With NFL wide receivers getting bigger every year, and with teams utilizing more receivers and throwing the ball more frequently, safeties have become a much more valuable commodity than in the past.
Every NFL team is looking for big, hard-hitting safeties who can bang in the box and can also run well enough to cover today's bigger wide receivers and more athletic tight ends down the field.
The problem is there just aren't that many athletes coming out of college each year with all those physical attributes. Teams that need all-around safeties like that -- and the Bears are certainly one of them -- know that they have to move quickly in the draft because there is a limited supply.
This year is a classic example.
Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are universally considered first-round picks, while NIU's Jimmie Ward and Washington State's Deone Bucannon are expected to be snapped up in the second round. After that, the talent dries up in a hurry and the grades on safeties take a nosedive.
The first round of the draft is is Thursday, while Rounds 2-3 are Friday.
Teams are asking more of their safeties now than they have in the past.
"(There is) a lot more coverage responsibility," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "They've still got to be physical players because they have to get backs on the ground in space. At times, you're using them (up near the line of scrimmage). An eight-man box is very prevalent in this league.
"Players that play safety, ideally they are interchangeable. You have to have physical toughness and the ability to get backs on the ground. That part of it hasn't changed. But people are sacrificing a little bit in the size area in terms of getting players that can be more active and successful in coverage."
The Bears should have a more detailed scouting report on Pryor than any other NFL team, considering that in January they hired Clint Hurtt, who was Louisville's defensive line coach the previous four seasons.
"The closer the person is to that player, the more value it is," Emery said of the inside information that Hurtt can provide. "It's very valuable information. A huge part of our road scouts' jobs is the evaluation of character (and the) investigation of a player's background. So having somebody that's been in there with that player is big."
And the information highway goes both ways.
"He feeds me (information) and gives me updates on how everything is going," said Pryor, who is aware of the Bears' need for safety help.
Pryor's physicality is a given. During one stretch last season he knocked an opponent out of the game in three straight weeks, and he doesn't apologize for his style of play.
"I'm just going to be myself and stay aggressive and play like my hair is on fire," he said.
But the 5-foot-11, 207-pounder says there's more to his game than the highlight-film hits
"I can play strong safety, free safety, I can come up and hit, and I feel I can cover," Pryor said. "Just be a playmaker. And I'm a leader. You have to come up and support the run, and you have to drop back and (cover). It's not like a corner where you just think pass all day most of the time. You have to think and adjust during the game."
Pryor has proven he can do that, but there aren't many like him.
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