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Finding the Bears Cornerback Help

Best cornerbacks available in the NFL Draft to help bolster a Bears pass defense far worse than the overall yardage numbers indicated.

Trying to decipher the pass defense of the 2021 Bears by statistics is maddening.

Only two teams were better at limiting passing yards and no one allowed fewer completions than the Bears, who finished as the sixth-best team defensively in the NFL largely because of their performance against the pass.

On the other hand, it's easier to finish with the fewest completions and place third in fewest passing yards when you faced the fewest pass attempts. This would indicate they have problems stopping the run, which was true enough as their 23rd ranking vs. the run suggests.

Consider this, however.

  • They gave up the sixth-highest percentage of passes for touchdowns.
  • There were 21 other teams that allowed fewer yards per pass attempt, one of the key statistics in any season.
  • Only four teams gave up more completions of 40 yards or longer than the Bears (12).
  • The eight interceptions the Bears made tied their franchise record low, but it was the first time they did it for 17 games. So it actually IS the record.
  • They were 11th in conversion percentage on third downs which is solid, but it tied their worst effort since John Fox was their coach.
  • The Bears defense allowed opposing quarterbacks the highest passer rating in the NFL (103.3) only three seasons after they allowed the lowest passer rating.

They did all of this despite having a holy terror rushing passers in Robert Quinn (18 1/2 sacks) and a defense that led the NFL in sacks per pass attempt (9.32%).

They obviously need help defending passes and a great place to start is cornerback because they had only one interception from a cornerback last year.

This could be shrugged off as a statistical anomaly, except that they also only had one from a cornerback in 2020.

It's easy to gang up on former general manager Ryan Pace because he cut cornerback Kyle Fuller for salary cap reasons. But Pace apparently saw a downward spiral in the former All-Pro because Fuller experienced a putrid season in Denver after joining the Broncos, who used the same defensive scheme he had been used to playing.

Fuller got benched and posted a Pro Football Focus pass coverage grade of 40.8, which wasn't even as good as his struggling Bears replacement, Kindle Vildor. Fuller was 115th against the pass out of 116 cornerbacks graded by PFF.

The problem here was Pace didn't replace Fuller with anyone acceptable. The Bears must do this in the draft or free agency, and preferably the draft because it's cheaper and usually for the long term.

They need cornerbacks now who can play cover-2 zone well. They also don't have a first-round pick, so they'll need to come up with someone in Rounds 2, 3 and 5 or later to fix this.

Here are those cornerbacks for the Bears to watch after Round 1 at the scouting combine starting March 1.

(*Videos will play here)

Kaiir Elam, Florida

Good size at 6-2, 195, he is said by NFL Draft Bible to possess the coveted fluid hip movement necessary for cornerbacks. One other thing he has which is necessary for all good cornerbacks is spatial awareness -- he knows when the ball is in the air and rarely is caught out by surprise as it arrives. His abiliity to play man-to-man press coverage is impressive. The fourth-best corner according to NFLDB. He made five career interceptions and 20 pass breakups for three seasons, to go with 78 tackles.

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Roger McCreary, Auburn

Ranked fourth overall by ESPN's Mel Kiper and fifth by NFL Draft Bible, he made six interceptions and 30 pass defenses or breakups over a four-year career. He also had 135 tackles. Average size at 5-foot-11 1/2, 196, NFLDB projects him as a good fit for man-to-man schemes but not the best in zones due partly to his lack of reach. He also was labeled a bit "grabby" and will need to adjust to NFL referees.

Derion Kendrick, Georgia

Regarded by Kiper as the 10th best cornerback, he is a versatile performer who could fill anywhere from slot cornerback to the outside to safety. He has more the size of corner, slot or otherwise, at 5-11, 202. Made seven interceptions and 14 pass defenses, 11 for Clemson his first three years and three at Georgia after transferring. He also had 104 tackles. He's probably more suited for zone coverage according to NFL Draft Bible, which ranks him fifth best overall.

Trent McDuffie, Washington

A 5-11, 195-pounder who seems instinctive as a pass and run defender to NFL Draft Bible, which ranks him sixth overall among cornerbacks. Kiper says he's the fourth-best cornerback available. NFLDB's analysis also sayd he may be used by a team as the nickel because of his size and ability to react. He made two career interceptions and three forced fumbles in 27 career games with 94 total tackles.

Kyler Gordon, Washington

An experienced nickel cornerback who has good reach for that position at 6-foot, 195. He made two interceptions, both as a senior, and forced two fumbles while also getting in on 97 tackles. He sticks well with receivers coming out of the slot and because he has been largely at slot, it's suggested by NFL Draft Bible he would need to be a project if played outside but he displays a high enough football IQ to make such a switch. Ranked sixth overall among corners by Kiper, eighth by NFLDB.

Tariq Woolen, UTSA

Fantastic length at 6-3 1/2, and is physically strong enough at 205 that some might even consider him a safety. He could have the ability to track the ball from great distances like a safety because he started out as a receiver, which explains how someone this tall could wind up being a defensive back. He actually had 24 career receptions for 263 yards before converting to defense. Very raw because he played cornerback only in his last two years, but he showed great improvement as well. The reason he could be more of a cornerback than a safety is speed that's expected to be in the 4.3s. He made two interceptions and had nine pass breakups to go with 63 tackles.

Martin Emerson, Mississippi State

A 6-foot-2, 195-pounder with ideal length who needs to get a bit stronger, he seems perfectly suited to zone coverage according to NFL Draft Bible. Ranked 10th among corners by NFLDB, he had just one interception but made 152 tackles at cornerback for 36 games over three seasons. The tackle total tells the story for him as he is a very physical tackler who helps greatly in the running game. A real problem with short-area quickness was seen by NFLDB, which recommends he stay outside instead of the slot.

Alontae Taylor, Tennessee

Skilled in all types of coverages against good competition, he made four career interceptions and forced three fumbles while getting in on 162 tackles over four seasons. Ranked as Kiper's eighth-best corner and the 13th best by NFL Draft Bible, he showed NFLDB scouts he knows how to use his reach at 6-foot, 196 and doesn't back down from receivers. One exceptional quality noted about his tackling is a real knack for stopping momentum fo ball carriers.

Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

Rated the seventh best by NFL Draft Bible but was well down the list for Kiper, he is a 6-foot-1 1/2, 191-pounder who seems to do everything well enough to be an NFL starter but is especially adept in cover-2 zone. His nine career interceptions say as much. NFLDB especially liked his ability to anticipate route combinations. He is a player reported to be very focused on improvement and has a knack for stripping the ball with four forced fumbles. He had 35 career pass breakups and 170 tackles, which led some scouts to think initially he might be a good candidate for free safety. But it would probably be wasting a good corner.

Mario Goodrich, Clemson

At 6-foot, 186, he displayed both a real ability to make plays on the ball along with more physicality than you might expect considering he doesn't crack 190. He made five career interceptions and 68 tackles to go with 15 pass breakups. Nine of those came in his final year. Labeled one of the best tackling cornerbacks in his class by NFL Draft Bible, possibly his biggest perceived weakness in scouting reports was need for better hand usage in defending passes.

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