Bears?

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The Bears could certainly use a fluid and physical cornerback like Fuller. 

The biggest questions are now whether or not general manager Phil Emery values him high enough to take him at No. 14 and if he believes defensive tackle or safety is a more pressing need. But an official visit—each team receives 30 before the draft—points to at least a smidgen of actual interest. 

The Bears will have many options in the first round. Fuller, an accomplished cornerback who fits what Chicago needs at a position in need of a youth movement, should be considered one. 

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

 

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