Bears general manager Ryan Pace

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Gabriel: Assessing Bears' Needs Ahead Of Combine

The Bears likely will need help in the secondary and at running back.

Greg Gabriel
February 26, 2019 - 2:24 pm

(670 The Score) This NFL Combine will be different than most for the Bears, who are without first-round and second-round picks for the first time since 2010.

Preparing for the combine becomes a little easier without those premium picks. The Bears don't have to worry about interviewing and closely watching the top players in the draft class, because there's no chance they will become Bears this year. Instead, the Bears will focus on second- and third-tier prospects who they usually wouldn't spend quite so much time with while in Indianapolis.

Like usual, the Bears have several needs, but we won't know all of them for few more weeks. If the Bears are unable to retain safety Adrian Amos and/or slot cornerback Bryce Callahan in free agency, those positions become priority needs. 

Beyond that, the Bears need to address running back, tight end and kicker.

With the Bears being short on salary cap space this offseason, it's unlikely that they make much of a splash in free agency. That makes it crucial for them to address some needs in the draft, and that quest continues with scouting work at the combine.

Teams don't need to use a premium pick in order to find an answer at running back, as history shows such quality players are available in rounds three, four and five. The Steelers' James Conner (third round), the Texans' Lamar Miller (fourth), the Bears' Jordan Howard, the Seahawks' Chris Carson (seventh) and the Broncos' Phillip Lindsay (undrafted) are several examples who productive running backs that were found later in the draft or afterward.

The 2019 draft class features depth at running back and projects to produce solid players at that position in the middle rounds. Some of those running back prospects include Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary, Iowa State's David Montgomery, Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams, Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo and Notre Dame's Dexter Williams. 

Some of those players figure to be gone when the Bears select at No. 87 overall in the third round, but all should fit in their scheme, which would provide Chicago with options. Montgomery, Ozigbo and Dexter Williams all have size to go along with speed and quickness, while Singletary and Trayveon Williams are smaller but play with strength and power.

Elsewhere, the Bears may need to be lucky to land a good cornerback. In most drafts, there are 12 to 15 cornerbacks selected in the first three rounds -- with the second and third rounds being particularly heavy at the position. At No. 87 overall, the Bears may be looking at their 10th- to 12th-rated cornerback.

For that reason alone, I believe it's important for the Bears to retain Callahan in free agency. Slot corner is a position that can require a different skill set than an outside cornerback, as players need to be quick to match the sudden movements of slot receivers. Because they're closer to the trenches, they also need to be tough enough to play the run well -- so being a good, consistent tackler goes without saying. Not all cornerbacks who are good on the outside can shift and play well on the inside.

It may be difficult to find a player in this draft class who can replace Callahan. Some players who could perhaps fit the bill and also be available in the third or fourth round are Michigan's David Long, Iowa State's Brian Peavey and Central Michigan's Sean Bunting.

Looking at this draft class, it may be difficult to find a guy who can come in and replace Callahan. Some players who may fit the bill and could be available in the third or fourth round are David Long from Michigan, Brian Peavy from Iowa State and Sean Bunting form Central Michigan. All have the desired quickness to play slot cornerback. Long and Peavey are the best tacklers of those three.

Theoretically, it’s easier to find safeties than cornerbacks in the draft. Teams typically don't value the position as highly, so safeties in general aren't draft as highly as cornerbacks. The Bears symbolize that trend with their starting safety tandem, as they took Eddie Jackson in the fourth round in 2017 and Amos in the fifth round in 2015.

If the Bears lose Amos in free agency, they have two players on the current roster who could replace him. Deon Bush played well at free safety when he replaced the injured Jackson at the end of the 2018 season. I believe he's even better suited for strong safety, which makes him an ideal replacement for Amos.

DeAndre Houston-Carson is another replacement candidate. He was having a great camp last summer before he suffered a setback with a broken arm. He has better cover skills than Bush, particularly in man coverage.

If the Bears need to draft a safety on the third day, some names to keep an eye on are Kentucky's Mike Edwards, Maryland's Darnell Savage and Michigan State's Khari Willis. Edwards is more of a free safety type. Savage should be able to play either position, and Willis projects strictly as a strong safety.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​​​