Defensive Line Depth Always Critical to Bears in NFL Draft

Gene Chamberlain

Maintaining the talent level of a defensive line is critical to stopping the run and rushing the passer.

The Bears only need to look back to last year to see the impact of losing Akiem Hicks to an elbow injury for their entire defense.

It's why they need at least five threats along the defensive line.

This year they have far more pressing needs in the draft in the secondary at both safety and cornerback, but the depth need on the line is there as well after losing Nick Williams in free agency to the Detroit Lions.

Even with those other needs, if a rare talent drops into their laps it's difficult to pass on a player at a position so important.

Defensive linemen with great size, strength or production stand out. In Hicks, they more or less had one gifted to them when the Patriots weren't going to be able to sign him in free agency in 2016.

Finding Bilal Nichols in the fifth round was a great stroke of good fortune, although his play took a step back last year somewhat due to a broken hand early.

This year's draft could feature some players with ability on the defensive line, although it's nowhere near as deep with talent at those positions as last year.

Alabama's Raekwon Davis is a good example of a defensive lineman who would be an ideal Bears fit. He said at the combine the Green Bay Packers are interested in him for their 3-4 defensive end spot.

Davis is not rated by scouts or scouting websites in the top five among defensive linemen, but is someone who could be available in Rounds 2 or 3. And he definitely is a player whose physical traits make him project as a player who could become a force.

At 6-foot-6-plus and 311 pound, he has a 34-inch reach and 11-inch hands, so he has the ability to affect the passing game with deflections even when he doesn't get to a quarterback.

"My arms are so long, so no guard is going to touch me," Davis told reporters at the scouting combine.

Several scouting reports and the NFL.com assessment of him all project him as an ideal two-gap end, the style defense used by the Bears.

"I'm comfortable playing anywhere," Davis said. "I played nose, inside, outside, I did it my whole career."

He said teams, "...like the fact I can play anywhere. Wherever you put me, they know I can play."

If Davis has one area to improve, it's his pass rush.

"If my first move doesn't work, they (NFL teams) want to see that second move come faster," he said.

Davis has also had to explain how he was shot in the leg outside a bar last year, although he still came back to play a week later.

"At the wrong place at the wrong time, honestly," Davis said. "Wasn't nothing like a big situation, just at the wrong place at the wrong time."

There are other players who could be available to the Bears after Round 2 with some freakish ability but it looks like a big drop off in talent at the position after Round 3.

Jordan Elliott

Missouri's 6-4, 302-pound lineman who ran a 5.02-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He transferred from Texas after making eight tackles and suffering an MCL injury, then had 18 tackles for loss and six sacks his last two years with the Tigers. He could stand to add bulk at the next level.

Justin Madubuike

A 6-3, 304-pounder from Texas A&M who impressed at the combine with a 4.83-second 40. His 31 reps in the bench made it appear he has the ability to play as a two-gap end, although most scouts project him as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3.

Davon Hamilton

Another potential ideal fit for the Bears at 6-4, 320 and with 33-inch arms. He ran a 5.14-second 40 and did an impressive 33 reps in the bench. Some of his video busting through double-team blocks looks like Hicks at work.

Rashard Lawrence

LSU's 6-2, 308-pounder shows a willingness to eat up blocks as well as rush the passer. He was the defensive MVP of the Citrus Bowl in his junior year but had knee surgery and missed spring workouts before his senior year, then had a so-so final season. He ran a 5.07-second 40-yard dash, uses good technique and is aided greatly by 11-inch hands in this regard.

Leki Fotu

Utah's 6-5, 330-pound Tongan-American monster who has been projected as an early Day 3 pick in many drafts based largely on his size. He has 34 1/4-inch arms and big hands and can be an ideal two-gap player but hasn't displayed the athleticism needed to prove he move up and down the line yet to an end spot in a 3-4. So he may be confined to nose. The biggest complaint scouts universally had was he gets too upright too soon after the snap.

Marlon Davidson

Auburn's 6-3, 303-pounder ran a 5.04 40 but there have been concerns about how he'd hold up against the run in the NFL. He benched only 21 times and last season played on only 51% of the running plays.

Raequan Williams

A Chicago native who is 6-4, 308, ideal size for the Bears at their end spots in the line. His younger brother and cousin were killed in one of many of the city's shooting incidents. He made 9 1/2 sacks and 24 tackles for loss for his Spartans career.

Benito Jones

Mississippi's 6-1, 316-pounder proved himself over four years of starts. He made 31 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks. He's played as heavy as 329 but is regarded more as a gap-shooting tackle and not an ideal fit in a two-gap system.

Darrion Daniels

A player who has had some contact with the Bears from Nebraska. He was a high-character guy and leader, who won Nebraska's Vernon Grant Award for leadership. He transferred to Nebraska from Oklahoma State to play with his younger brother as a senior and actually had five seasons because he played just four games in 2018 at Oklahoma State due to injury. A 6-3, 311-pounder, he had 11 tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks for his career.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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Gene Chamberlain

Gene Chamberlain