Part 3 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft.
Danny Shelton admits it makes a lot of sense: the Bears, as they start their transition to a 3-4 defense, selecting the best pure nose tackle with the No. 7 pick in the draft.
“I can see myself playing over there,” the Washington behemoth told the Sun-Times this week.
He’s not the only one.
“I would say, at 7, Danny Shelton was made to play the nose tackle on that defense,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I think he would be a perfect fit there.”
That’s true, even as the Bears have cited Jeremiah Ratliff — a nose tackle — as one of the few building blocks of their defense. Shelton makes sense at No. 7 or, if the Bears think he’ll last a few picks later, as a target after a trade-down.
But given that the team will morph into 4-3 defense on nickel and dime situations, the Bears could be cautious drafting someone who could be limited to two downs.
The most prominent pass-rushers available in the draft would fit as outside linebackers on the Bears. That, combined with GM Ryan Pace’s declaration that there was no such thing as too many pass-rushers, might mean the Bears prefer outside rushers to interior run-stoppers, no matter how promising.
Shelton talked extensively with the Bears at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine, and, he said, with a Chicago scout after that. His only official visit after the combine was with the Browns, though he said teams have learned enough about him during his showcases to not need one-on-one visits.
The 6-foot-2, 339-pounder has been compared to Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork. But he’s athletic enough that, growing up, he wanted to be Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
“I was always having to run around—I was just in a big body,” he said. “I was a kid that wanted to be a defensive back. …
“I wanted to play receiver like Jerry Rice. I definitely was trying my best.”
He showed that athleticism when, in the rival Apple Cup matchup with Washington State this year, he barrel-rolled along the ground at line of scrimmage before the snap, lining up in a new position, and then sacked the quarterback.
Shelton led the nation with five fumble recoveries last season, and left the Huskies after starting his final 40 games at nose tackle.
He stayed in Seattle, and is still attending classes at Washington. He has two courses left this quarter before graduating in June with an anthropology major. He’s a first-team Academic All-American, too.
He’s worked on his pass-rush moves while waiting for the draft, which he will attend with his family later this month.
Whether he’ll be able to drive to his new home from the green room will be for the Bears to decide.
“Obviously the 3-4 teams, they have been going after me,” Shelton said. “I feel that I’m the No. 1 interior d-lineman that’s in this draft. I’m a hot commodity in a 3-4 defense.”
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: DEFENSIVE LINE
Rating the Bears’ need: High
As the Bears mold their roster for a 3-4 defense, nowhere is the transition more awkward than defensive line.
They have exactly two players who they can count on to play defensive end in the base scheme — Ray McDonald and Jarvis Jenkins, who they signed to one-year deals last month. Their three best ends last season — Jared Allen, Lamar Houston and Willie Young — are outside linebackers now, though they could play end in nickel and dime sets.
The team is more set at nose tackle, where Jeremiah Ratliff earned four Pro Bowl honors with the 3-4 base Cowboys. John Fox identified Ratliff — in the final year of a two-year contract — as, along with cornerback Kyle Fuller, one of the building blocks of his defense.
Ego Ferguson figures to be a capable backup. Will Sutton is considered a better fit in a 4-3, while fellow second-year tackle Brandon Dunn appeared in three games last season.
Best of the best
USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams will be chosen in the top five, and is considered one of the draft’s safest picks.
“I think Leonard’s ability to move up the field is something we keep in mind in a big way,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said.
Washington’s Danny Shelton is the prototypical 3-4 space-eater, and will be the second defensive tackle taken, with Texas’ Malcom Brown, Oregon’s Arik Armstead and perhaps Florida State’s Eddie Goldman likely ticketed for Day 1.