The last time the Bears selected a safety in the first three rounds of the NFL draft was a decade ago.
In his first draft, GM Phil Emery took Brandon Hardin of Oregon State in Round 3.
That one didn’t quite work out for the Monsters of the Midway.
Hardin had a neck injury and missed all of 2012, then came back the next training camp and was cut. A third round pick and No. 79 overall, Hardin never played a down in the NFL.
Maybe it scared them off of safeties early in drafts, but after Emery GM Ryan Pace felt there were always talented players at the position to start Day 3 and no need to take this position early. He proved it with Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson.
The Bears have needed a younger safety starter on his first contract since before Jackson received his $58.4 million deal in 2020. It’s been that way since they decided to let Adrian Amos leave for the Packers in free agency.
They went through 2019 with Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and the last two years with Tashaun Gipson both on low-budget, short-term deals.
With two picks in the first 71 this year, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see them venture into the group of safeties, particularly because the current coaching staff has no ties to past starters. Also, Jackson’s play has been disappointing the last two seasons. Another reason they could go this way is because they haven’t exactly had standout play from the other starting safety spot with their veterans. Both were OK, not special. An upgrade with someone who could go after the ball the same way, well, a young Eddie Jackson did, would greatly benefit a 4-3 defense using a cover-2 approach.
The Bears might even be able to find one in a middle roundif they look, and it could be another player from Oregon, although not Oregon State like Hardin but the University and the Ducks.
Verone McKinley III could be a fit for what they’re planning to do on defense and rates as a late Day 2 or early Day 3 draft pick according to FanNation’s NFL Draft Bible.
Verone McKinley Bio
A former teammate of Bears cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., McKinley follows in a line of strong secondary players to come out of the school like Jevon Hollard, Deommodore Lenoir, Brady Breeze and Ugo Amadi.
McKinley had the skill the Bears want in a safety who is going to be playing in a zone-heavy scheme. He led all of Football Bowl Series teams with six interceptions in 2021, including one against Ohio State at Columbus to seal an upset win.
McKinley started every game his last three seasona and in 2018 he played three games and then redshirted. He finished at the school with 11 career interceptions and 10 pass breakups, to go with 172 tackles.
At 5-11, 196, he is a safety NFL Draft Bible says plays, “…with good spatial awareness, route recognition and man coverage ability to succeed in the NFL.
One aspect noted by several socuts about McKinley’s play is his intelligence and leadership. Although he can play strong or deep safety, he is always directing the show in the back and keeping communication lines open to enhance secondary coverage. It’s been said at the school he has done this since his first year.
McKinley’s father played at Texas Tech and was a position coach for him in high school, a further reflection of the good fundamental background the Oregon star has.
In his description for the NFLDB website, NFLDB’s Jack Borowsky said McKinley could be “the next Budda Baker” as a safety from the Pacific Northwest corridor who was sound in every area of the game.
Watch for his bench press at the combine. It doesn’t need to be spectacular but at 196 and 5-11 he’s going to need to do some hitting from the secondary and come up to take running backs to the ground. His 40 time and shuttle runs will be critical because there is a perception by some scouts that he lacks great straight-line speed for long distances.
Some might prefer a bigger, more traditional box safety to pair with Jackson. If the Bears selected McKinley they might not be setting up necessarily to run with both of those safeties in the future. After the 2022 season, they could save $13.1 million against the cap by cutting Jackson post-June 1 and the dead cap money would be just $3.9 million. That’s not much considering the high price of the original contract.
Drafting a good safety to get rid of another one who had been good in the past doesn’t sound like sound personnel strategy, but the Bears really need to see some production from Jackson, who hasn’t had an interception since 2019 and is coming off a season when Sportradar had him at ridiculously high passer rating against when targeted or 143.6. This relects the six touchdown passes they say he allowed in 41 targets.
Finding a safety on the first two days of the draft hasn’t been the Bears thing but there haven’t always been safeties available worthwhile. In fact, there hasn’t been a safety drafted in the first round since 2019.
There have been plenty in Rounds 2 and 3, though.
And NFLDB predicts three could go in Round 1, and 2 have very good chances. That would be Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, who is NFLDB’s second-ranked player overall, and Michigan’s Daxton Hill. With two who could go in Round 1, there could be several good safeties later available and if McKinley is there for the Bears in Round 3 it might not be a bad place to build for the future of the secondary.