NFL Draft’s top cornerbacks don’t expect Bears to pick them

Three projected first-round picks, including Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, said they’ve had minimal interaction with the team. The Bears pick No. 9 overall.

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Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon at an NFL Draft community service event Wednesday.

Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon isn’t planning on landing with the Bears.

Charlie Riedel/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cornerback is one of the Bears’ most pressing needs heading into the NFL Draft on Thursday, and they’ll certainly consider taking one at No. 9 overall.

But three of the top prospects told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday they haven’t had much contact with them and would be surprised if they picked them. None made pre-draft visits to Halas Hall.

Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez said he had brief talks with the team, but described the meetings as “just like [with] any other team.” He is largely projected to go before the Bears’ selection anyway, though he did visit with the Steelers, who pick 17th.

Illinois standout Devon Witherspoon could be available at No. 9, but said he has gotten no indication the Bears are eying him. When asked if they’d talked to him much, he said, “Not really.”

Witherspoon’s development into a potential top-10 pick has been a long climb from playing at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Fla. He was planning to go to junior college, but qualified late with his SAT score and jumped at the chance to go to the Fighting Illini because “they recruited me to death.”

He was integral to Illinois having its best record in more than a decade last season and was named an All-American. He’s on the brink of his lifelong dream coming true.

“I really haven’t given it too much thought,” he said. “I’m not trying to overwhelm myself. But it feels pretty good just knowing that my hard work paid off.”

Alabama’s Brian Branch, a safety and cornerback projected to go late in the first round, also said he hadn’t talked with the Bears much and didn’t anticipate them taking him.

The Bears’ lack of outward interest in those players could be merely a smokescreen. If teams are convinced enough by a player’s college tape and their research on him, they sometimes minimize their interaction to avoid tipping off other teams to their plans.

That said, the Bears’ most likely course at No. 9 is to address their offensive line issues, and Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson Jr. is the top-rated player at his position.

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