Defensive Line Change Building for Bears

Age and contract situations could make interior defefensive line a place of change very soon, most likely through the draft

Akiem Hicks is 31 and last season missed a game with a hamstring injury before playing through an ankle injury later in the year.

Roy Robertson-Harris' wife, Krystal, posted on Instagram saying how much they would miss Chicago. Everyone knew he wouldn't be back next season anyway because he's a free agent and too good to play for peanuts again.

Backup defensive linemen Daniel McCullers, Jonathan Jenkins and Brent Urban are unrestricted free agents.

And defensive lineman Bilal Nichols is entering the final year of his contract.

Time waits for no one in the NFL and even if the Bears do get nose tackle Eddie Goldman back from a COVID-19 opt-out for 2021, they could be looking at change on the defensive line. At the very least, real change looks likely within the next few years.

Few would think of the interior defensive line as a need position for the Bears based on recent success but pulling people in off the street and coaching them up might not be as possible now with defensive line coach Jay Rodgers on the Los Angeles Chargers staff.

So it wouldn't be out of the question for the Bears to think about the future at some point in the 2021 draft and take a defensive lineman. GM Ryan Pace is batting .666 at defensive line in the draft, succeeded with Nichols and Goldman but missed on Jonathan Bullard.

The draft isn't full of overwhelming interior defensive line help. What might be interesting would be whether Pace would scrap looking for a quarterback, tackle or wide receiver if a player like Iowa's Daviyon Nixon or Alabama's Christian Barmore fell to the Bears.

It's probably not going to happen, but those are a pair of 300-pound linemen with quick-twitch ability to blow past blockers at the line quickly and make tackles in the backfield.

Barmore was a beast in the postseason for the Crimson Tide.

Another player just below them in some ranking systems is Washington's Levi Onwuzurike but at 6-2, 290 he is quite a bit smaller than the ideal 300-pound monsters who occupy interior blocks in the Bears' scheme, and probably more of a gap-shooting three-technique. FanNation's NFL Draft Bible ranks him second-best defensive lineman available after Barmore.

After those three there is a big drop in unique athletic ability. Some of the top linemen through FanNation's Draft Bible are:

Neil Farrell, LSU

Comes in about Eddie Goldman's size and should be a nose tackle but could also be a rotational D-end in the 3-4 or a 4-3 nose. He was a run stuffer but not necessarily a play maker, but shows enough athletic ability for a decent upside.

Tommy Togiai, Ohio State

Lacks the great size at 6-2, 300 for a two-gap front but does have play-making ability sufficient to play the end in a 3-4 and several scouts believe his use of leverage has much to do with this. Pro Football Network noted excellent hand usage and other scouting reports have said his technique is his strong suit. He's probably a run defender but someone who could develop into playing every down.

Jay Tufele, USC

More the size of a defensive end in the Bears scheme at 6-3, 305, and was a solid play maker in 2018 and 2019 with 7 1/2 sacks total those two years. He opted out last season.

Jaylen Twyman, Pitt

At 6-2, 290, probably three-technique material in a 4-3 but could handle the 3-4 end spot in the right scheme. He proved a real playmaker in 2019 but then opted out. He made 12 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks in 2019 alone, but scouts wanted to see more in 2020 and didn't get the chance.

Jerome Johnson, Indiana

A 6-3, 304-pounder who could stand to add weight to play in Bears system but has displayed extreme quickness and an ability to get upfield after passers when required. Displayed consistency but was especially tough against Ohio State. Might be a better fit in the 4-3.

Mustafa Johnson, Colorado

Defensive tackle who could be undersized in the 3-4 at 6-2, 290. He's at his best rushing the passer in a 4-3. Made 100 tackles, 26 of them for loss, and 15 sacks in three seasons. Might be more of a situational player due to lack of lower-body strength according to a few scouts. If the Bears had him, then Akiem Hicks would need a new nickname. Khalil Mack has been calling Hicks "Mustafa." Although Johnson projects as an interior player, he was often used as an end in the rush because of his speed. He also was a three-technique but can play various styles.

Jonathan Marshall, Arkansas

A 6-3, 317-pound playmaker who is versatile enough to make an NFL impact. He finished second in the SEC with 29 quarterback pressures, but also has been a solid run defender and ranked among the three best in the SEC according to Pro Football Focus. Could play either 4-3 or 3-4 based on his skill set.

Cameron Murray, Oklahoma State

A 6-3, 300-pounder who made his presence felt with 30 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss in 2019. H

Last season he had 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, all big numbers for an inside technique on the defensive line.

Marvin Wilson, Florida State

Highly productive but for some reason he's had trouble selling scouts that he's more than a run stuffer or he could have moved up higher. He is ideal size in the 3-4 at 6-4, 319 and could play any of the three up-front positons. Made 8 1/2 sacks in 2018-19 and displayed mobility besides being a force inside.

Tedarrell Slaton, Florida

Massive nose tackle who has a little bit of mobility for someone his size (6-5, 343) but normally excells at occupying blockers and making it possible for others to get to the play. Displays great force but will be limited to run defender in the NFL and won't be a three-down guy. A nice reach for a big player who could help deflecting passes.

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