Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Defensive Tackles

So this list is going to include 4-3 defensive tackles, 3-4 nose tackles and 3-4 defensive ends, which will be highlighted as appropriate. As always the order is not neccessarily reflective of how I rate the various players and again, there are no guarantees. My opinions are just that, opinions.

- Dontari Poe, Mephis: So on that note, where better to start than with a player that is generating a ton of controversy. Poe is reportedly 346lbs and at the combine he ran a 4.87 forty yard dash and looked silky smooth in the field drills. For a defensive linemen anyway.

The reason I say "reportedly 346lbs" is because I call bullshit on that. Remember Terrence Cody, who was drafted by the Ravens in 2010? That guy weighed in at 370lbs, just 22 pounds more than Poe, yet he looked like the michelin man. I think Poe's weight is wrong. Even so, it was an impressive time for the big man.

But then we get to the game tape and what everyone has been wondering; how does an athletically gifted athlete like Poe only chalk up 1 sack in the Conference USA? The answer is because he's not very good. And by not very good, I mean awful. And by awful, I don't mean that he got double teamed a lot. He did draw a few double teams, but he faced plenty more single blocks and he still sucked.

Let me put it this way. I watched Poe, against a CUSA team, get jacked up by a running back in pass protection. Yes, a running back. Poe is just a big guy who has no idea how to play his position. He has no pass rush moves, he has no block defeating moves, he's just a big kid who can run a smart looking forty.

That is not a first round pick. I've heard Poe touted in the top 25, and in some cases the top 15. I think you would have to have your brain removed and inspected for defects if you used a pick that high on him.

Now he might, might, develop with the right coaching. But that's a big "might" and certainly one that you don't want to be staking your teams future on with a first rounder. He is literally just a raw clump of muscle and bone and fat with no discernable football talent. Or in other words he's a scouts dream.

As a much later pick, like going undrafted really but from say the 5th round down, Poe has value. You bring him in and you work on him to mold him into a future star. If you can teach him how to use his hands properly and to bend his knees, not his waist, you could possibly develop Poe over time into someone that could be a difference maker on defense.

Just not in one year. I don't see it happening. He's so raw it's almost comical. He needs time, investment, and a coach who believes in the long term process. With the way the NFL works these days that could narrow him down to maybe just the Steelers and Patriots, but we'll see. Much rests on the quality of his future coaches and where they see him fitting into their scheme.

- Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State: Cox is an interesting prospect. And that sentence didn't sound anyway near as dodgy when I wrote it as it does now reading it back. Really what we're looking at here is a player with pretty good speed who runs around and pursues plays very hard. What he's not is all that strong and subsequently all that good against the run.

At the next level Cox basically projects into one of three positions; a "3 technique" in a 4-3, a defensive end in a 4-3, or a defensive end in a 3-4. Any of those positions are the best fit for his speed, while not requiring him to be all that great as a run stopper. As long as he can get upfield and force his blocker to turn his shoulders away from the line of scrimmage (thus filling his run gap) then that is essentially his run responsibility covered.

In order to cut it as a 4-3 defensive end he might have to drop maybe 10-20 pounds to pick up some more speed, but he is pretty explosive as it is. His pass rush moves are quite under developed, but his sheer quickness against O-linemen and the ability to out muscle running backs means that you have to respect him as a threat in the passing game.

Personally I think Cox could do quite well. He's perhaps not the elite defensive lineman that some people think he his, not right now anyway, but you can't really go too far wrong with him. As long as he's treated for what he is - a one gap, penetrating lineman, with speed and determination, but a little lacking in strength - then he should do just fine.

- Michael Brockers, LSU: Ahhhhh my eyes are burning!! What in the hell did I just watch? I'll tell you what I just watched; an hour of LSU Defensive Tackle Michael Brockers doing largely sweet FA. Unless you count getting man handled one on one by guards and centers, or getting dumped on the floor repeatedly, and occassionally making a tackle.

Brockers is awful. On an NFL team he might be able to stuff the odd run, more by chance than anything, but that's about it. I'm presuming the only reason Brockers is even being considered by anyone is because he plays for LSU. I can literally think of no other good reason.

- Alameda Ta'amu, Washington: 6'3", nearly 350 pounds of defensive tackle, Ta'amu impressed me at times with his strength. His bull rush up the middle is unintentionally hilarious, as you watch him turn 280-300 pound interior offensive linemen into nothing more than human blocking sleds. The problem - as all too often with such players - comes when the coaches start getting to cute with their schemes instead of just letting the big man play.

