Bears Insider 2023 Draft Preview: Defensive Backs

Two weeks ago when we published our Big Board, I mentioned some buzz surrounding Christian Gonzalez and the Bears. I took a couple of hits to my credibility on Facebook, and then lo and behold, for about a week, Gonzalez was the hottest name among draftniks. I said it then and believe today that Chicago will not select the Oregon cornerback. He doesn’t have that violent streak the front office looks for in their defensive players.

That doesn’t mean Gonzalez is not a fine player. He’s ranked No. 8 overall for a good reason, and in fact, it’s entirely possible he’ll be selected before Chicago is on the clock. I do expect Ryan Poles to address the secondary on Day 2 or 3, but I’d be highly surprised if they take a cornerback or safety in the first round. There are a couple of good prospects that will be available in rounds two through five. This is arguably the deepest position group in this year’s draft, especially for cornerbacks. I’ve got five corners going in the first round.

First Round Prospects

  1. Devon Witherspoon (CB) – A ball-hawking playmaker with good eyes and great balance, Witherspoon would pair nicely with Kyler Gordon. In fact, if the Bears were going to go DB in the first round, I believe Witherspoon would be the pick.  He’s also a physical and tenacious corner who plays with an edge and never backs down.
  2. Christian Gonzalez (CB) – An explosive outside cornerback possessing a rare blend of physical and athletic traits. Gonzalez is a talented press corner with the length to get his hands on the receiver. He has quick feet to mirror the release, speed to stay in phase, and enough burst to recover when necessary. He’s not the hitter that Witherspoon is, but he’s a future Pro Bowl defensive back.
  3. Joey Porter Jr. (CB) – An ascending cornerback who combines traits and above-average play strength that create a clear definition of who he is as a player. He can reroute the release and also has the frame to close catch windows against bigger receivers in press-man or Cover 2 looks. Porter has CB1 potential with more work if he’s utilized properly.
  4. Deonte Banks (CB) – Perimeter corner with the desired blend of size, strength, and athleticism. He also has the fluidity and top-end speed to turn and run with any receiver. Like Porter, Banks has impressive traits and could become a CB1.
  5. Tyrique Stevenson (CB) – I might be the only one among my peers to have the confidence to place Stevenson in the first round. He’s a tall and lean press corner with the length to get his hands on receivers and the speed to run with them. He also plays through receivers’ hands and recovers well when caught out of phase. Additionally, Stevenson has great stopping power and the ability to blow up plays.

Second and Third Round Prospects

  1. Brian Branch (S) – Branch is another DB who could sneak into the first round, but will be the first true safety taken no matter what. That said, he might end up playing corner or nickel at the pro level. That versatility makes him a potential first-year starter. A team that bites on Branch in the first round probably projects him as a corner.
  2. Julius Brents (CB) – Brents is a classic zone cover corner with an outstanding blend of size, length, and leaping ability. He also has the balance to smother receivers underneath, and he’s fluid enough to turn and run. Brents is not a ballhawk but flashes the ability to go up and get the ball in the air. He is, however, a wrap-up tackler willing to step up in run support.
  3. Antonio Johnson (S) – Big, athletic safety with the versatility to line up over the slot or inside the box for additional run support. Johnson is constantly flowing downhill to meet the play as close to the line of scrimmage as possible, but he needs to regulate his pace and angles to prevent overflowing and poor tackle balance.
  4. Kelee Ringo (CB) – He’s only a sophomore, but Ringo has some serious helium as we draw closer to Draft Night. He’s a muscular DB that could end up as a strong safety once he finishes growing into his body. Ringo is uniquely suited to travel the field and match talents against some of the bigger targets in the league but lacks the intuition to anticipate breaks.
  5. Emmanuel Forbes (CB) – Forbes is long, can run, and has a talent for taking the ball away, which means he has a chance to become a coveted cornerback. The only problem is he’s 6-foot-1, 166 pounds, and just not muscular enough to make an immediate impact.  That didn’t stop him from intercepting 14 passes as a collegiate, however.
  6. DJ Turner II (CB) – Explosive athlete combining fluidity, speed, and superior technique to excel at his craft. Turner is scheme-diverse with the ability to line up inside or outside in coverage.
  7. Sydney Brown (S) – I don’t want to be accused of scouting the helmet but this kid reminds me a lot of former Bear great Mike Brown. Their physical traits are almost identical, and the young man has straight-line speed and is very effective in mapping his transit to the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage. Brown also competes hard in man coverage, using everything at his disposal to prevent tight ends from making plays, but above-average pass-catchers could be too much for him to handle as a pro.
  8. Ji’Ayir Brown (S) – Versatile defensive back who has shown the ability to line up over the slot, play as a down safety, or patrol the outfield in Cover 1 schemes.
  9. Riley Moss (CB) – An instinctive cornerback with good size and play strength. Moss will need to prove he has the speed and durability needed for the next level. He has a lot of helium on some boards, but he’s also dropping quickly on others.
  10. Jartavius Martin (S) -Versatile cornerback/safety prospect from Illinois with the size and physical talent to play nickel back or align as a deep safety.
  11. Cam Smith (CB) – Though his timing/length can be formidable weapons on contested catches, Smith often fails to move his feet quickly enough in transitions and ends up grabbing receivers, leading to penalties.
  12. Clark Phillips III (CB) – Phillips is tough, smart, and knows how to play. He should become a solid nickel cornerback, but his success could be tethered to matchups from week to week.
  13. Darius Rush (CB) – Rush will never have the short area foot quickness to mirror and match routes. But, he has impressive ball skills to disrupt the catch when he’s in position.
  14. Jordan Battle (S) – Battle is not a thumper in run support and will miss tackles when he’s slow to find his positioning, but he typically finishes plays that are in front of him.
  15. Jammie Robinson (S) – Robinson is a tenacious run defender who chases with great effort and rarely stays blocked despite his smallish size.

