The 2014 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, May 8, and every team will look to infuse youth and talent into their rosters. This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.
PICK NO. 14: CHICAGO BEARS
2013 record: 8-8
Key offseason acquisitions: DT Lamarr Houston, DE Jared Allen, FS M.D. Jennings, FS Ryan Mundy, DE Willie Young, WR Domenik Hixon.
Key offseason departures: DE Julius Peppers, DT Henry Melton, QB Josh McCown, KR Devin Hester, SS Major Wright, CB Zack Bowman, RB Michael Bush.
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Biggest holes: Defensive line, safety, cornerback.
There's no defending the Bears' atrocious defense last season.
Chicago ranked last in run defense in 2013 with 2,583 yards allowed - 410 yards more than the second-worst run defense -- and a 161.4 per-game average. The Bears also had 31 sacks, tied with the Jaguars for the league low. The secondary gave up 6.9 net yards per pass attempt, sixth-most in the NFL.
The Bears took some big steps in free agency to help address those issues. They replaced injured defensive tackle Henry Melton with versatile lineman Lamarr Houston from Oakland and poached Jared Allen from Minnesota to replace Julius Peppers, who bolted for Green Bay. They also signed ex-Packers safety M.D. Jennings, whose most notable role to date is being the player on the intercepting end of the "Fail Mary" against the Seahawks.
Still, the Bears could use more help everywhere on defense, particularly up front. To that end, the best option at 14 most likely is Aaron Donald. The Pitt DT has become one of the hot names of the draft, and for good reason. He has had a stellar eight months, standing out during the season (11 sacks, 28 1/2 tackles for loss), Senior Bowl drills and at the Combine (4.68 40, 7.11 three-cone drill, 35 reps on the bench press).
Donald thrives as a three-technique DT (lined up over the outside edge of the guard), where he can use his quick first step and burst to get into the backfield for the stop. He's a little undersized at 6-1 and 285 pounds, but his production and his performance in pre-draft drills have helped put that concern to bed. He's an ideal fit for the Bears' 4-3 defense if he manages to make it this far.
If the Bears are looking for more of a run-stuffing DT, Timmy Jernigan is their guy. The Florida State product stood out during the BCS national title game, racking up nine tackles while battling the flu. He's a stout defender in the middle who moves well, plays with good balance and uses his hands well to shed blocks. Like Donald, he's a bit on the shorter side at 6-2 and 299 pounds, but his college production has overshadowed any major worries about his size.
Even after signing Jennings and ex-Giant Ryan Mundy, the Bears could address the safety spot with their first-round pick. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix, if available, would be a good fit. He's a rangy prospect with good instincts, hands and tracking ability. He has average athleticism but makes up for it with his aggressiveness both in the box on run plays and deep in coverage.
If Chicago wants a physical safety, they could go with Louisville's Calvin Pryor here instead, though 14 may be a bit early. Pryor is one of the harder-hitting safeties in this class and is known for punishing anyone who tries to run on his side of the field, but he does also have good ball skills and speed in coverage. He lacks discipline at times and will draw quite a few personal fouls in today's NFL, but there's no doubting his intimidating presence over the middle.
In addition to safety, the Bears also could add youth at cornerback. Tim Jennings will be 31 in December, while Charles Tillman turned 33 in February. If the Bears did want to go cornerback at 14, the pick would likely depend on what skillset they value in the secondary. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert would add great athleticism (4.37 in the 40, 35 1/2-inch vertical) and can double as a kick returner, but he is inconsistent with his technique at times. On the other hand, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard makes up for his average athleticism with his alertness and physical play, making him a potential shutdown defender in an NFC North full of big wideouts,
Possible Day 2 and Day 3 options include Princeton DT Caraun Reid, Arizona State DT Will Sutton, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler, Wyoming safety Marqueston Huff, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins.