After a difficult season in 2013 for the Chicago Bears defense, particularly at safety, general manager Phil Emery made it clear that the team wants to improve the position.
The team re-signed veteran Craig Steltz and also signed Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray, via ChicagoBears.com, for a chance to compete with incumbent starter Chris Conte.
Despite those additions via free agency, Emery has stated that he is not done looking at improving the team's safety position, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times: "We’re definitely going to look at the safety position. Continue to look at it extensively in the [free-agent] market and the draft and post-draft,” he said.
Safety was already high on the Bears' list of priorities heading into the draft, but an injury to Conte, who was expected to compete for the starting free safety spot, will keep him out four to five months after undergoing shoulder surgery in late March, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com, leaving both safety positions wide open.
While the Bears could address the defensive tackle position with their 14th overall selection in the draft, Louisville's Calvin Pryor may be too difficult to pass up if he is still on the board.
At 5'11" and 207 pounds, according to NFL.com, Pryor packs a punch as a tackler as he routinely makes hard-hitting, highlight-reel tackles.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com wrote that Pryor "carries a swagger and plays with confidence." Swagger and confidence are two things that the Bears have not had at the position since Mike Brown was on the roster in the early 2000s.
He has the ability to come up in the box and make tackles as a strong safety, but also possesses the athleticism and ball-hawking abilities of a free safety. He plays with great instincts, has fluid hips that allow him to turn on the ball and is one of the most feared hitters in this draft class.
In a copycat league like the NFL, teams are trying to find the next safety that can play like the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. NFL.com's Gil Brandt drew the comparison of Pryor to Thomas, writing: "Pryor looks like a carbon copy of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas; he really punishes people as a tackler and has great coverage skills."
Pryor's game, in my opinion, resembles Chancellor's a bit more because of his penchant for big hits and ability to dominate in the run game from inside the box, but his coverage skills and ability to cover from sideline-to-sideline are underrated.
Despite being most well-known for his hard-hitting play, he has been effective at creating turnovers, something the Bears defense has been known for in recent years.
|Calvin Pryor Defensive Stats|
|Year||Total Tackles||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
The Bears have already shown some interest in Pryor, bringing him in for a pre-draft workout, according to ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:
"I bring a certain type of physicalness to the defense,’’ Pryor told Patrick Finely of the Chicago Sun-Times last week. ‘‘The Bears are already known to be physical."
He also went on to comment about his playmaking ability, saying, ‘‘That playmaker ability, that’s what I can bring to the team. . . . If I get added to the team.’’
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller likes Pryor's flexibility at the position, writing:
Once unleashed in an NFL defense, Pryor has big room to improve. Given his versatility as a kind of hybrid free/strong safety, he has massive upside in that he can develop in either direction and bring big value to an NFL defense.
The league has shifted to using more hybrid free and strong safeties as the two positions have become more or less interchangeable in many NFL defenses. Many teams prefer their safeties to be able to take on both sets of responsibilities, whether it be playing up in the box against the run or being able to cover the back half of the field as a single-high safety.
Pryor's hard-hitting nature and above-average coverage skills have shown that he has just scratched the surface with his potential at safety. The Bears have struggled for the better part of a decade to try and find a consistent piece at either strong or free safety, and they could finally find that piece if they take Pryor in the first round.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.