LAKE FOREST – At first glance, the Bears might seem to have more pressing concerns than improving their secondary in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
However, Bears general manager Phil Emery said, nothing should be ruled out.
“What we’ve done in free agency really allows us a chance to go one way or the other,” Emery said Monday at Halas Hall. “It’s given us flexibility in terms of [drafting to] a perceived strength so that we make sure we get the player that’s going to help us win a championship the quickest way possible. Or, we can go and fill maybe what we perceive as a need.”
Every team, including the Bears, needs good players in the secondary.
The Bears will enter the 2012 season with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings at cornerback and Major Wright and Chris Conte at safety. But Tillman is 31 years old, and the draft includes several promising cornerbacks who could be available at No. 19.
A few weeks ago, that group might have included Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina. That has changed with Gilmore possibly moving into the top 10, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.
“In terms of Gilmore, he’s skyrocketed because he’s a good football player and he’s a great kid,” Kiper said on a recent conference call. “When you’re smart, when you’re competitive and as intense a competitor as he is, your [stock is going to increase].”
Another possibility is Dre Kirkpatrick, who won a BCS national title with Alabama. Kiper said Kirkpatrick and his other college teammates would benefit from playing for the Crimson Tide, which could produce as many as five first-round picks.
“It may give them a half a round bump-up, because people love the fact they’re coached up so well,” Kiper said. “[Under Nick Saban, it’s] basically pro coaching, and they’re so much more prepared for what the NFL is going to have to offer.”
If the Bears draft a safety, Emery indicated it would be in later rounds.
“There’s just as many second-day and free agent [safeties] that end up starting in the NFL as there are ones that are taken in the first three rounds,” Emery said.
“If you really need a safety and that’s what stopping you from winning a championship, you make take him high,” he said. “But if you have players that you feel good about, … you’re generally going to try to take him a little later in the draft.”