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Chicago Bears 2017 Draft Preview: Defensive end (Rounds 1-3)

A detailed look at the top defensive ends in the 2017 NFL Draft class, focusing on early-round prospects that might fit the Chicago Bears needs.

GM Ryan Pace landed DE Akiem Hicks during the 2016 free-agency period, a move that paid off for the Chicago Bears defensive line last season.

Hicks was a standout in 2016, finishing with 53 tackles, 7.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. For his effort, the Bears named Hicks the team’s Defensive Player of the Year.

But while Hicks play was impressive, the Bears lacked consistency opposite him at defensive end. With the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Pace should be able to land one of the premiere 5-technique defensive ends in this year's class. 

Pace could also wait until Day 2 to address the position, as there should be starter-level talent available well into the third round. 

Let’s take a look at some Chicago's options to help boost their defensive line in this year’s selection process.

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (6-4, 272 pounds)

Garrett just might be the best player in the 2017 NFL Draft and a cant-miss talent. The Texas A&M product would be a great fit for the Bears on the outside, giving them another legit pass rushing option. As a three-year starter, Garrett showed his ability to get to the passer by finishing seventh all-time in SEC sack leaders. The only problem for the Bears would be the Cleveland Browns holding the number one pick and needing a player like Garrett to help rebuild.

Projected: Top 3

Solomon Thomas, Stanford (6-3, 273)

Thomas’ name keeps coming up more and more at the top of the draft. It all started with his impressive game against North Carolina in the 2016 Sun Bowl. Playing the strong side for Stanford in 2016, Thomas finished with 8.0 sacks and 15 tackles for loss on the season. He’s a fit for the Bears, who could use Thomas' disruptive ability along the interior of the defensive line. If Garrett is off the board, Chicago could grab Thomas at three.

Projected: Top 5 — Solomon Thomas Scouting Report

Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6-3, 259)

Playing in a tough SEC, Barnett really stood out on the Tennessee defensive line and earned First Team All-SEC for the 2016 season. His hands are exceptionally good and his swats to get by tackles are something teams will love to see on tape. If both Garrett and Thomas are gone when the Bears pick at number three, Pace will have an interesting decision to make on Barnett.

Projected: Top 10

Taco Charlton, Michigan (6-6, 270)

Charlton has drawn comparisons to Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap after an impressive year for the Wolverines. In 2016 Charlton finished with 43 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. His frame is ideal to play at the NFL level and he can be an every down end for teams. If he falls to the second round, don’t be surprised if Pace adds him to the defense.

Projected: 1st Round

Tarell Basham, Ohio (6-4, 269)

The 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year is an intriguing prospect in this year’s draft. Basham racked up 10.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2016 for the Bobcats, setting career-highs in both categories. His frame gives him the look of a good NFL edge rusher and his ability to shed initial blocks is something that stands out right away. Basham could be a day-two steal for the Bears and would fill a need on the defense.

Projected: 2nd Round

DeMarcus Walker, Florida State (6-4, 280)

Walker had a nice season for the Seminoles in 2016. In the NFL, Walker projects to be an edge rusher from the outside linebacker position. His frame fits the mold of an outside linebacker who can play every down in the league. He’s good at shedding off blockers and is a good tackler on the outside. The Bears could look to match Walker with Floyd on the outside, giving them two young players on the edge.

Projected: 3rd Round

Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic (6-4, 266)

You might not be familiar with Hendrickson as he plays in Conference USA but he was one of the better defensive players in that conference. He had a good showing at the East-West Shrine game earlier in the year and can win those one-on-one battles from the edge. His biggest negative might be the speed, however. Hendrickson doesn’t seem to fit the need for what Pace is looking for right off the bat.

Projected: 3rd Round

Bear Report Pick: Tarell Basham

The obvious pick here is Thomas. He's an extremely disruptive interior defender who can push the pocket in the face of opposing quarterbacks. 

Yet Thomas' size is a concern. Is he big enough to play 5-technique in Chicago's base 3-4 sets, or will he be limited to 3-technique duties on passing downs? Or do you stand him up and rush him off the edge, something he wasn't asked to do at Stanford? If Thomas isn't a full-time player, then he's not an option for the Bears a No. 3 overall. 

If Pace goes a different route in the first round, Basham would make great value in the second. The 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year doesn't have the size to play 5-technique, so he's best suited at OLB for the Bears in 3-4 sets. But remember, the Bears use sub packages on roughly 60 percent of their snaps, so a pure 4-3 DE still has a lot of value, especially one with the edge-rush potential of Basham. 

He's a little stiff and doesn't turn the corner at an elite level but Basham is a solid all-around player who could develop into an NFL starter. He's a project but Basham's skill set and collegiate production would make him worth the second-round pick, which would allow Pace to address a bigger position of need in the Round 1.

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