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Nebraska's Suh tops strong draft class of impact defensive tackles

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Dave Weaver / Associated Press
Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh could be the top defensive player chosen in the 2010 draft.


During my time in the league as a scout, I had a defensive coordinator once tell me that the key to building a dominant defense is being strong up the middle. He stressed to me that the common denominator between top defenses at the highest level is the presence of a game-changer at one of the defensive tackle positions.

David Stluka / Associated Press
While the jury is still out on B.J. Raji, results of the past five drafts have been mixed when teams have used first-round picks on defensive tackles.
DTs taken in first round of last five drafts
Year
Player
Pk
Team
9th
Analysis: Flashing immense potential in limited snaps.
24th
Analysis: Knee injury in Week 2 landed him on IR.
32nd
Analysis: Spot action through early part of rookie season.
5th
Analysis: Starting to pick up game after very slow start.
Sedrick Ellis
7th
Analysis: Could become game-changer after solid 2008.
Amobi Okoye
10th
Analysis: Regaining form of eight-sack rookie season.
13th
Analysis: Non-stop motor, but injuries has limited production.
Justin Harrell
16th
Analysis: Injuries have kept him sidelined for most of career.
12th
Analysis: Quietly emerging as one of NFL's top DTs.
14th
Analysis: Not a headline-grabber, but a key cog in Eagles' D.
John McCargo
26th
Analysis: Colossal flop -- 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks in 35 games.
Travis Johnson
16th
Analysis: Traded to S.D. after four unproductive seasons.
31st
Analysis: Solid career as a run-stuffer so far.

A dominant interior defender commands double teams on every play, and his ability to demand that kind of attention frees his teammates to make plays against single blocks on the perimeter. This is not only essential to stopping the run, but it also benefits defenses built to generate pressure on the passer. A skillful interior rusher with exceptional quickness can wreak havoc on quarterbacks by routinely blasting through the "A" gap (gap between the center and guard) on pressures. This prevents quarterbacks from stepping into their throws, and often flushes them into the arms of hard-charging rushers off the edge.

In surveying the college landscape for potential impact players at the position, it looks like the 2010 draft class is loaded.

Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season. He has tallied nine tackles for loss and racked up three sacks while single-handedly transforming the Huskers' defense into a dominant unit. Though Suh has been lauded for his rush skills, his ability to snuff out the run has earned him rave reviews in scouting circles and is one of the reasons several teams have him rated as the top defensive player available in the draft.

Alabama's Terrence Cody is another interior defender with the exceptional skills to take over a game at the point of attack. The hulking playmaker is immovable off the ball, and completely destroys blocking schemes with his ability to routinely defeat the double team. Though he lacks the skills to be an elite interior pass rusher, his dominance against the run is so spectacular that scouts have pegged Cody as a mid-level first-rounder.

While Suh and Cody are undoubtedly the headliners of the class, Syracuse's Arthur Jones could join the duo as one of the top senior defensive tackles. Although Jones shows unrefined skills as a pass rusher, his high motor and relentless effort will lead to a number of negative plays on the next level.

In addition to the aforementioned senior interior defenders poised to make immediate contributions, there is a growing buzz regarding the possible early entries of Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, Florida's Carlos Dunlap and North Carolina's Marvin Austin. While scouts have yet to fully evaluate them, there is a sense that these young stars could also make an instant impact in the league.

With a talented group of interior defenders set to arrive in 2010, several NFL defensive coordinators will finally have an essential piece in place to build a dominant defense.

Must-see college games for NFL scouts this week
Florida State at North Carolina, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET
The matchup doesn't have the luster that it once possessed, but scouts have still circled this date on their calendars due to the outstanding young talent that will be on display. Seminoles cornerback Patrick Robinson is the game's headliner, and scouts are eager to see his outstanding cover skills in person. While the Tar Heels lack a receiver that poses a serious challenge to Robinson, the team's willingness to throw the ball down the field will provide a bit of a test. When the Seminoles have the ball, scouts will pay close attention to a Tar Heels defense that is loaded with talented underclassmen contemplating their pro prospects. Defensive lineman Marvin Austin and linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant are facing difficult decisions at season's end. With a big-time performance on a national stage, they could enhance their prospects as potential early entrants.

