It didn’t come out of deep left field like Emery’s selections of Shea McClellin or Kyle Long, but former Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller at No. 14 is still somewhat of a surprise, as his role with the Bears won’t be patrolling the deepest part of the field.
Fuller (6-0, 190) was considered a fast riser over the past few weeks, and the Bears ultimately decided he was a better option than either of the top two safeties (Calvin Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), even though the Bears probably need two new starters. C.J. Mosley, another player who would have looked great as the latest in a line of tremendous Bears linebackers, was also bypassed for Fuller.
A big and physical corner with terrific instincts and leaping ability, Fuller does address a need for one of the league’s worst defenses. He becomes the heir to Charles Tillman, who is 33 and signed a one-year deal earlier in the offseason. The question is how does a club that expects to compete for a Super Bowl now find a way to get immediate contributions out of Fuller, who is behind Tillman and Tim Jennings?
As general manager Phil Emery confirmed a short while ago, Fuller will become the club’s nickel on Day One, replacing Isaiah Frey. Frey did nothing egregious in a tough spot in 2013, but he wasn’t a difference maker, either.
Technically, a nickel back isn’t a full-time starter, and some will lament Emery passing on other every-down options for Fuller. But in a division with high-powered passing offenses, the Bears will spend a ton of time in their sub packages, putting Fuller on the field frequently.
The move makes a lot of sense in that context. Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson both worked inside a lot last season and could line up across from Fuller plenty in 2014, making his athleticism and toughness a huge asset in Chicago immediately.
Fuller will also have direct knowledge on how to slow the Lions' top pick, tight end Eric Ebron, who he fared well against in the ACC last season. That speaks to Fuller’s length and athleticism; not every nickel corner can handle the responsibilities of matching up against a big, field-stretcher from the tight end position like Ebron.
We also have to consider Tillman, coming off triceps and knee injuries that limited him to eight games last season, might no longer be the iron man he was for so long. Fuller is a terrific contingency plan, and one who will have the luxury of learning behind a pair of seasoned veterans and fantastic playmakers.
Fuller definitely looks the part of an “Emery guy,” with impressive versatility and pedigree (two Fuller brothers have played in the NFL). He’s the first defensive back Chicago has spent a first-rounder on since 1996, but the third DB selected by Emery in the past two seasons.
Fuller strengthens the Bears’ depth, which was badly exposed a season ago, and he’s an immediate upgrade over Frey.
We know it will be at least two years before it is fair to declare this a hit or a miss for Emery, despite our tendency to want to rush to snap judgments. Yet, it might take at least two more rounds until we can safety do that – I meant safely, but see where I’m going here?
• Arthur Arkush covers the Bears for Chicago Football. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @arthurarkush.