Rounds Four through Seven Prospects

  1. Terell Smith (CB) – Smith has experience playing multiple positions and coverages, but he’s at his best as a press-man corner.
  2. Cory Trice Jr. (CB) – While he has legitimate strong safety size, Trice’s game is better suited to play cornerback. He is physical in coverage but lacks the same temperament in run support.
  3. Daniel Scott (S) – Scott matches up well with tight ends and bigger slot receivers. He also tracks the ball well and flashes the ability to pluck it out of the air.
  4. Jakorian Bennett (CB) – High-cut cornerback who is more of a catch-challenger than an instinctive ballhawk.  He has good size but is inconsistent in coverage.
  5. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (CB) – Hodges-Tomlinson will face occasional size mismatches, but he’s more than capable of holding his own. He’s the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
  6. JL Skinner (S) – Skinner is an instinctive run defender who slips blocks and wraps up ball carriers.
  7. Christopher Smith II (S) – He’s effective breaking on the ball in off-coverage over the slot and providing help over the top. Smith is also aggressive running the alley. He is small, however, and is an inconsistent tackler.
  8. Garrett Williams (CB) – Williams is a wrap-up tackler who is also willing to step up in run support.
  9. Jay Ward (S) – Ward is a versatile defensive back who thrived playing close to the line of scrimmage.
  10. Darrell Luter Jr. (CB) – He’s fast enough to turn and run with most receivers. Luter also has big hands and a knack for the ball.
  11. Carrington Valentine (CB) – A press cornerback with good length who is at his best rerouting receivers at the line.
  12. Chamarri Conner (S) – Conner flashes excellent stopping power as a run defender but misses too many tackles.
  13. Rezjohn Wright (CB) – A  tall, lean corner with the length to jam receivers at the line.
  14. Kei’Trel Clark (CB) – Clark is a smaller corner with the toughness to blanket receivers underneath.
  15. Anthony Johnson Jr. (S) – Johnson is at his best matching up with tight ends and driving on underneath routes.
  16. Eli Ricks (CB) – Ricks is a physical and aggressive corner who is at his best in press-man coverage.

Bears Needs

Jaquan Brisker was a revelation last year and Gordon improved as the season wore on. The Bears love defensive backs who excel in Cover-2. Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson are starters but should no longer be considered long-term options. Nobody believed Poles would go secondary with his first two picks last year, so don’t discount this position group this year.

Best Fits

Adding Witherspoon and Brown would give the Bears the best secondary in the NFC North, if not the entire conference. The Bears would have a tough time passing on Witherspoon if he’s available at No. 9 overall.

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