During his first two seasons at the helm, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace has put considerable effort into revamping the team's defensive line.
In addition to signing free-agent DE Akiem Hicks last off-season, Pace has used one of his first three picks in each of his two drafts on interior defenders (2015, Eddie Goldman, 2nd round - 2016, Jonathan Bullard, 3rd round).
Goldman dealt with injuries last season and Bullard did not have an immediate impact his rookie season. As such, expect Pace to again pursue a defensive lineman early in the 2017 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, here are five interior defenders the Bears will be eyeing closely when DL take the field Sunday during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Watkins (6-4, 312) was very productive when on the field for the Tigers (Freshman All-American in 2012, 12.5 sacks last season) but his career was hampered by injuries. An ACL injury forced him to take a medical redshirt his sophomore year. He then played just eight games in 2014 before a hip injury ended his season. The injuries stunted Watkins' ascending path but he excelled in 2016 when fully healthy, racking up 65 tackles and nine tackles for loss during the regular season. He was a force on passing downs, which could be very attractive to the Bears, yet he's also very stout inside against the run and looks the part of a 5-technique. Watkins is a work in progress in terms of fundamentals and mechanics, so he'll need to show better balance, agility and finish during Sunday's drills to convince Pace he's worth a second-round pick.
Chris Wormley, Michigan
Wormley is a hybrid DE/DT who is very strong against the run. He's powerful and quick in the short area, showing good patience and vision against opposing rushing attacks. He can anchor at the point of attack and gives good pursuit from the backside. Wormley had 12.5 sacks in a part-time role for the Wolverines the past two years combined but he needs to show he can fight off blocks when he doesn't win off the snap. For the Bears, Wormley (6-5, 297) could play 5-technique in base sets and slide inside to 3-technique on passing downs. That type of versatility could make him attractive to Pace in the third round.
Demarcus Walker, Florida State
Walker was a three-year starter for the Seminoles who had a stellar senior season: 68 tackles, 21.5 TFL (8th in the FBS), 16 sacks (2nd in the FBS). For his effort, he was named a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and first-team All-ACC. Despite his eye-popping numbers, Walker isn't considered a sure-fire first-round pick, as many scouts believe his production does not match his athleticism. At 6-4, 280, he might be a candidate to move inside to 3-technique. Yet for the Bears, Walker could play a number of different roles. He's strong enough to anchor as a 5-technique, and can pass rush off the edge at OLB or with his hand in the dirt at DT. Walker's performance at the combine will strongly influence how teams view him and whether or not he'll be available to the Bears in the second round.
Tarell Basham, Ohio
Basham (6-4, 249) had a stellar collegiate career, culminating in 2016 with a career-high 10 sacks and 14.5 TFL, for which he was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Basham is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete with great burst off the ball. He transfers speed to power very well, which could make him an immediate contributor on passing downs at 3-4 OLB. Like most non-BCS prospects, Basham will be downgraded to the lack of elite competition. He also needs to demonstrate a full pass-rush arsenal, as well as better lateral agility and bend. If Basham puts on a show during Sunday's workout, he'll put himself on Pace's radar in the second round.
Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
Tomlinson has grown-man size (6-3, 310) and power, along with 33-inch arms. He eats up blockers inside, showing elite upper-body strength and a stable lower-body anchor. Tomlinson stacks and sheds with ease, and has great vision and feel for the ball as a run defender. As a base nose tackle or 5-technique, Tomlinson could compete for a starting gig in Chicago his rookie year. Yet for the Bears to invest a second- or third-round pick in him, Tomlinson needs to show well in pass-rush drills. Most of his pass-rush success for the Crimson Tide came on twists and stunts, which is a staple of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defense. If Pace feels Tomlinson can contribute on passing downs, while holding down the fort on first and second down, Tomlinson could be a Day 2 selection for the Bears.