If you don't let Ta'amu come off at the snap and just attack the offensive line then he can struggle. He stands upright and in some cases stops moving forward all together as he tries to loop around on some poorly designed, overly elaborate defensive line stunt. That's not what he does best and it shows.

To get the most out of Ta'amu you just have to let him play. Either give him one gap to defend and tell him to charge that gap, or tell him he has to two gap the center and then just let him bull rush that man right backwards into the quarterback. Don't mess around with him, he's not that sort of player.

Ultimately I could see Ta'amu as either a 4-3 interior tackle or as the nose in a 3-4. My first instinct is to say that he will do very well at the next level. He makes Dontari Poe look positively amatuer by comparison with his immense strength, great leverage and quick hands.

But... yeah. It's the NFL we're talking about. Don't under estimate the ability of a team to take Ta'amu and then start playing games up front with him, which really doesn't suit him. Ta'amu can shine in the pro's, but only if a team will just take him, give him a simple job and then just let him get on with dominating people. I give him a thumbs up.

- Devon Still, Penn State: Uhm... ok? So, this Still guy that everyone has been semi-raving about. Question; why?

I think peoples standards are slipping. Maybe it's just because this is not a great draft overall, but Still leaves a lot to be desired as a defensive tackle. On occassion he will come flying out of the blocks and beat a center who is trying to block down on him. I'll give him that much.

But that is not a receipe for success in the NFL. Saying that you picked up x amount of sacks or y amount of tackles for loss because you were left unblocked or the blocking scheme was just poorly chosen for that defensive front is not good enough.

That goes double for someone who routinely gets muscled out of plays in the running game. Still has perhaps some use as a rotation player, maybe, but that's a big maybe and it's hardly the first round pick hype that he's been receiving. Honestly I'd be very surprised if he succeeds in the NFL.

- Josh Chapman, Alabama: Jesus, someone remind me again why I put myself through all this? Chapman looks to project as a 3-4 nose tackle at the next level, at least on paper that's the theory. Personally I wouldn't trade you my empty bottle of Disaronno (it's been one of those weeks) for him.

I just don't get it. Alright, he plays for Alabama.... and? I fully understand why NFL teams like hunting around SEC players, but the caveat to that is that they generally like hunting around good SEC players, not just any random person who happens to put on a jersey for one of the SEC teams.

Chapman, to me, did nothing worthwhile that made him stand out. If you absolutely, desperately need a nose tackle and there is no other option, then maybe you could take Chapman. However if you operate anything approaching a "best player on the board" type strategy, then you'll be sitting there for a long, long while waiting for Chapman to top your list.

- Kendall Reyes, Connecticut: I'm beyond caring now. I'm out of Amaretto and I just watched Kendall Reyes, a touted first round tackle, possible second round "steal", do nothing for the majority of the time and then celebrate like he just won the Super Bowl because he was left unblocked for a tackle for loss.

Yeah, occassionally he'll try a spin move and by some miraculous fluke it'll work and he'll make a play, but overall he just gets man handled. So he ran a quick forty time at the combine. Great. That's all that matters I guess. Oh wait, he did ok in some one on one, completely unrepresentative pass rush drills at the Senior Bowl. Sweet.

Back in the real world he routinely gets trashed at the line of scrimmage, has no real appreciable strength, and his hand work on the pass rush stinks. He's a developmental project for the future in the same way that the city of Detroit is, e.g. it'll take decades and cost a fortune. And if the 49ers sign him I may just have to jump on a plane, fly to San Francisco (or Santa Clara, whatever) and punch Jim Harbaugh in the head.

- Brandon Thompson, Clemson: Now we are in f**king business my friends. If, one day, I ever have a lobotomy and subsequently end up as one of those mind numbed, dribbling lunatics occassionally referred to as "defensive coaches", I'd like to think that I would naturally be drawn towards the defensive line.

If so, then one of my constant mantras to the players would be to fight the battle for the line of scrimmage on the offenses side of the ball. That is to say, "get your arse over the line of scrimmage, NOW!". The resulting effect of when a defense can achieve this is to cause significant disruption to the offense, be it a run or pass play.

