The Bears bolstered their defensive line in the fifth round of the draft Saturday by choosing Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols with the 145th overall pick.
The 6-4, 306-pounder was a four-year contributor and two-year starter for the Blue Hens. Playing in a 3-4 defense for the first time last season as a senior, Nichols was named first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association after registering 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one interception.
As a junior in 2016, Nichols compiled 25 tackles, five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He played in a 4-3 scheme his first three seasons before Delaware switched to a 3-4 alignment last year.
Nichols will play defensive end for the Bears, who feel that he's a good fit for their defense due in part to his toughness and potential as a pass rusher.
"For his size, he's athletic," said general manager Ryan Pace. "The toughness and rugged style he plays with stands out. We sent [defensive line coach] Jay Rodgers up there to have a private workout with him. We spent a lot of time with him up in Delaware, and we just feel like he has a lot of upside. He has a lot of upside specifically as an inside rusher, which we value too."
Nichols is happy that he got the opportujnity to play in both the 4-3 and 3-4 systems in college.
"Both of those I felt like gave me a chance to show my versatility," Nichols said. "I feel like it's very key because a defensive lineman should be able to play both schemes. About the three-man front, I really love the fact that you're putting a lot of pressure on your D-linemen to make plays and stop the run. We really had the dogs up front and we had the D-line to shut everything down. That was something I really loved about the three-man front."
With the 145th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select Delaware DL Bilal Nichols.
Nichols, who was raised by his grandparents in Newark, N.J., attended the same college as Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who played quarterback at Delaware. It was Nagy that called Nichols Saturday to inform him that he had been drafted by the Bears.
"It's awesome," Nichols said. "I would like to thank the Bears organization for believing in me. It's truly the best moment of my life, one of the most humbling moments in my life. I'd like to personally thank coach Nagy also for believing in me. It's great, him coming from my school. We have a great relationship. I was extremely happy for him once he got his job in Chicago."
"Having another Blue Hen in there is pretty neat, but that's not why [Nichols was drafted by the Bears]," Nagy said. "At that point in time where we were at, he was our highest [prospect] on the board, and that's what we do, we take the best guy available. Our coaches and personnel were together on it. [The Delaware connection] just added spice to it. It's pretty neat. It's a cool little story. I'm happy to get him in there."
Asked to describe himself as a player, Nichols said: "I feel as though I use my athletic ability to my advantage. I feel as though I use my quickness and my hands as well. Those are some of the things that helped me become successful."
Nichols has dreamed about reaching the NFL since he was a kid, but that fantasy started to become very realistic during his senior season at Delaware.
"I always believed that as a kid," Nichols said. "The first time I stepped on campus, that was always a goal of mine. I knew I had the opportunity to get there. Once my senior year came around, it really started to click. Once I got the chance to see scouts coming to practice and things like that, it really started to click for me."
Coming from an FCS school, Nichols was able to see how he matched up against the country's top draft prospects at the East-West Shrine Game as well as the Senior Bowl.
"It was a great experience I was able to take away," Nichols said. "It was very humbling being able to be there with some of the nation's best players. It was a great opportunity for me to showcase what I can do; show them what type of chip I have on my shoulder, what type of things I can bring, if I was lucky enough to go to an organization."