The Chicago Bears already have two very talented defensive linemen on their roster in Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. The defensive end spot alongside Hicks, is still in a state of uncertainty.
Mitch Unrein will be a free agent this March, but he won’t be a long-term starter even if they choose to bring him back. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris are young and have shown potential, but neither of them have proven to be capable of starting on a consistent basis.
If the Bears want to find a player in the 2018 NFL Draft who can fill that need, then they’d be wise to take a look at Fort Hays State’s Nathan Shepherd.
Weight: 310 pounds
Hands: 10 inches
Arms: 33 inches
Wingspan: 80 5/8 inches
Shepherd is a very good athlete for a guy his size. His first-step acceleration is apparent on film, as he fires off the ball on virtually every play. He uses that explosion and combines it with his sheer strength to bully opposing offensive linemen. Watch here as he absolutely demolishes his opponent and blows up Central Missouri’s run play.
Shepherd’s bull rush is one of the more impressive aspects of his game. He’s faster than most linemen his size, so that combination of speed and strength combines to make a force to be reckoned with.
He saw his fair share of double-team blocks in college, which is a given considering how much he dominated his Division II competition. He has done well against them in the past, as seen in this play. Shepherd lines up as a 3-tech on this play and blows past the left guard with a bull rush. The center attempts to pick him up at the last second, but at that point Shepherd was simply too far past the center for it to affect him from getting to the quarterback.
In addition to his raw speed-to-power ratio, Shepherd has surprisingly refined hand usage for a small-schooler. Watch here as he fires off the snap and delivers a swat to the arms of his opponent.
Although he ultimately took too wide of an angle to the quarterback, Shepherd did a good job of getting past his offensive lineman and pressuring the signal-caller.
Another thing that stands out on Shepherd’s tape is his motor. He fights hard on basically every play, and he always looks to make a play. Central Missouri’s quarterback delivers a screen to the running back, and it seems like the back has a bit of room to make a play happen. However, Shepherd blew by the center, was unfazed by the guard’s effort at blocking and brought the running back down for a loss of one.
Shepherd injured his hand during Senior Bowl practice, so he wasn’t able to play in the actual game. However, he flashed a lot of potential in his two days of practice.
Here, he blows right past UTEP’s Will Hernandez, who was arguably the most dominant offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl.
DL Nathan Shepherd has what it takes, man. This is as good a rush rep as you'll find at the Senior Bowl. Beats Will Hernandez. pic.twitter.com/88xoleRbMb— Kyle Crabbs (@NDTScouting) January 24, 2018
He absolutely demolished Michigan’s Mason Cole on this play, yanking him down and using a swim move to get past the Second-Team All-Big Ten lineman.
Fort Hayes State DT Nathan Shepherd is giving me Brandon Williams feel, but more athletic. pic.twitter.com/QQF5PJ7mnb— Josh Zimmer (@JZimmer_) January 23, 2018
Like most players that enter the draft from the Division II level, Shepherd is still a bit raw. He is a very athletic big man, but there are some plays where he doesn’t quite know how to put that to use. He also can have some issues with his pad level. He loses the initial battle with the left guard on this play and is knocked to the ground once the left tackle delivers a blow.
He seems to have an issue with rebounding from losing the battle at the point of attack. On this play, Central Missouri’s offensive line efficiently double-teams him and kills any momentum that he possibly could have had. He at least tried to make something out of nothing here by attempting to deflect the pass, but at that point he was basically out of the play.
The same thing happens on this play. Fort Hays State sends a three-man rush, which allows Central Missouri to prioritize Shepherd even more than they already had. The offensive tackles engage with the Tigers’ edge rushers, leaving the two guards and the center to take on Shepherd. It’s safe to say that it didn’t end well for Shepherd. The center was easily able to push him around, and, with the help of the left guard, moved him over to the right guard to knock him off balance.
Shepherd is currently just outside of my top 10 defensive linemen, but that’s more of a testament to how good this year’s group is at the position. He didn’t make my top 100 on my big board when I first updated it about a month ago, but, with a handful of players having decided to stay in college, he will surely move up a bit. I see him going in the middle of Round 4, but he could definitely rise with a great showing at the NFL Combine.
Fit with the Bears
Fort Hays State runs a base 4-3, which is different from Chicago’s base 3-4. However, Shepherd has experience all over the defensive line. The Tigers lined him up as a nose tackle, a 1-tech, a 2i defensive lineman and a 3-tech in the tape I was able to find. That versatility would likely help him transition to a successful 3-4 end quite smoothly.
Shepherd probably wouldn’t start right away if the Bears wanted to take him. It might take him a year or two to adjust to the NFL game, as is the case with a lot of small-school NFL Draft prospects. However, he has the physical tools to be an eventual starter in the pros, whether that be in a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme. Chicago would be wise to consider picking him with one of their fourth-round picks if he were to be on the board.