Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hasn’t shown a lot of creativity when it comes to how he uses his players, but that just might change if the draft breaks the way many expect. Because if three quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears – with Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson and Saquon Barkley also going – the best players Ryan Pace might be looking at are versatile defensive backs Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
It isn’t really fair or accurate to pigeon hole James or Fitzpatrick as safeties. They both played in the box, as slot corners or nickel linebackers, a significant amount. (An argument can be made that’s where they were at their best.) The Bears would be able to start either player at safety and move them down in sub-packages.
They’d be closer to the line of scrimmage more often than not, but the Bears have never used a player like them under Fangio.
Fangio has had chances to use extra safeties. He just hasn’t.
Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps played a combined one defensive snap in the first two games, when both were healthy. A nickel linebacker role seemed perfect for a player like Harold Jones-Quartey. The Bears never explored it.
The closest they came last year was during an injured period for Bryce Callahan. Then Fangio used Sherrick McManis and DeAndre Houston-Carson in the slot at times. Both are bigger players than either Callahan or Cre’Von LeBlanc and they were used primarily to blitz because neither can cover.
The Bears actually blitzed their slot corners a fair amount — roughly 50 times, according to PFF — so there would be value in having a bigger player who can hold up better against the run, cover tight ends and still cover slot receivers.
Fangio’s mentor, Dom Capers, made a lot of players careers by using them in the exact role in which either James or Fitzpatrick would excel. Charles Woodson, Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett all played essentially as rovers, covering slot receivers, tight ends and running backs when they weren’t going after the quarterback.
Defensive back isn’t the Bears biggest need — especially if Callahan returns — but it just might be where they can add the most impactful player to an already top-10 unit. Both Fitzpatrick and James would allow Fangio more flexibility and ways to confuse opposing offenses. The end result would surely be more takeaways.
Both Fitzpatrick and James are chess pieces, unlike any we have seen in a Bears uniform under Fangio and unlike any Fangio had in San Francisco. They might not be perfect fits as far as position needs, but if the goal is to add the best players they can, the Bears should strongly consider taking either player and figure out how to use them.