Draft Decisions: Defensive Tackle

The Chicago Bears have shown serious interest in a few DT prospects leading up to April's NFL Draft. Based on who they are and when they can be had, which one makes the most sense?

The Bears have already addressed a lot of their needs in free agency, mainly because previous trades for Jay Cutler and the late Gaines Adams cost them their first- and second-round picks in the 2010 NFL Draft.

But the Monsters of the Midway are far from a finished product, as holes are still yet to be filled on either side of the football. Defensive tackle is considered one of those holes, as Tommie Harris hasn't made it back to Pro Bowl form since that devastating knee-and-hamstring injury he suffered down the stretch in 2006. Anthony Adams is an underrated performer at nose tackle and Israel Idonije gets consistent pressure on the passer as a situational defender, but Marcus Harrison has failed to live up to expectations and Dusty Dvoracek flamed out after four injury-plagued campaigns.

With project D-ends Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton both rumored to be moving inside out of pure necessity, general manager Jerry Angelo must consider selecting another D-tackle on draft weekend.

According to research compiled by BearReport.com, Chicago has shown the most amount of interest in these three DT prospects:

Geno Atkins

A 6-1, 286-pounder from Georgia, Atkins is the No. 7 defensive tackle available for the 2010 NFL Draft according to Scout.com's rankings and projects to be a late second- or early third-round pick.

"Atkins is a strong interior defender. He has good initial quickness and is able to penetrate the middle. He has the strength and awareness to succeed against bigger opposition. He has good balance and plays with great leverage. He makes a lot of plays in the backfield and has room to get even better. He defends the run well and is able to disengage to compete for a tackle."

Chris Steuber, Scout.com

Lamarr Houston

A 6-3, 302-pounder from Texas, Houston is the No. 9 defensive tackle available for the 2010 NFL Draft according to Scout.com's rankings and projects to be a late second- or early third-round pick.

"Houston brings with him an interesting athletic history going back to his days at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, where he was a star running back (3,325 yards, 49 touchdowns) and a Parade All-America linebacker. He was also a three-year star in basketball as a power forward, ran the hurdles and threw the discus. Little wonder Texas took a while to figure out what to do with him. Originally a fullback prospect, he played in 50 career games, starting 20 at defensive tackle and 12 at defensive end. He totaled 136 tackles, 40 for a loss, 14 sacks and 65 pressures."

Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com

DT Nate Collins
Getty Images: Streeter Lecka

Nate Collins

A 6-2, 279-pounder from Virginia, Collins is the No. 22 defensive tackle available for the 2010 NFL Draft according to Scout.com's rankings and projects to be a sixth-round pick.

"Collins came on during a big senior season for the Cavaliers and finished second on the team with 77 tackles, a remarkable feat for someone at his position. He had a season-high 16 tackles vs. Georgia Tech and was selected as a first team All-ACC performer. His absence from the national Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis was considered a significant oversight, but it could help Collins fly under the radar somewhat for teams like the Bears that are interested in him. He is also scheduled to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars on April 14 and will make a trip to the Arizona Cardinals. Collins projects as an under tackle and has the ability to rush the passer. He was fifth in the ACC with six sacks last year and had a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown vs. Maryland that was the go-ahead score in the game. His Pro Day in Charlottesville, Va., [was] March 18, and then he will make a visit to the Bears so they can give him a physical and get a complete medical evaluation of him."

Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune

Conclusion: Atkins, Houston and Collins all display some of the traits necessary to succeed as a three-technique defensive tackle in the Cover 2, the position Bears coach Lovie Smith says is the straw that stirs his scheme's drink.

Assuming both Atkins and Houston are still on the board at No. 75 overall in Round 3, Angelo could justify taking either prospect since Harris is only a flash player these days. Because he can't be on the field for more than 60 percent of the snaps or so, the Bears need another interior penetrator that can command a double team and allow new pass rusher Julius Peppers to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. That being said, since this team is currently without a free safety that can be trusted as the last line of defense, a possible center fielder like Morgan Burnett of Georgia Tech or Robert Johnson of Utah might pay more immediate dividends in the third round.

If Angelo goes that route but can still get a high-upside D-tackle like Collins in Round 5 or 6, Bears fans would most likely be pleased with that scenario.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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