Brandon Thompson is the embodiement of this theory. He lines up with his hand just bordering on the neutral zone, something which I'm amazed more defensive linemen don't do. When the ball is snapped he proceeds to rocket over the line like a dart, making good headway into the oppositions backfield.

This is what every 4-3 defensive linemen and indeed every single gap defensive linemen should be doing. Penetration is the name of the game and Brandon Thompson has that down. He's quick off the line, pretty strong, has some good hand techniques and is reasonably alert to things like screens. He also pursues hard after plays, although he's not the fastest big man in the world.

All in all, I really like him. He's the kind of defensive linemen that you can put in a single gap as either a 1-technique over the centers shoulder, or a 3-technique over the outside shoulder of a guard, and then just let him rush to his hearts content. The pressure he generates up the middle will only force the offense into the hands of his team mates.

To me, this is a legitimate first round pick, and he's far more deserving of that title than anyone else on this list so far. This is why I never understand the scouting process, because if you look around Thompson is not really that highly rated compared to people like Poe and Cox, whereas to me he might just rate as the best defensive tackle in this draft.

- Jerel Worthy, Michigan State: If I was a GM then I would be extremely excited about Jerel Worthy. Not for the reasons you think though. The reason I'd be excited about Worthy is because he is one of those players that crops up every year that gets over rated in the press, that gets surrounded by hype that he doesn't really deserve, and consequently gets drafted in the first or second round despite not being anywhere near that level.

What that does is to allow more talented players to slip further down the draft order, right into the waiting hands of a savvy GM.

Worthy is rather unaptly named because he's anything but Worthy of his draft status right now. He's not a bad run stopper, but against anything other than the smallest O-linemen he gets man handled like a child, despite his significant size, while lacking any appreciable speed or pass rushing skill.

Worthy just doesn't have anything that is really of any use to an NFL team. As a late round pick who ended up in a rotation you perhaps could argue that he's as good as some depth players in the league, e.g. not very good and frankly just making up the numbers, but for me that's a stretch.

I couldn't imagine a scenario where I could talk myself into liking Worthy or convincing myself that he's anything more than a camp hand who should be cut with the first batch when the time comes. He has no real redeeming qualities as a football player and the fact that he's being talked about as a first rounder is frankly laughable.

- Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati: Kill me. Just kill me now.

Everywhere that the name "Derek Wolfe" comes up, so does that wonderfully annoying piece of scout speak "great motor". What "great motor" really means is up for debate, given that human beings lack a mechanical motor thus making the phrase subject to whatever interpretation the speaker chooses.

It would appear that "great motor" is supposed to be short hand for "plays really hard and never gives up", however from what I've seen from Wolfe and others with "great motors" I can only presume that great motor is in fact short hand for "trys really hard... but a bit shit in all honesty".

Wolfe does try hard. Boy does he try hard. The problem is he doesn't go anywhere. Or do anything. Or contribute in any meaningful manner for the majority of the game. Sometimes he does draw a double team. Usually that happens when the second blocker has nobody else to block so he just doubles on Wolfe, as opposed to it being a pre-planned thing by the offense out of fear for Wolfe's (lack of) elite pass rushing skills.

Simply put, you might as well just hire a veteran D-tackle off the free agent list. It might cost a little more, but you'll get better, more reliable production and you can save the pick for someone who might actually end up contributing to your team in the future.

- Mike Martin, Michigan: Now this, this ladies and gentlemen, is what I would truly expect from the term "great motor". This kid really does ball and he does not stop, while at the same time actually being quite good.

Apparently at the Senior Bowl, something which I have little interest in myself, he was blowing people up all day not just in the one on ones but in the 9 vs 9 run scrimmages and the all eleven scrimmages. If that's true then I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised.

This kid is, pardon my language, f**king outstanding. Great get off on the snap, especially when he lines up as a nose tackle and some how manages to get himself practically eye to eye with the center without breaching the neutral zone.

He's quick and ridiculously strong, getting his pads right down low and just treating centers and guards like rag dolls. He has a phenominal bull rush and can compliment that with great hand work when the offensive linemen try to dig in and match power with him. He's also seems pretty savvy when it comes to the mental aspects of the game, like sniffing out screens and draws.

It's very rare that I get this excited about young prospects, because trying to project their futures is a difficult and often thankless task, but I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think Mike Martin is a first round pick, not the second to third rounder most people have him down as, and I think he is going to kick some serious, serious butt at the next level.

