Shelton best nose tackle option for Bears
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bears allocated tremendous resources to improve their defensive line last season, but there's more work to be done.
Three defensive ends were signed in free agency -- Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young -- for a total investment of $76 million. Then the Bears used second-round and third-round draft picks on defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, respectively.
But Young (Achilles) and Houston (ACL) must recover from season-ending injuries in 2014, and Allen and Sutton are not ideal fits in the 3-4 scheme, which the Bears are switching to under new coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
So the Bears could use the seventh overall pick in this year's draft on another defensive lineman, this time one whose skill set is specifically tailored for the 3-4.
An edge pass rusher is considered the team's most pressing need on defense. The Bears could choose any of several highly regarded college defensive ends/outside linebackers for one of their two OLB spots, which are traditionally the key pass-rush positions in the 3-4.
If not a pass rusher, the Bears could look to add a true 3-4 nose tackle in the mold of massive run-stuffers like the Patriots' 6-foot-2, 325-pound Vince Wilfork or the Ravens' 6-foot-4, 340-pound Haloti Ngata.
The player in this year's draft closest to those two is Washington's Danny Shelton, who measured 6-foot-2 and weighed 339 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Shelton is considered a top-10 pick, but he's not the only prospect capable of anchoring a 3-4. Oklahoma's 6-foot-5, 329-pound Jordan Phillips is also a first-round possibility, as are Florida State's 6-foot-4, 336-pound Eddie Goldman, Iowa's 6-foot-5, 320-pound Carl Davis, and Texas' 6-foot-2, 319-pound Malcom Brown.
But it's Shelton who has made the greatest impact in the predraft process.
"There aren't many guys with size that can play so much," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "This kid played 80 percent of the snaps up and down the line of scrimmage. You can't run against them, and he gets them pushing the pocket. So I think he's a really intriguing guy."
Unlike other players who resist comparisons to NFL superstars, Shelton embraces it, especially when he's likened to Ngata.
"Growing up I've always watched other Polynesians play," Shelton said. "Troy Polamalu is probably my biggest inspiration. I've always wanted to play safety. I (also) got attracted to Haloti's style. (He's) a dominant player, and him being Tongan and me being Samoan, I felt like I could be just like him. I challenged his weight room numbers when I was in college and didn't get near it. But he's definitely a role model for me."
Only five players at the Combine had more bench press reps of 225 pounds than Shelton, who did 34.
That strength, bulk and high motor will serve him well at the next level because playing nose tackle in the NFL is often a thankless job. It requires frequently taking on double-team blocks on running plays and taking a lot of punishment to free up teammates to make tackles.
It's common for veteran nose tackles to lament the physical demands of the job, but that's not Shelton's style.
When he's asked what D-line position he prefers, Shelton says: "Nose, definitely. I want to be that bully in the middle taking on those double-teams."
Florida State's Goldman says he models his game after the Bears' Jeremiah Ratliff, who went to four straight Pro Bowl with the Cowboys as a 3-4 nose tackle, although he's barely 300 pounds.
"He's hard-nosed," Goldman said. "He's so physical. One time he was mic'd up in a game, and he kept saying 'They aren't going to win the physical part of the game.' That's a thing I try to pride myself on, is being physical.
"He came up in big moments, too. That's one thing I noticed about him. He'd get sacks in tight fourth-quarter games. That stood out to me."
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