Defensive players make strong case for top pick
Ndamukong Suh thinks he should be the No. 1 pick.
Gerald McCoy and Eric Berry both contend they should go first, too.
Suddenly in the quarterback-driven NFL, defense is becoming all the rage. Early draft projections have Suh and McCoy, defensive tackles, going among the top four picks. Berry could join them in the top five, and none of the three defenders are shy about making their cases for who is the best.
``In my eyes, I feel like I'm the best player in the draft because I bring a lot to the table,'' Berry said Sunday. ``I was a game-changer in college. If you want to compare the big playmaking ability, you can put that there. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I was a star for three years.''
McCoy and Suh can't exactly say the same thing though they are clearly the bigger stars now.
Suh came to the league's annual scouting combine a little shorter than 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, two months after joining the other Heisman Trophy finalists in New York. McCoy, a playful character with oodles of charisma, checked in at 6-4, 295.
Those two and Berry, of Tennessee, are presumably battling a pair of quarterbacks, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, to become this year's draft lottery winner.
History does not bode well for these defenders.
Quarterbacks have gone first in nine of the last 12 drafts. The last defensive tackle to go No. 1 overall was Cincinnati's Dan Wilkinson in 1994. Of the five defensive tackles taken No. 1 since 1964, only one - Dallas' Russell Maryland - played in a Pro Bowl. He made it once.
Coaches think McCoy, of Oklahoma, or Suh, of Nebraska, could change the legacy.
``You have to talk about a dominant defensive tackle, somebody that changes the game, somebody that changes schemes, changes how you would block it,'' St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said, when asked to describe a franchise defensive tackle. ``He gives offensive coordinators in the run game or the pass game a little bit of a headache. I think that's the type of guy you describe. Both of those guys are good football players.''
The Rams have the No. 1 pick, the Lions are No. 2, and McCoy said he has already spoken to both teams. Suh had not spoken with the Rams as of Sunday afternoon.
Do they fit the mold of franchise-type players?
In McCoy's case, he says yes and illustrates the point by recounting the story of a 238-pound, 12-year-old kid from Oklahoma City.
``One time in little league, I tackled three people,'' McCoy said. ``I came through and the quarterback didn't know who to give it to, so I just grabbed everybody.''
Now that's chaos.
Suh has a more serious approach. He emerged as a Heisman contender after almost single-handedly stifling Texas' high-scoring offense in the Big 12 title game. He's also gaining a reputation as a serious, cerebral player with a massive body.
The questions about Suh are more about whether he can adapt to the NFL style, which will require him to play the run on the way to the pass.
``I think I can do that, I just haven't had the opportunity just yet to do that because of the scheme that we were in,'' Suh said Saturday in Indy. ``I'm not saying that was a problem because there's opportunities in our scheme when I had a chance to do that, but it wasn't as much as some of the teams did. Gerald had that opportunity a little bit more.''
Berry has more significant obstacles to overcome.
Safeties have rarely gone in the top 10, much less the top five. The last defensive back taken No. 1: Safety Gary Glick of Colorado A&M, who went to Pittsburgh in 1956.
Most teams place a premium on cornerbacks or pass rushers instead of interior linemen or big-hitting safeties.
Those days could be changing.
``I look at those two players, McCoy and Suh, and from my opinion, they're the two best players in the draft,'' said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network. ``They're both clean off the field. I like McCoy ahead of Suh, only because he's more disruptive in the pass game, but they're both great players.''
The talent pool runs deep on defense this year.
Nearly two-thirds of the first round picks could come on defense. Among the possibilities are Florida cornerback Joe Haden and Gators defensive end Carlos Dunlap and linebackers Sergio Kindle of Texas and Rolando McClain of Alabama.
But in a year when half of the six players given franchise tags were defensive tackles, there could be up five or more defensive tackles taken in the first round. Mayock said he has 14 defensive tackles projected to go in the first three round.
And it all starts with McCoy and Suh.
``Either one would be fine with me,'' McCoy said when asked about going first or second. ``A one or two pick, a third pick, a 15th pick, a pick, I just want to get picked. I love football. I just want to play in the NFL. It's a dream and passion of mine. I just really want to play.''