Bears Could Add DL Depth in Supplemental Draft

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports /
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Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports /

Which brings me to Ra’Zhan Howard, who as of today is the best player available in this July’s supplemental draft. He’s a former top prospect coming out of high school in 2012, ranked as high as the 4th overall DT prospect by some sites. Howard got off to a slow start at Purdue, but began to flash potential as a sophomore and then started 10 games as a junior. At times Howard looked like a run-stopping force in the middle with the ability to collapse the pocket, but also looked out of shape occasionally and came off the ball too high which negated his natural power.

The 6’3, 325-pound Howard came to Purdue as a highly rated recruit but didn’t earn a spot in the starting lineup until his junior season. Howard’s stats (23 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack) are pedestrian, but nose tackles can’t be judged by stats alone. His play was inconsistent, but Howard flashed the ability to anchor well against double-teams, the athleticism to get off the ball quickly enough to generate interior pressure, the strength to drive centers into the backfield, and a nice swim-move to beat 1-1 blocks. He appeared in 24 games total for the Boilermakers with career totals of 47 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and three sacks.

Howard’s production never matched what Purdue expected from such a high-profile recruit, but he has the size, talent, and athleticism (5.06 4-time, multi-sport high school athlete) to be an NFL nose tackle. It won’t happen overnight, but with good coaching (Fangio!), Howard has the potential to be a long-term asset at nose tackle as a valuable back-up to core piece Eddie Goldman.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports /

Supposedly all 32 teams have contacted Howard with interest and he’s holding a pro day on July 8th that’s expected to be attended by most NFL teams. Howard is claiming to be in the best shape of his life and if so could garner interest in the middle rounds of the supplemental draft.

It may seem early for a guy with such limited production, there just aren’t many 325-pound players with Howard’s athleticism. If he impresses, he could solidify a mid-round selection as a developmental nose tackle. The Bears do have two 4th round picks, which is probably where they would have to submit their email bid if they want to ensure Howard’s services in 2016.

The Bears are presumably set at the nose tackle position with last year’s 2nd-round pick Eddie Goldman, who was a solid run stopper as expected but flashed surprising pass-rush ability as well with 4.5 sacks in just 12 starts. Goldman can’t play every down though and the Bears don’t have any established depth at the position.

Free agent Akiem Hicks has the size to fill the position (6’5, 324), but is better suited a the 5-tech where the Bears need him more. 2nd-year NT Terry “The Swamp Monster” Williams was signed last year after an impressive rookie mini-camp, but has questions about whether he can keep his weight under control and had some off-field issues in college. Journeyman DL Mitch Unrein could probably play the nose if needed, but that is a worst case scenario.

Run-stuffing, lane-clogging nose tackles are hard to find, there are probably only 10-15 or so legitimate impact players at the position in the league. So if the Bears have a chance to find a player with the potential to eventually be an impact nose tackle in the mid-to-late rounds of the supplemental draft, it’s definitely worth looking into. Is Howard worth sacrificing a pick in next year’s draft though?

Right now Howard is ranked near the bottom of the top twenty defensive tackle prospects in the 2017 draft by most major scouting publications. That would place Howard anywhere from the 5th round to a priority undrafted free agent. A solid senior season at Purdue could have easily catapulted a high-upside player like Howard into an early day two pick. He has all the necessary traits to become an impact nose tackle in the NFL, he just hasn’t played up to his potential yet.

Howard may never reach his potential, but if he works hard to keep his weight under control and responds well to coaching his upside is immense. Vic Fangio and the Bears coaching staff could potentially mold Howard into a viable piece of their defensive line rotation and provide a hard to find back-up for Eddie Goldman at nose tackle. With the Bears having two 4th round picks, investing one of them in Howard is a low-risk gamble with a possibly high return.

Should the Bears submit a bid for Howard in July’s supplemental draft? Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter (@MikeFlannery_).