Brock Vereen plucked in fourth round to fill need at safety
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter May 10, 2014 11:30PM
FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2011, file photo, Minnesota's Brock Vereen (21) breaks up a pass intended for Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins (8) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Minneapolis. When Minnesota opens at UNLV on Thursday night, Vereen will have plenty of family in the stands. Some loyalties may be slightly divided. Vereen's father was a standout at UNLV in the late 1970s before being drafted by Tampa Bay. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid, File)
NFC NORTH GRADES
Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix can be a Day 1 difference-maker in Green Bay’s scheme. Getting him at No. 21 is an example of getting the best player available to fill your biggest need. Fresno State receiver Davante Adams (53rd) makes up for the loss of James Jones and has immense potential. It helps that quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes receivers better.
You can’t fault the Bears for taking cornerback Kyle Fuller (14th) if he was higher on their draft board than every safety. Fuller immediately helps with certain receiver matchups and can replace Charles Tillman down the road. Ego Ferguson (51st) and Will Sutton (82nd) fill needs at tackle and have talent to push some of the veterans.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr’s potential is undeniable, but the ninth overall pick still is raw and needs to find a position. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dropped to the final pick of the first round and the Vikings were happy to trade for him. But his fall is disconcerting. They found value late, drafting Stanford guard David Yankey (145th) and Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum (182nd).
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick, could be an immediate problem for opponents, giving quarterback Matt Stafford another big option to go with receiver Calvin Johnson. Getting defensive tackle Caraun Reid in the fifth round has great value, while drafting BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second was a stretch.
— Adam L. Jahns
Updated: June 12, 2014 7:11AM
At some point, a safety had to be drafted. It was an obvious need for a defense coming off an abysmal season and a position without one starter penciled in.
But the Bears held out until the fourth round.
“In terms of meeting your most important needs first, that’s what we did in the first two days,” general manager Phil Emery said Saturday after the NFL draft concluded.
“Obviously, we had additional needs and we went through the draft with an effort to meet those needs and get good players in the process. We weren’t going to reach on the player.”
So that’s it. Safety rated behind an exceptional player such as cornerback Kyle Fuller, who immediately helps with certain matchups and coverages, and behind defensive tackles with the skills of Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.
But it was necessary to get a safety to push Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. And the Bears were determined to make it Minnesota’s Brock Vereen.
“It’s always important to draft players who provide competition and have physical upside to be a potential starter,” Emery said.
Vereen began Day 3 as the Bears’ top-rated safety and trades were pursued immediately. An additional fourth-round pick was prudent, especially after Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey was drafted with the 117th overall selection.
“We really felt that if we waited to the fifth round for that second player that they wouldn’t be there,” said Emery, who credited scout Ryan Kessenich for the trade that landed the No. 131 pick from the Broncos used for Vereen.
Athleticism and potential are paramount late in the draft to Emery. Vereen also comes with the versatility that Emery covets. He started at safety and cornerback at Minnesota, including within the same season.
But Vereen will focus on safety.
“We’re going to keep him at one position,” Emery said. “Obviously, your safeties have to have versatility in terms of dropping down in the box, in coverage and in covering different types of athletes.
“We feel like the fact that he’s going to be able to concentrate on one area is going to help accelerate his improvement as a football player.”
Emery said that Vereen (5-11, 199 pounds) doesn’t have “optimal size” but that isn’t a deterrent because he possesses “good vertical explosion.” Emery said he mirrors receivers well on their cuts and takes good angles when supporting the run.
“I feel pretty well-rounded as a safety,” said Vereen, whose brother, Shane, is a running back for the New England Patriots.
Does Emery feel better about his defense — the one that ranked 30th in total defense and 32nd against the run in 2013 — after the draft?
“I don’t think you can be confident in anything, no matter how many people that you bring in the building and put a roster together and put it all down on paper,” Emery said. “Right now, that’s paper.
“What’s going to be important is how our players come together and fit with one another and fit with our staff and take to instruction and bring our system together.”