The Bears prioritized defense in the 2014 draft, as expected. They used four of their eight picks, including their first three, to help rebuild a unit that set a franchise record last season for yards allowed.
Here we break down the impact of each pick and how each players fits the Bears' plan to improve on their 8-8 record from last season:
Round 1, 14th selection overall
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The pick: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech cornerback
The impact: Aaron Donald, the All-American defensive tackle from Pitt, who would have been an ideal fit in the Bears' defense, came off the board at No. 13, right before the Bears went on the clock. So that left Bears general manager Phil Emery with a menu of secondary players to choose from in Fuller, safeties Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Darqueze Dennard. But Fuller's versatility and toughness stood out. He has the flexibility to play outside and slide inside to cover the slot. He has good awareness and is a sound tackler. And while the Bears still have Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman as starters at corner, Tillman is back on a one-year deal and Fuller immediately becomes the most likely successor. He also projects as a player who can easily emerge as the third cornerback in sub packages.
Emery says: “What makes Kyle unique is his combination of length and athleticism and versatility and smarts and toughness. It’s hard to find all those qualities in a corner along with somebody who has been really productive.”
Round 2, 51st selection overall
The pick: Ego Ferguson, LSU defensive tackle
The impact: After narrowly missing out on a chance to draft Donald to fill a need at defensive tackle in the first round, the Bears addressed the position on Day 2 by nabbing Ferguson. Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan came off the board Friday night before the Bears ever went on the clock. And so Emery ultimately went after Ferguson, who contributed 58 tackles, 3.5 for loss and one sack as a junior last season. Ferguson's size and athleticism are eye-catching. But he doesn't have a long track record of success and is figured to be something of a project at the position. Still, his ability to offer a run-stuffing presence was attractive.
Emery says: “With Ego Ferguson, we were very much looking for players who can be physical at the point of attack and help us stop the run. ... There's still a lot of upside in him. He's a very powerful, very strong, tough inside player. The things that kept coming up when you watched him against SEC tape was that he controlled the front. People could not run the ball up inside when he was on the field. And that was a big attraction for us.”
Round 3, 81st selection overall
The pick: Will Sutton, Arizona State
The impact: With the selection of two defensive tackles in succession Friday, Emery made it clear the success of his defense starts up front. With Sutton added to the defensive line a round after Ferguson joined the mix, the Bears clearly have their sights set on stabilizing their run defense. Sutton is a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, making up for his size (6 feet, 303 pounds) with quickness and good footwork. But managing his weight will be a priority. Sutton had a breakthrough junior season playing at 285 pounds, then seemed to slow a little when beefed up to 320 last fall. The Bears have an eye on keeping him much closer to his 2012 weight in the NFL and believe Sutton has shown the dedication in the pre-draft process in focusing on that initiative. Sutton weighed in at the combine at 303 pounds but said Friday he may be close to 290 now.
Emery says: “(The predraft weight loss) played a role. Because it says that he's dedicated toward improving himself. And when he sets his mind to something, he can accomplish it. There's a lot of pressure on young people. He wants to achieve. He was told by people that he trusted that he needed to gain weight and get bigger. And maybe he needed to gain a little bit, but not that much. And I think once he did, it was hard to get it back down. It affected his play. But you're still talking about somebody who was Player of the Year in his conference on defense.”
Round 4, 117th selection overall
The pick: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona running back
The impact: The Bears were figured to be in the mix for added running back depth in this draft and found a performer in Carey who has been majorly productive on the ground during his college career. But Carey also brings to the table the skill and willingness to be solid in pass protection, a top prerequisite for head coach Marc Trestman when he's assessing candidates to be the backup to Pro Bowler Matt Forte. Over his final two seasons at Arizona, Carey rang up 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns. He doesn't have blazing speed and has been criticized for exposing himself to too many hits with his running style. But with Michael Ford, an undrafted rookie in 2013, as the other candidate to back up Forte, Carey should find opportunity early to carve out a niche in the Bears offense.