Chicago’s decision Tuesday to use the one-year, $12.971 million transition tag on Fuller increases the likelihood that the former first-round pick stays in a Bears uniform, but the cornerback spot opposite Fuller -- assuming Fuller either plays under the transition tag, agrees to a long-term deal with Chicago, or the Bears match any offer Fuller receives -- is wide open.
Last season's starter, Prince Amukamara, is an unrestricted free agent.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay believes the Bears can upgrade at cornerback in Round 1, where they hold the No. 8 pick.
Ward earned first-team All-America honors for the Buckeyes in 2017. He finished the season with 37 tackles, two interceptions and 15 pass breakups and decided to forgo his senior year to enter the draft.
"Ward is very sticky in coverage,” ESPN NFL Insider Matt Bowen said last week in Indianapolis. “He uses a technique that is called a 'motor-mirror-shuffle-scoot,' where you line up, square up on the receiver and quick-pedal. It's very hard to teach. It's very hard to execute. A lot of pro guys can't do it. He's excellent at it. His shoulders are always square and on top of the receiver. He has great change-of-direction speed. He's supposed to test off the charts here.
"Now, he's not a big guy [5-foot-10, 191 pounds]. He's an undersized corner. He's not going to be ultra-physical in the run game, but he can close on receivers and play the football. He can get in the back pocket of a receiver down the field. He can transition out of his pedal and transition with his hips open to the quarterback.”
In theory, the Bears could solidify their secondary -- as long as Fuller returns -- by choosing Ward at No. 8 overall. Chicago appears happy at safety, where Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos are safe bets to start in 2018; Amos is a free agent after the season and is a candidate for an extension. Adding Ward to the mix would give the Bears a starting defensive backfield comprised entirely of players age 26 and under.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, linked to the Bears in previous mock drafts, went ninth overall to San Francisco in McShay’s latest offering.