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Draft Deep at Defensive Tackle

Discussion in 'RAMS - NFL TALK' started by -X-, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. -X- Not into the whole brevity thing.

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    Nick Wagoner
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    Penn State DT Devon Still believes he's the best of a talented crop of defensive tackles.

    INDIANAPOLIS – It is said that each draft has its own personality with strengths and weaknesses sticking out at various positions and a handful of players separating themselves as the truly elite prospects.

    The part about the top players has probably already happened but NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes there’s one major strength to this draft that will allow teams to find quality players at a certain position multiple rounds into this year’s selection process.

    “As a strength, I think defensive tackle is really, really deep this year,” Mayock said.

    The defensive tackles won’t work out here at Lucas Oil Stadium until tomorrow but when they do, it will be a prime opportunity for a group of players which doesn’t necessarily have one standing above the rest to begin to jockey for position.

    Much like Baskin Robbins, this year’s defensive tackle class will offer a wide variety of flavors for teams looking to add talent to the interior of their defensive lines.

    Need a quick, up the field pass rusher? No problem. How about a big run stuffer to take on multiple blockers and free up your linebackers? Got those too. Want a physical freak of nature with all the upside in the world? Got you covered.

    As it stands, it seems there is a cluster of players all fighting to prove themselves. LSU’s Michael Brockers, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, Penn State’s Devon Still, Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy, Memphis’ Dontari Poe and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson are all considered potential first or second round picks.

    Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes, Michigan’s Mike Martin and Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu could also work their way into that mix.

    How the class ultimately shakes out in terms of an order will likely depend more on what a team needs than what the player himself can do.

    With that many players looking to solidify a spot as the top tackle, there are just as many personalities involved stating their respective cases at this week’s NFL Combine.

    Take Still, for example. Soon after the season was over, he was widely considered the best tackle in the draft. Then he skipped the Senior Bowl and his stock has actually dropped in the eyes of some without playing a game.

    But that doesn’t stop the uber-confident Still from proclaiming himself the best of the bunch.

    “I think hands down I’m the best defensive tackle in this draft, just because I feel like I want it more,” Still said. “I was able to take over a lot of games this season. Just the production that I had, I was able to disrupt plays even if I wasn’t making tackles or sacks.”

    At 6’5, 303 pounds, Still projects as a true 3-technique in a 4-3 defense. It’s a position that the Rams have a need at, preferably with someone who can generate some pass rush after quarterbacks too often were able to dodge the outside pass rush by stepping up into an open pocket in the middle.

    Still had a solid college career but finished with a flourish, posting 17 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his senior season.

    “I think I had a very average year my junior year and I never strive for being mediocre,” Still said. “I try to be the best that I can be. I put in a lot of overtime during the offseason just to prepare myself to be one of the best in the country for my senior year and make my mark at Penn State.”

    Still is strong and quick but some pundits believe he doesn’t play consistently enough to actually be the top tackle in the draft.

    The player that many analysts believe actually is the best tackle prospect in the class is probably the one with the least amount of production. That’s Brockers, a menacing looking man child at 6’5, 322 pounds with outstanding athleticism and unlimited potential.

    When Brockers spoke to the media Saturday, he made it clear that he doesn’t worry much about what Still said and believes that the process of figuring out the best tackle will sort itself out in time.

    “I don’t know. I haven’t really watched his film, so I can’t sit up here and say I’m better than him,” Brockers said. “I do know what I do good. I play the run. I’m a force in the middle. And I feel like I do a very good job with that.”

    One AFC scout said this week that pound for pound Brockers might be the most physically impressive player in the draft.

    In the time since LSU’s season ended, Brockers has added 5 more pounds of muscle and gives teams a player who can play just about anywhere on the line in any defensive front.

    “I feel like at 322, I can move a lot better than some other guys can move,” Brockers said. “So I feel like that’s my biggest strength. How big I am and how quick I am.”

    The knock on Brockers, of course, is that he played for a deep and talented Tigers team in which he split downs more often than not.

    Brockers played just two seasons with a redshirt year before declaring for the draft and his numbers include just two career sacks and 11 tackles for loss to go with 79 tackles.
    But Brockers believes he’s ready to make an impact and is just scratching the surface on his potential as a player.

    “I feel like I can’t get any worse,” Brockers said. “I can only get better from now on. That’s really my mindset. I can only get better. That’s my response to that.”

    While players like Brockers and Still represent guys with the ability to play a few positions on the line, more well rounded tackles if you will, there are plenty of guys who fit specific needs right away.

    Cox represents the draft’s premiere prototypical 3-technique, a guy with the ability to push the pocket and spend time in the backfield. At 6’4, 298 pounds, he figures to test out well in agility and speed drills.

    After three strong seasons for the Bulldogs in which he posted 24.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, Cox declared for the draft after getting an evaluation that had him pegged as an early second round pick.

    Like Still, Cox believes that he’s as good as any tackle in the draft and actually took the second-round grade as a challenge.

    “I was a little mad about it, but I figured once I go out and test and I can prove myself that I can go in the first round, I’ll be OK,” Cox said.

    With Cox’s combination of quickness and agility, he believes he should be a better pass rusher than he was in his time in Starkville.

    Cox said he’s worked since the season ended to become a better pass rusher knowing that it would be his bread and butter when he gets to the league.

    “Since the season’s been over, I’ve been doing a lot of hand drills,” Cox said. “Not that my hands are slow, but just developing more pass rush moves was the biggest thing I’ve been working on.”

    On the flip side of the pass rushing coin is a group of tackles with the size to clog up running lanes and stop the run.

    Heading up that group is the massive Poe, who checked in at 6’4, 346 pounds at this week’s combine.

    Much like the rest of the group of defensive tackles, Poe believes he’s as good as any tackle in the draft.

    “I think I'm explosive, very explosive,” Poe said. “That's probably my biggest strength. Most people think just because I'm big I do nothing but power over you, things like that. I try to use my quickness to my advantage.”
    Poe is indeed a better athlete than his size might indicate and he’s drawn favorable comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton.

    In his time with the Tigers, Poe posted 101 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.

    Poe’s primary job will be to stop the run but he wants to show teams that he can be a more versatile player than his size might indicate.

    It's become more important because the NFL is becoming a passing league,” Poe said. “But if you can't stop the run you're in a pretty bad situation. You have to be able to do both.”

    In the end, it’s probably the players capable of doing both that will ultimate rise to the top of a crowded class.
     
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