Blue Hen D-line product Nichols eyes NFL draft: ‘I’m super excited’

Bilal Nichols is projected to go in the fifth or sixth round in this week’s NFL draft. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Like most NFL prospects, Bilal Nichols is just ready for all the speculation to be over and his future to begin.

“That’s the biggest thing — I’m just anxious,” said the former Delaware defensive lineman. “Like I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, I’m just anxious.

“I’m ready to go to mini-camp. I’m ready to know where I’m going to be. I’m super excited.”

Nichols has plenty of company, of course. A total of 256 college football players will live the dream of seeing their name come up on an NFL draft board this weekend.

Hundreds more will be signed as free agents after the draft is held this Thursday through Sunday in Arlington, Tex.

Bilal Nichols

Like a handful of other players with ties to Delaware, Nichols seems almost a lock to be on an NFL roster by next week.

Salesianum grad Brian O’Neill, an offensive lineman from Pitt, is predicted to go in the second or third round while Wesley College offensive lineman Matt Gono is thought of as a sixth- or seventh-rounder.

As for Nichols, the 6-foot-4, 306-pounder is projected to go in the fifth or sixth round.

The Blue Hens have had only two players drafted since quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008: Tight end Nick Boyle, a fifth-rounder in 2015 and center Gino Gradkowski, a fourth-rounder in 2012.

All three players were taken by the Baltimore Ravens.

The easy-going Nichols was raised by his grandparents in Newark.

“I know this means so much to him and for his family and everything,” said Delaware linebacker Troy Reeder. “It’s really cool.
“I’m going to be pumped. Wherever he goes I’m going to have to become a fan, so we’ll see.”

The scouts seem to be impressed with Nichols’ athletic ability for a big man. He played basketball at Hodgson.

Nichols has passed all the pre-draft tests put in front of him. He lined up against some higher-level competition at the East-West Shrine All-Star Game and was clocked in 4.95 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

As a senior at Delaware, Nichols made first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association after posting 56 tackles as a nose guard with 5.5 sacks and four pass breakups.

Of course, as with any potential NFL draft pick, it’s not difficult to find criticism of Nichols’ abilities from on-line experts.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said Nichols. “You see mock drafts and things of that nature — different people analyzing you and your tape. I don’t ever look at any of those things.

“When I talk to coaches, that’s when I take the time out to ask, ‘What do you guys think I need to work on?’ That’s pretty much all that really matters to me. I try not to feed into those (scouting reports) because that’s how you get your head caught up in places it doesn’t need to be.”

Nichols knows he’s fortunate to be where he is right now. There’s hundreds of players who would trade places with him.

“It’s very humbling,” said Nichols. “Not too many people get the opportunities that I’ve got — to play in an all-star game and the combine and to be in the position where you could have a chance of hearing your name called in the draft. It’s truly humbling.
“That’s a dream that you’ve been looking forward to since you were a child,” he added.

Nichols doesn’t plan on making a big deal about watching the draft this weekend — that’s just not his style. He’ll probably watch the proceedings at home with some close friends and family.

Nichols figures he’ll be both anxious and sentimental.

“I’ll be nervous, walking around, pacing,” he said. “A moment like that, I definitely want to be there with my loved ones.”

Scouts still like Gono

Wesley’s Matt Gono.
(Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Wesley coach Mike Drass said NFL teams still seem intrigued by Gono, the Division III All-American, who had 18 scouts come to Dover in March.

Some of the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder’s most recent visits were with the Eagles, Falcons, Bears and Lions.

“Everywhere he’s gone, people have really liked him,” said Drass.

The Wolverines have never had a player selected in the NFL Draft.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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