Poe leads strong class of DTs

BY foxsports • April 4, 2012

A presence at defensive tackle can be the centerpiece for a dominating NFL defense.

If you can create pressure from up the middle, the likelihood of your best outside pass rusher seeing strictly man-to-man blocking increases, as does the chance of forcing the quarterback off his spot. A big body in the middle will keep interior linemen from climbing to the next level and getting a piece of your team’s best tackler, the middle linebacker.

When I was with the Baltimore Ravens and we selected Haloti Ngata with the 12th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, it was like we were getting two future Hall of Famers in one. Because of Ngata’s ability to maintain double teams and keep linemen from peeling off to the second level, it allowed Ray Lewis to roam free and pursue the football or plug the appropriate running lanes.

Lewis was coming off a disappointing season in 2005 in which he only tallied 46 tackles in a total of six games throughout the season. Because of our lack of a dominant force at defensive tackle, Lewis was getting physically mauled every game and that eventually took a toll on his health.

So come the 2006 draft, even with much more obvious needs on the offensive side of the ball, we knew we had to protect our leader in Ray Lewis. Since selecting Ngata, Lewis has never finished a season with fewer than 96 tackles.

Interestingly enough, there is a player in this year’s draft that is drawing comparisons to Ngata: Memphis’ Dontari Poe. While I see the physical and athletic comparisons between the two, I struggle to find a likeness in output.

Like Ngata, Poe is a physical specimen and his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine was downright freakish. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds while weighing in at 346 pounds. He also put up 225 pounds 44 times in the bench press, good for the most of any position. But to me that is where the comparisons stop.

While watching his tape, Poe takes plays off and rarely dominates offensive linemen as he should with superior strength, especially against the inferior talent of the Conference USA. While he does have the most upside of any defensive tackle in the draft, I'm not sure he warrants comparisons to Ngata. He is an absolute "buyer beware" pick, especially if he goes in the top 10.

As I have them ranked, Poe leads the way with six others ranked in the top 60.

Fletcher Cox is next on my list and if we can compare, I see a little bit of Warren Sapp in his game. He isn’t just a player you place in the A gap to eat up double teams, as he can actually create plays himself and pressure the pocket from up the middle. He is quick off the ball and can get skinny in the hole to slip a block and bring down the ball carrier.

He isn’t as strong and stout as some of the others, but his athleticism and quickness separate him in my opinion. He's only 6-foot-4 and 298 pounds, yet he has the frame to bulk up in an NFL weight room.

Next up is Michael Brockers, who much like Poe is a player with tremendous upside, but also comes with some caution. Going into the combine, I, like others, had Brockers as the clear leader among defensive tackles, but a subpar performance made me go back and watch more tape.

What I saw was a player with powerful legs and drive off the snap, but was inconsistent with effort and overall production. He is a one-year wonder to a certain degree and still growing into his 6-6 frame. In the pros he'll work into a rotation as a situational player and will need to mature to have an impact over the course of two seasons.

Right behind Brockers are three players that demand some attention in their own right: Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, Kendall Reyes from UConn, and Devon Still from Penn State. Worthy and Still are the big physical run stuffers that you would expect out of the Big Ten conference while Reyes is a more finesse stack and shed player that uses his quick feet and balance to get off blocks and create plays.

As a whole, the defensive tackle class is arguably the deepest in the draft, especially over the course of the first three rounds, and it will be interesting to see how much these teams covet an individual player over the sum of the group. Do you select Dontari Poe in the top 10 or do you think you can get better value in the second round with guys like Worthy or Still? Or will any of them even be available come the second round?