NFL Draft position preview: Bears need long-term answer to pair with S Eddie Jackson

The Bears are locked into Jackson at one safety spot, but the other is up for grabs. Their answer could be in the draft.

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Eddie Jackson needs a running mate in the secondary.

Eddie Jackson needs a running mate in the secondary.

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Part 5 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

The Bears’ plan at safety the last two seasons was to bank on Eddie Jackson being one of the NFL’s elite and pair him with the best available, affordable free agent they could find. It looks like they’ll be doing that again this year, unless they can find a longer-lasting option in the draft.

The Bears have seemed content to take that approach lately. They haven’t drafted a safety since landing Jackson in the fourth round in 2017.

If the Bears are looking for instant starters with their first three picks — Nos. 20, 52 and 83 overall — then safety should be in consideration, along with offensive line, cornerback and wide receiver. If they draft by priority, it’d be ideal to land a safety in the third round.

It’s not a particularly strong class of safeties — only TCU’s Trevon Moehrig is expected to go in the first round — but that might set up well for the Bears. Barring a surprising early run at that position, they could be looking at some of the top names on the list when they select in the second round and still should have quality options available in the third.

While Jackson is a playmaker who can move up and play a linebacker-style role when needed, the Bears need to find a more coverage-minded safety to accompany him. Oregon’s Jevon Holland would be a perfect fit if the Bears can get him at No. 52.

Holland, who opted out of last season to prepare for the draft, clocked a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and has played cornerback — both of which are promising for his coverage skills. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein likened him to Bills veteran safety Jordan Poyer.

UCF’s Richie Grant would be another good option if he lasts into the second round. He had six interceptions as a sophomore and three last season.

The most likely scenario, though, would be the Bears addressing other needs in the first and second rounds, then hoping to land Syracuse’s Andre Cisco in the third.

Cisco was thought to be one of the top safety prospects in this class before suffering a season-ending knee injury after just two games. He has been limited in pre-draft workouts as he recovers but theoretically would be ready by the start of next season.

He’s similar to Jackson but has shown high potential in coverage. Over his freshman and sophomore seasons, he had 12 interceptions in 22 games.

As of now, the Bears have 2016 fourth-rounder Deon Bush penciled in at safety, but he has a long way to go to secure the job. He has eight starts in five seasons and played 66 defensive snaps last season behind Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.

Gipson, 30, still could return for another year as a stopgap. He remains unsigned, and there’d be good reason for the Bears to explore bringing him back, depending on what they do in the draft, and hold an open competition in training camp.

SAFETY

Grading the Bears’ need: High. It’s reasonable for the Bears to plan on a bounce-back season from Eddie Jackson, but he can’t do it alone. If they want to fight off their defensive decline, they need to restock the secondary.

On the roster: Jackson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Jordan Lucas.

The five best prospects: TCU’s Trevon Moehrig, Oregon’s Jevon Holland, UCF’s Richie Grant, Syracuse’s Andre Cisco and Indiana’s Jamar Johnson.

Keep an eye on: Syracuse’s Andre Cisco. If the Bears feel comfortable with his medical situation, they could get great value in Cisco, like they did last year with Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Close to home: Indiana’s Jamar Johnson was a starter for just one season but made the most of it. He had four interceptions and was first-team All-Big Ten. He has all the qualities NFL teams look for in a safety.

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