On a conference call with season-ticket holders on Wednesday, Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery said it's unlikely the team will be able to re-sign defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. The unrestricted free agent has interest from at least four other NFL teams, effectively pushing him out of Chicago's price range.
The Bears released Anthony Adams earlier this offseason, leaving Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and Stephen Paea as the team's only defensive tackles. The club kept five DTs last season and will need to add at least one in the upcoming draft.
Melton and Okoye rotated at 3-technique, or under tackle, last season: one-gap penetrators that can get upfield quickly. The two combined for 11 sacks, the most from a Bears DT duo since 1995.
Toeaina starts at nose tackle, while Paea can shift between nose and 3-tech. He appears better suited at nose, so the club should be looking at lighter, quicker DTs in the draft.
Lovie Smith has said in the past that the under tackle is the most important position in Chicago's version of the Cover 2. The ability to get pressure in the opposing quarterback's face is crucial, allowing the team to forego blitzing and drop seven men into coverage. A good rotation of under tackles goes a long way in Smith's system.
Here then are the top 3-technique defensive tackle prospects in this year's draft:
Fletcher Cox, Mississippi St. (6-4, 298)
Cox started two and a half seasons in college and came out after his junior year. He was named All-SEC first team last season, collecting 56 tackles and five sacks. Cox is an outstanding athlete with ideal under tackle size. He's explosive off the ball and very strong, and will be able to create penetration at the next level. He relies heavily on his natural ability, which he showcased at the NFL Scouting Combine. He led all defensive tackles in the 40-yard dash (4.79) and 3-cone drill (7.07). Cox has quick feet, active hands and an all-day motor. Most feel he still has plenty of room to improve. He struggles against the run but can be a force as a pass rusher from Day 1. He has experience at defensive end as well as defensive tackle, providing added value.
Projected: 1st round
Michael Brockers, LSU (6-5, 322)
Brockers is one of the best athletes in this draft. Combine his athleticism with his size and you have the makings of a potential beast. He's a former linebacker that put on weight to play DT. He could likely trim down if need be. His thick powerful legs, combined with his great understanding of leverage, forced opposing teams to double team him throughout his collegiate career. Against the run, he can be dominant, using his long arms to work off blockers and makes plays in the backfield. Warning signs with Brockers are his lack of experience – he started just one season at LSU, declaring after his redshirt sophomore season – and his poor workout numbers. His 5.36 40 time was very slow, as was his 7.46 3-cone time. At his pro day, he had just 19 bench press reps, extremely low for a 322-pound defensive tackle.
Projected: 1st round
Devon Still, Penn State (6-5, 303)
A starter in 25 games over the past two seasons, Still led Penn State with 17 tackles for loss and tied for second with 4.5 sacks in 2011. A finalist for the Outland and Nagurski Trophies and Bednarik Award, he finished the season with 55 tackles, including 29 solos, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Against the run, Still is a monster. He uses leverage and very active hands to hold his ground and shed blockers. He has good quickness off the line and can disrupt plays in the backfield. His ability to penetrate and split double teams makes him very attractive. He could fit in either a 3-4 or 4-3. He's a late first-round prospect, meaning the Bears will have to trade up or down to grab him.
Projected: 1st-2nd round
Kendall Reyes, Connecticut (6-4, 299)
Reyes is a three-year starter and was named first team All-Big East his senior season. He was a team captain who started all 13 games in 2011, alternating between end and tackle. He tied for third on the team with 10 tackles for a loss and also had 2.5 sacks. At the combine he showed good speed (4.95 40-yard dash) and strength (36 reps in the bench press, second best amongst defensive tackles). He's got great short-area quickness and strong hands. He wins most of the in-line battles. As a pass rusher, he isn't going to pick up a ton of sacks. His strength is as a run stopper. He was very impressive in the Senior Bowl, outplaying the best offensive linemen in the country.
Projected: 1st-2nd round
Jerel Worthy, Michigan State (6-2, 308)
Worthy started all three of his collegiate seasons before declaring for the draft as a junior. He was named a first-team All-American by nearly every publication in the country last year. He has a good blend of size, strength (28 bench press reps) and speed (5.05 40). Worthy anticipates snap counts well and gets great jumps off the ball. He typically stays low and can drive blockers into the backfield. As a pass rusher, he's a bit limited but he uses a very effective swim move. He lacks ideal awareness against the run, too often keeping his head down, and cannot create separation from blockers. He has a thick frame, and could play nose tackle, but his suddenness off the ball will make him effective at 3-tech.
Projected: 1st-2nd round
Brandon Thompson, Clemson (6-2, 314)
Thompson is a three-year starter that excelled in the classroom. He's a big, thick, powerful defender – he posted 35 bench press reps at the combine. He absolutely explodes off the ball and has the power to rock back opposing blockers. Against the run, he can anchor and clog lanes, and is very disruptive when he's able to shoot the gap. He's limited to a bull rush when getting after the quarterback. He won't be able to provide consistent pressure in the pros. Thompson could play either the nose or 3-tech, adding versatility to his game. He's an NFL-ready defensive lineman with limited upside.
Projected: 2nd round
DT Billy Winn
Brian Losness/US Presswire
Billy Winn, Boise State (6-4, 294)
Winn is an explosive player that played both tackle and end in college. He has the power to play inside yet enough speed and agility to work off the edge. He's a top-tier athlete that is extremely versatile, playing all over the defensive line in college. He has developed his pass rush game and could be a dominant 3-tech in the pros. Winn needs to work on his technique, as he relied on pure athleticism in college, but pairing him with Melton would make everyone forget about Okoye. His ability to slide outside brings added value.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round
Mike Martin, Michigan (6-1, 306)
Martin is a three-year starter who played mainly nose tackle in college, yet he has the quickness to play under tackle at the next level. He was impressive at the combine, running a 4.88 40, putting up 36 bench press reps and scoring 7.19 in the 3-cone drill. Martin has extremely strong hands and excels at shedding blockers. He has the strength to take on double teams and the quickness to penetrate gaps. He's not going to earn a lot of sacks in the NFL but his never-ending motor, and downright nastiness, will be very valuable in the pros. A solid all-around prospect.
Projected: 3rd round
BEAR REPORT PICK
If the Bears want an interior defensive lineman in the first round, Cox is that guy. He has ideal quickness inside and can penetrate with the best of them. He's versatile and still has room for improvement. Chicago can't go wrong with this pick.
Yet, with the deep class of defensive tackles in this draft, the Bears might be better off waiting until the third round to grab either Winn or Martin. Martin is a gritty lineman whose game is reminiscent of Stephen Paea. He could play nose or 3-tech and will make a very good rotational player.
Winn could end up being the most productive pass-rushing defensive tackle in this draft. He has the strength of a defensive tackle and the quickness of a defensive end. If he falls to Chicago in the third, the club should run to the podium to select him.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.