Draft analysis: Bears don’t need to add to one of league’s best defensive lines

Presuming he returns to form this year, Akiem Hicks will again be one of the best defensive linemen in the league. His position group will, likewise, be among the NFL’s most intimidating.

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Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks celebrates during their playoff game against the Eagles on Jan. 6, 2019.

Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks celebrates during their playoff game against the Eagles on Jan. 6, 2019.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Outside linebacker Robert Quinn isn’t quite sure of Akiem Hicks’ measurements. But he knows Hicks is big enough.

“I’m sure that requires double-teams and triple-teams all the time,” Quinn said last week. “That’s another guy — if you’re just focusing on me right now — that’d take attention away from me.

“He’s dominant in the run, for sure. Him knocking the pocket back, not allowing the quarterback to step up, is always huge. I think it’s underrated sometimes for D-tackles, but I definitely think everyone in the locker room respects that. That’s why he gets the respect he does.”

Hicks just needs to stay healthy. Last season, he hit the first spate of serious injuries in his NFL career. When he sat out Week 4 with an injured right knee, it was the first game he’d missed in a Bears career that dates to 2016. Hicks returned the next week, in London, and dislocated his left elbow on the first drive.

He came off injured reserve and played valiantly against the Packers in Week 15 but was shut down for the rest of the season when the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention.

Presuming he returns to form this year, Hicks again will be one of the best defensive linemen in the league. His position group will, likewise, be among the NFL’s most intimidating.

That means it doesn’t need much help in the draft later this month. The Bears are more set at defensive line compared to any group on their roster and are at least a year away from having to worry about drafting reinforcements.

Hicks is under contract for the next two seasons at salary-cap hits of $11.8 million and $12 million, respectively. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, a Pro Bowl alternate last season, has three years left on his deal and will cost $10.8 million against the cap this year.

Bilal Nichols, a 2018 fifth-round pick, has started 18 games in two years and has another two years left on his rookie deal. The Bears tendered Roy Robertson-Harris, meaning he’s set to return on a one-year, $3.3 million contract.

It might be tempting for general manager Ryan Pace to give defensive line coach Jay Rodgers another player on whom to work his magic.

Last year, Rodgers helped turn defensive lineman Nick Williams — who had played 44 snaps in 2018 and none the year before — into a force.

Williams parlayed his six sacks into a two-year, $10 million deal, with $4.9 million guaranteed, with the Lions last month.

Pace likes to fill the holes in his roster via free agency so he can, in theory, draft the best available player. But if a defensive lineman is atop his board in two weeks, Pace should take someone else.

Defensive line

Grading the Bears’ need: Low.

On the roster: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, Abdullah Anderson.

The five best prospects: Auburn’s Derrick Brown, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, Missouri’s Jordan Elliott, TCU’s Ross Blacklock, Alabama’s Raekwon Davis.

Keep an eye on: Raequan Williams, a 6-4, 308-pounddefensive tackle from Michigan State, was a three-time All-Catholic League Red Division player at DePaul Prep. He had five sacks and 7½ tackles for loss last year and was named a third-team All-Big Ten player for a second consecutive season. Williams started the last 42 games of his career, the longest streak of any player in Mark Dantonio’s career as a head coach. He profiles as a Day 3 pick.

Close to home: Joe Gaziano is Northwestern’s all-time sacks leader with 30. Since 2005, only two Big Ten players have had more. He had a career-best 17 tackles for loss last year and tied his best mark with nine sacks. So why wasn’t he invited to the NFL Scouting Combine? There’s no doubting his production, but the 6-4, 282-pounder might be a tweener — not quite bulky enough to play defensive line but a step slow for edge rusher. His 53 games’ worth of film, combined with the fact that the Wildcats held their pro day before the coronavirus shutdown, should benefit him at a time when fringe players can’t get in-person looks. He figures to be a Day 3 pick or an undrafted free agent.

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