LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — As he watched Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller wreak havoc at Georgia Tech last season, general manager Phil Emery saw a fit for the Chicago Bears.
Now, there’s a future with him.
The Bears drafted Fuller with 14th overall pick Thursday, the latest move to boost a defense that ranked among the league’s worst last season. And afterward, Emery thought back to that game in late September.
Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech 17-10, with Fuller forcing a fumble and making three tackles — two for loss.
“I’m watching the Georgia Tech game and he’s crashing through gaps, which means he had to go through offensive linemen to get the ball,” Emery said. “And he did it repetitively.”
The Bears had needs all over their defense after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
They let Julius Peppers go and signed Jared Allen from Minnesota, the biggest changes this offseason. Many analysts thought Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald would be the best option for the Bears, but the St. Louis Rams grabbed him at No. 13.
Chicago then went for help in the secondary — but not at safety, where two starting jobs are up for grabs.
Emery made it clear he sees Fuller as a cornerback who can contribute next season with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and eventually become a starter on the outside. A move to safety doesn’t appear to be in the works.
“He is a corner,” Emery said. “That’s how we see him.”
Why did the Bears decide to draft a cornerback instead of a safety?
“We decided on Kyle Fuller the player,” Emery said.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Fuller missed the final six games last season because of a sports hernia but was productive when he played. He broke up 10 passes and made two interceptions. Emery has no concerns about the injury, saying Fuller’s medical grade was “more than passing.”
Fuller is not considered an elite athlete, but he makes up for his shortcomings in strength and speed with his instincts.
“I plan on coming in, being able to help rebuild the defense,” he said.
Chicago also had one pick each in the second and third rounds on Friday (Nos. 51 and 82) along with a fourth-rounder (117) and fifth-rounder (156) along with two sixth-rounders (183 and 191) on Saturday. The Bears do not have a seventh-round pick.
Fuller joins a defense that ranked 30th overall, last against the run and tied Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. The Bears gave up 2,583 yards rushing on 5.3 per carry — both club records — and they still had holes to fill on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary despite a flurry of moves to ensure there’s no replay from last season.
The biggest moves, of course, involved Peppers and Allen with one accomplished pass rusher replacing another.
Peppers, the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end, signed with Green Bay, hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season.
Allen, a five-time Pro Bowler, had 11½ sacks last season, reaching double digits in sacks for the seventh straight year. And the Bears are hoping he can help rejuvenate their pass rush and stop the run.
The Bears also added defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young along with safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. They brought back Tillman on a one-year deal, re-signed defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff to a two-year contract and split with safety Major Wright.
Emery said three of the six players he was considering taking in the first round were still on the board when the Bears drafted and that Fuller was their top cornerback. He didn’t say if Donald was one of the six.
“Donald’s a great player, a player that we liked,” Emery said. “Happy for St. Louis, happy for him, happy for any player that’s picked that high and gets an opportunity to compete in this great game.”
Emery also said not all the players in that group of six were defensive. He also said he did not look to trade down even though three of the six were still available. He said once the New York Giants grabbed LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th pick, he knew the Bears would get someone good at No. 14.
The Bears went with Fuller, a player who had 129 solo tackles and 23 ½ stops for loss in four seasons at Virginia Tech. He also comes from a football family, with older brother Vincent a former Hokies star who played in the NFL. His brother Corey spent last season on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad, and another brother, Kendall, plays for Virginia Tech.
“My parents did a real good job of growing us all up,” Kyle Fuller said. “Even starting with my oldest brother. I’ve learned a lot from them. So it’s definitely been a blessing for our whole family.”
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