4-3 defensive tackle. 3-4 Nose tackle. 3-4 defensive end. It doesn't matter. This guy is going to have some fun, make some good money, and give offensive linemen the kind of nightmares that will make them want to stay awake all night long.

- Jared Crick, Nebraska: Injuries are a worry here, so Crick's future probably has as much to do with his physicals as it does with his game tape as far as the teams are concerned. On that note, if we just assume that he comes back and plays like he did in college then Crick is an interesting prospect.

Strength is not his... uhm, strength, but speed is. Leave this kid unblocked and you can say goodbye to your quarterback because he's not getting the ball out of his hands before Crick gets to him. But then that whole strength thing crops its head up again, combined with a little smidgen of no technique.

For that reason Crick has limited utility. He's probably more suited to being a 3 technique tackle in a 4-3 defense, with a possible shift to defensive end, or maybe even ending up as an outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense, though that would take plenty of additional coaching.

Really I think Crick has more value later on in the draft as a limited downs pass rusher. He's weakness against the run makes it very tough to play him on first and ten or in any kind of short yardage situation. That will limit his appeal, as it's tough to justify drafting a guy who you think is only going to play intermittently in your defense based on situational packages.

Combined with the injury issues you could see Crick fall a long way. If he makes it into the league and gets a regular starting shot then his pass rushing skills could earn him some big bucks and plenty of attention, but his overall play might just dampen the excitement somewhat.

- Billy Winn, Boise State: There is a way to stop Winn. What you do is you grab two handfuls of jersey and you fall on your butt, twisting on the way down, dragging Winn down with you. Because that's about all most people seemed to be able to do.

Winn is 6'4", nearly 300 pounds of explosive defensive tackle. When this guy gets his shoulder on you as he's driving through a gap, he seems very, very difficult to stop. He'll probably play better as a 4-3 defensive tackle than anything in a 3-4, though I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the jump relatively easily.

He routinely seems to end up in the opposition backfield and could be a very disruptive force against the pass. The only knock is that sometimes he seems to take a while to get set, which means that on occassion he is caught out by the snap before he's in his stance, with inevitably bad results. Overall though I think he's pretty damn handy. Anywhere outside of the first round and I think his new team will be pleased.

- Tyrone Crawford, Boise State: With Winn inside of him, you'd expect more of Crawford. You're not going to get it. Very under whelming.

- Kheeston Randall, Texas: Yawn. If he lines up directly in a gap then sometimes he can get off the ball quick enough to avoid a block. The majority of the time he doesn't and he has neither the strength, the technique, or seemingly the will to do anything about it once the offense have their hands on him. Waste of time.

- Logan Harrell, Fresno State: I think he was the one that constantly ended up at the bottom of the pile? I couldn't see his number underneath all those bodies so I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that drafting Harrell appears to be a waste of time, barring some amazing turn around in someones training camp.

- Hebron Fangupo, BYU: 3-4 defensive end. And a poor one at that.

- DaJohn Harris, USC: I think we'll end it here for now with DaJohn Harris, big number 98 from USC. Harris got a nasty surprise ahead of the combine when a medical exam discovered a hole in his heart which prevented him from taking part. He has since been given the all clear, but that has to be a question mark that will scare some teams off while pushing other potential suitors to consider him a much later round pick than previously was the case.

It's a shame because Harris is actually pretty good. He lines up nice and close to the offense, gets off the snap pretty well and when he gets moving his size and speed make him difficult to stop. Against the run Harris does a great job of stuffing his gap and against the pass he creates good pressure up the middle by closing the pocket.

He seems to work pretty hard and rarely do you see him loafing, the dreaded disease that all defensive coordinators seem determined to spend 24/7 trying to stamp out. He's not the most agile of individuals it's fair to say, but I think he does ok for a defensive tackle.

As a late round pick, there's not a lot to argue with. He could probably do with dropping just a few pounds from his college weight and working hard on his hand technique. If he can do that, DaJohn Harris might be a name that you hear more often than some suspect right now.

Right, that's your defensive linemen done. Next up is linebackers, followed by corners and then safeties. Time is rapidly running out as the draft approaches so the last few posts might be a bit skimpy, which is always nice when it's ladies clothing we're talking about, but not so much when it's draft previews.

I think I'm definitely going to end up in a situation where I have to come back and look at a lot of the projected lower round/undrafted players after the draft has been completed. We'll see.

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