Finding a Safety Later in Draft Has Been a Bears Specialty

Gene Chamberlain

In the last three years there have been 34 safeties chosen on the final day of the NFL drafts and only six have gone on to start half their team's games since coming into the league.

This only underscores how difficult it is to do what Bears general manager Ryan Pace has done in finding safeties who can start on the final day of the draft twice, first Adrian Amos and then Eddie Jackson. Jackson was one of the three chosen in 2017 on the final day who went on to start more than half the games.

So with Amos and now Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gone, the Bears need another safety to compete for a starting spot with Deon Bush and Jordan Lucas to play alongside Jackson

They face the decision of going for a top-end safety like California's Ashtyn Davis, Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, Jeremy Chinn of Southern Illinois or Division II project Kyle Dugger from Lenoir-Rhyne. Or they can use their two second-round picks for positions where top athletic ability might be more necessary, like cornerback, offensive line or wide receiver.

Knowing he found both Jackson and Amos later, as well as current backup safeties Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson, Pace could opt to go this route again.

Taking players from bigger schools who have played on the large stage, especially strong program is always a percentage play. It worked with Jackson, even though he came into the draft after a broken leg.

Notre Dame's Jalen Elliott would be an ideal safety pairing with Eddie Jackson because of his skill set and also because the Bears could get him later in the draft and save their top picks for other needs. Pro Football Focus had him rated the 10th best safety available, even though most mock drafts and scouting services put him nowhere near this level.

Elliott's Senior Bowl performance marked him as a player on the rise until his combine 40 stopped momentum. At the Senior Bowl, he was so effective in practices that the wide receivers he went against all week at practice voted him the top North squad defensive back.

"Great experience," Elliott told reporters at the NFL combine. "I'm so thankful for it. I really wanted to go out and prove a point. I'm one of the best safeties in this draft class and I feel like I went out and proved myself not only in coverage but in communication and leadership and I can take the right angles in tackling."

In the combine's 40-yard dash Elliott was clocked in an abysmal 4.8 seconds. Yet, his combine then took a complete turn in the three-cone drill. He ran it in 6.87 seconds.

If you took into account every cornerback, safety AND wide receiver who ran the three-cone drill, only four ran it faster than Elliott. The three-cone drill speaks to his great strength, which is versatility.

"It's not just one spot I can play," Elliott said. "Any DB spot on the field I feel like I can make an impact. I just want people to continue to talk about my relentlessness when it comes to being versatile on the field and I’m going to come out and make plays."

Elliott is at his best in coverage in the short zones, according to several scouting reports. His 40 time at the combine defies logic, or perhaps suggests some sort of faulty measuring.

Although Elliott thinks he's versatile in coverage he's not necessarily a free safety. He can be physical and play at the line. He recalled doing it against Boston College.

"All three of the tight ends from Boston College, those are some big boys," Elliott said. "I was down a lot setting the edge. No matter what kind of power I was giving them, they kept coming back. That's not going to stop me, but those guys were pretty tough."

He doesn't necessarily try to overpower with his tackling at 205 pounds.

"You want to be solid tackling," Elliott said. "If that's a wrap-and-roll or bring a guy down, that's what it needs to be. But I'm always looking to give you a nice bang every once in a while."

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