As the Chicago Bears dragged themselves to an 8-8 season in 2019, one position that experienced issues was their defensive line. Akiem Hicks missed 11 games with an elbow injury, Roy Robertson-Harris, Abdullah Anderson, Eddie Goldman, and Bilal Nichols combined for just 4.5 sacks, while Brent Urban saw limited action (16 tackles in nine games). Nick Williams and Jonathan Harris (combined for 28 tackles and six sacks) were also on last year's squad, but they departed the team when free agency began last month. Now while a total overhaul isn't required here, they could use some new blood to re-energize this position.
The Bears didn't sign a new defensive lineman during free agency (re-signed Roberton-Harris and Urban), so the 2020 NFL Draft is a prime opportunity for adding some needed depth. The defensive line in a 3-4 alignment is key to stopping the run and provides support to the pass-rushing outside linebackers. If the Bears are to return to the postseason in 2020, they'll need production from this position. Here are some players (in alphabetical order) that the Bears could choose during this year's draft.
Tyler Clark, DT, Georgia
Clark has plenty of game experience under his belt (47 games, three SEC East Division titles, three New Year's Six bowl game appearances) that will benefit him in the NFL. As part of the Bulldogs' defensive rotation from 2016 to '19, Clark accounted for 119 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, and three pass deflections. Clark's size (6-4, 300) and strength forced offensive lines to double-team him at times, which created opportunities for his teammates. And that trait will go a long way in Chuck Pagano's defense.
Nick Coe, DE, Auburn
Sharing a defensive line with Derrick Brown every week takes away a lot of the attention, but Coe made the most of the somewhat limited playing time (just 29 games) he received over three seasons (2017-19). But Coe made the most of that time with 70 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, and nine sacks. His combination of size (6-5, 291 pounds) and speed allowed the Tigers to move him around in their defensive package. Coe lined up at end, tackle, and even linebacker during his time at Auburn, and the Bears could potentially maximize the versatility that he possesses.
Joe Gaziano, DE, Northwestern
Gaziano was one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten in 2019. Considering he played in the same league as Chase Young, A.J. Epenesa, and Yetur Gross-Matos, Gaziano got lost in the shuffle as the other three players got most — if not all — of the attention. In 47 games for the Wildcats (39 as a starter), Gaziano recorded 152 tackles, 49 tackles for a loss, 30 sacks, 15 pass deflections, eight forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He's a high-motor guy who never takes a play off.
Gaziano lined up against a variety of offenses and proved himself against some of the top offensive lines in college football every week. He'll need to add size to his 275-pound frame. And while he played in a 4-3 defense at Northwestern, his lack of explosiveness off the edge at times could actually suit him well in the Bears' 3-4 scheme. His strength and ability to fight off blocks will help the Bears on the interior of their defense, especially against the run.
Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
Lawrence appeared in 39 games for the Tigers from 2016 to '19, but his final two seasons were the most productive. During that stretch, Lawrence posted 82 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, six pass deflections, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery en route to LSU going 15-0 and winning both the SEC title and national championship. Lawrence could fit into the Bears' defense as a run-stuffing nose tackle.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.