Yet there are still concerns about the nose tackle position.
Ego Ferguson is an obvious option. He’s 6-3, 316 and has the strength to anchor at the point of attack. He flashed potential as a rookie in 2014 and could take a big step forward next year.
Jeremiah Ratliff also has experience as a 3-4 NT, yet he’ll be 34 by the start of the season and is likely entering his final year in Chicago.
A 3-4 defense often requires a big, space-eating nose tackle who can occupy blockers and thus allow linebackers room to make plays. It’s a critical component.
Coordinator Vic Fangio often deploys undersized defensive linemen, yet head coach John Fox used 340-pound Terrance Knighton in a 4-3 system in Denver. He obviously sees the value of a hulking body in the middle of the defensive line.
With that in mind, let’s break down the top nose tackle prospects in this year’s draft class.
Williams is arguably the best overall player in this class. He’s ranked No. 1 overall in our Scout.com Top 100 prospects. He’s big, powerful and wickedly explosive. At 302 pounds, he ran a 4.91 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, which is special.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Williams will be long gone when they pick at No. 7 overall. He’s too good to drop out of the Top 3.
Projected: Top 3
Shelton has the ideal body type for a 3-4 nose tackle. He’s extremely thick around the middle with tree trunks for legs, yet he moves like a player much smaller. Despite his size, he has uncanny quickness and the ability to shoot gaps. As a senior, he racked up 9.0 sacks, which is exceptional for a 340-pound tackle.
Shelton is at his best against the run, where he’s an absolute load to move. He can anchor along the inside and uses his hands well to create and keep separation, before his stack and shed. Some are concerned about his 40 time, as no Top 10 pick has ever run 5.59 or slower, but other than that, there’s little not to like about him. He’s a realistic option at No. 7 overall for the Bears.
Projected: Top 15
Brown is a penetrating, experienced defensive lineman who played in a 3-4 system for the Longhorns. He’s very quick off the ball – he ran a 6.86 3-cone drill at the combine, which is impressive for a 319-pound player. He stays skinny through gaps and was very disruptive in the backfield during 26 starts his junior and senior year.
Brown is a husband and father of two and is a mature leader on the field. He’s climbing up draft boards and will likely land in the Top 20, although he’s not an elite talent and would be a reach for the Bears at 7th overall.
Projected: Round 1
Goldman is a very powerful player with violent hands. He’s a beast against the run and occupies gaps with ease. He’s arguably the best run-stopper in this year’s class.
He’s limited and offers nothing as a pass rusher but Goldman’s wide frame and strength will give him great value on first and second down.
Projected: Round 1-2
Phillips has the perfect body type and skill set for a Fangio 3-4 nose tackle. He has very long arms (34 ¾ inches) which allows him to occupy linemen, while his violent rip helps him shed blocks. He’s very good at splitting double teams and stays stout at the point of attack.
Phillips offers very little as a pass rusher and will be a part-time player at the next level. Yet as a top-tier run stuffer, he may be too good to pass up if he falls to the Bears in the second round.
Projected: Round 1-2
Davis is another 0-technique NT who can anchor against double teams and eat up space. He’s not much as a pass rusher but on film, he rarely gets pushed back.
He needs to refine his technique and is a more of a short-area player with limited range but, like Phillips and Goldman, he’s a quality first- and second-down option.
Projected: Round 2
Mike Bennett, Ohio State (6-2, 293)
Cooper is more of a penetrating, one-gap defensive tackle whose best fit is in a 4-3 system. For the Bears, he could have value in sub packages on passing downs, which will basically be a 4-3 Under front.
Bennett has good burst off the ball but was unable to put that on display at the combine due to a pulled hamstring suffered during his 40-yard dash. He’s not a perfect fit for the Bears but he’s a solid player with value on passing downs.
Projected: Round 2-3
Jarrett is a bowling-ball athlete who uses leverage to his advantage. His immense strength (30 bench-press reps at the combine) allows him to drive through blockers when he keeps his pad level low.
Jarrett is limited due to his squat frame and short arms (32 3/8 inches) and tends to get swallowed up by bigger offensive guards. As such, he’s not an ideal fit for a two-gap scheme.
Projected: Round 3
THE PICK: Carl Davis
Shelton is the perfect player to fill the Bears’ need along the interior of the defensive line but No. 7 overall may be a bit too high for a nose tackle. It wouldn’t be a bad pick but it’s unlikely he’ll be the best player on the board at that point.
The more prudent move would be to hold off one round before selecting the club’s two-gap nose.
Davis has size similar to Shelton, although nowhere near the quickness. Still, Davis is a run stopper who can eat up double teams, which is the one area in which the Bears are lacking.
With Davis, the Bears can address a more pressing need in the first round – like cornerback, wide receiver or offensive tackle – and still get a quality wide-body who would instantly elevate the run defense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.