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Updated: May 9, 2014 12:26PM
The Bears might have had a more acute need at safety, but Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller was too tough, too physical, too versatile, too efficient of a tackler and just too good for general manager Phil Emery to pass up.
With a lot of options to fortify their 30th-ranked defense, the Bears selected the 6-0, 190-pound Fuller with the 14th overall pick of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
Fuller, with long arms and a 38 1/2-inch vertical leap, is an athletic, physical player well suited for the Bears’ defense — particularly in run support, where the Bears struggled last season. Fuller is an excellent tackler with playmaker potential. He had 23 1/2 tackles-for-loss in 50 college games — including 14 1/2 as a sophomore in 2011. He also had 26 pass break-ups, six interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks in his college career.
“This is one tough football player,” Emery said. “This is a player with length, skill, athleticism, versatility, productivity and beyond that, and the better part of him is he’s even a better person. He’s a great representative of the Chicago Bears.
“I was at a game live that I got to watch Kyle and I knew that day that that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears. He was playing Georgia Tech that day, and they lined him up as an inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback. And he repetitively did that. I’m extremely pleased to have a player of this level join the Bears.”
Emery said prior to the draft that the Bears had targeted six players for the 14th overall pick. Emery said the Bears had three of their six players still on their board when they chose Fuller. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the two top-rated safeties in the draft who likely were on that list — were still available.
“Decided on Kyle Fuller the player — that was the most important thing,” Emery said when asked why he took a cornerback over a safety. “That’s a really good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage. he’s got run-support toughness. There wasn’t any reason not to take Kyle Fuller. This is a corner that had 173 tackles. A corner with 23 1/2 tackles-for-loss — you don’t see that every day.”
Emery said he did not consider trying to trade down with multiple players he liked still on the board at No. 14.
“When New York turned their pick in [LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham at No. 12], I went, ‘We’re not moving anywhere. We’re going to get a really good player,’ ” Emery said.
Fuller was a nickelback as a freshman at Virginia Tech and played the “whip” linebacker position — a safety/outside linebacker hybrid. He played cornerback as a junior and senior.
His production dipped last season — 24 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, but a career-high 10 pass break-ups — when he missed four games after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. But the Bears were satisfied that he had fully recovered from the injury.
“I’m 100 percent healed,” Fuller said. “They knew that. I let that be known at the Combine — everywhere. I’m 100 percent ready to go.”
The Bears return both starting cornerbacks — Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. But Tillman is coming off a triceps injury that limited his to eight games in 2012.
“[I’m] a tough and physical player,” Fuller said when asked about his strengths. “ My ability to play corner, slot, my ability to tackle. I feel I have a good knowledge of the game. And overall my ability to make plays for my team.
Emery said he drafted Fuller as a cornerback, though he also will be given the opportunity to play nickelback, which he played in college.
“They know I can play corner, nickel, possibly safety — whatever it is,” Fuller said. “I’m a versatile player. I’ll let them put me in the best position for myself and for the team.
“I know Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are two Pro Bowl corners. I’m definitely looking forward to coming in and learning from those guys.”
With Tillman and Jennings, the addition of Fuller figures to give the Bears depth and versatility at cornerback. The Bears already have two proven nickelbacks in Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey. Fuller’s aggressiveness and athleticism could add a new dimension.
“It allows you to put players in a position, matchup situations, we feel better about some of those matchups that we maybe we weren’t able to match up in the past,” Emery said. “His length and athleticism particularly against bigger, inside receivers, is one of the things that attracted us toward him.”