|Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire|
|Nick Fairley has shown tremendous talent, but there are concerns about his all-around effort.|
There isn't a prospect at the level of Ndamukong Suh in this draft, and there might not be a player like him for years to come. Still, there are some very good defensive tackle prospects, especially in the first round.
Keep in mind that with the different defensive schemes teams play, different types of players are needed. A three-technique tackle in a 4-3 scheme is a player who lines up on the edge of a guard and wins with great quickness. A nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme is a wide-body player who needs to eat up a double team and hold his ground. A 4-3 nose tackle is not looking to defeat a double team, but rather penetrate a gap. Plus, a few of the 3-4 teams will also look to this group to find prospects who can also play defensive end in their schemes.
No matter what the scheme, an NFL defensive tackle has to be very strong and extremely tough to survive in football's version of the combat zone. Oregon State's Stephen Paea bench pressed 225 pounds a record 49 times at the NFL Scouting Combine this year. There were 18 defensive tackles who weighed in at more than 300 pounds and eight tackles who ran the 40-yard dash in under five seconds, so there are plenty of big people to evaluate.
Player with most upside
After watching tape of Dareus, it's clear he has the best chance among the position group to dominate on the next level. He has overpowered a number of the blockers in front of him. Dareus possesses the speed and quickness to play outside, and the power and leverage to line up inside. He is only 21 years old and left college a year early, so he still has some techniques to refine. Dareus' initial quickness (a 10-yard split of 1.66 seconds in the 40 is similar to defensive backs) will help him fair well early in his career.
Biggest boom-or-bust prospect
Auburn's Fairley was the top-rated tackle a few months ago, but has been passed by Dareus because of concerns about his consistency and effort. There are games like the BCS National Championship against Oregon in which Fairley looked like Warren Sapp, and then other times when he seems to disappear. Fairley is a terrific athlete and his success has come from that ability. He doesn't appear to embrace the weight room as much as a defensive tackle should, but after watching him on tape he does have natural strength and leverage. His critics say the former junior-college transfer is a one-year wonder, but his supporters say the guy with 24 tackles for a loss and 12.0 sacks is the real deal.
My favorite sleeper
It could be the third or fourth round by the time we hear Jarvis Jenkins' named called in the draft. I got a chance to watch him practice for a week at the Senior Bowl and interview him, and he's a lunch-pail type of player who works hard. Jenkins might never have big stats, but he just does his job. Jenkins reminds me of one my old players, Bobby Hamilton, who most people have never heard of despite a 13-year NFL career.
Players with most to prove
Liuget was a middle-of-the-road player back in 2009 with just four starts and limited production at Illinois. He looked like a player who had skill but lacked the conditioning to play at a high level. In 2010, Liuget became a very disruptive inside player. He is moving up draft boards and might even pass Fairley before the draft comes. I liked Liuget on tape, especially against Michigan State, but I wonder if the late surge in the draft process is too much too fast.
Small-school prospect with a chance
There aren't many small-school prospects at the defensive tackle position. The major colleges comb the country for high school talent at these positions and very few players fall through the cracks. If you see a prospect at a smaller school, inevitably they tend to be transfers from big schools for personal reasons. That, however, is not the case for Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson measured at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds at the combine, and is an intriguing prospect as a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 three-technique tackle. He is raw in his techniques and only had 17.0 career sacks at the mid-major level. Wilkerson is getting a lot of interest and might actually be drafted higher than he should be, given all the work he needs to do over the next year or two.
Debunking a myth
For many rookie defensive tackles, it is the first time they are playing against offensive linemen who are much stronger than they are and just as athletic. It takes a lot for a rookie to disengage from blockers and make impact plays. Injuries are also prevalent for young tackles inside who get a lot of playing time. For example, neither Gerald McCoy nor Brian Price were able to finish their rookie seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As strong as Paea is in the weight room, he will struggle against NFL offensive guards in 2010.
Teams with the greatest need
Looking at the teams in the first round, in order of selection, defensive tackle is a priority for the Panthers, Broncos, 49ers, Titans, Cowboys, Texans, Vikings and Rams in the top 14 picks. If some of those teams pass on a tackle early, and they surely will, it leaves players for the Patriots, Giants, Chiefs, Colts, Bears and Packers to consider.