Clemson at Miami (Fla.), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby Ford have created a buzz in the scouting community with their explosive speed and playmaking skills. However, DE Ricky Sapp has joined them as a fast-rising prospect with early round potential. The athletic pass rusher has exceptional first-step quickness and flashes an explosive closing burst to the quarterback. With an impending matchup against Hurricanes LT Jason Fox, Sapp can improve his stock. In looking at the Hurricanes defense, scouts will pay close attention LB Darryl Sharpton and DE Eric Moncur. Both players possess immense potential, but scouts are waiting to see them play at a consistently high level.

Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com
CB Alterraun Verner has 11 picks in four seasons at UCLA. He's also a dangerous return man.
UCLA at Arizona
Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET

Two of the best cornerbacks will show their skills in this Pac-10 battle. UCLA CB Alterraun Verner is lauded for his savvy cover skills and big-play ability. Although he lacks elite top-end speed, Verner excels at reading routes and is emerging as one of the best ball hawks in college. With a game that is ideally suited to play in a traditional zone system, scouts are hoping that Verner can showcase his man-to-man cover skills against the Wildcats. For Arizona, CB Devin Ross will garner most of the attention as scouts scrutinize his ability to cover bigger receivers. The diminutive cover man has good instincts and skills, but scouts worry about his thin frame and his ability to hold up against physical receivers. If he can continue to show evaluators that he has the moxie to match up with quality receivers, Ross could cement his status as an ideal nickel corner on the next level.

TCU at BYU, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET
Scouts will be on hand to see TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes come off the edge against the Cougars. The explosive pass rusher has already tallied eight sacks this season, and his exceptional skills have many touting him as an early round selection. With BYU poised to throw the ball, Hughes will have plenty of chances to hit Cougars QB Max Hall off the corner. In addition, scouts are looking forward to watching Daryl Washington control the middle of the field from his inside linebacker spot. For the Cougars, all eyes will focus on TE Dennis Pitta. The pass-catching specialist has tormented opponents with his precise route-running ability and underrated athleticism. Though he needs some work as a blocker, his receiving skills translate well to the next level.

Texas at Missouri, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET
This Big 12 battle is sure to draw a big scouting contingent anxious to see LB Sean Weatherspoon take on the Longhorns' explosive offense. He has emerged as one of college football's top defensive playmakers, and scouts are raving about his ability to punish runners in the hole. As for Texas, scouts are still assessing Colt McCoy's ability to transition to the pro game as a passer. Although he has compiled gaudy statistics while directing the Longhorns offense, the simple reads associated with the spread passing game causes some hesitation in the minds of evaluators. Jordan Shipley will also garner a lot of attention this week as scouts continue to determine the best role of the dynamic receiver/returner on the next level. On the other side of the ball, linebackers Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy must continue to shine to cement their status as early round hopefuls.
 
Sleeper to watch
Anthony Dixon

Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State
Dixon has flown under the radar for most of the season, but scouts have recently started buzzing about the Mississippi State star who has rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games. As a big, physical runner with exceptional size (6-1, 235 pounds) and running skills, Dixon excels at running between the tackles with his rugged style. While he lacks explosive top-end speed, Dixon's ability to break tackles as a downhill runner has earned him high marks in scouting circles. If he can continue to put up stellar numbers against a tough slate of SEC defenses, Dixon will continue to climb up charts as a potential mid-round prospect.
The Sweet 16
Bucky Brooks' latest list of the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:

1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
Okung is a dominating lineman with exceptional size and nimble feet. He continues to impress scouts with his superior skills as a run and pass blocker, and is undoubtedly a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
Scouts continue to marvel at Suh's exceptional strength, power and athleticism. He is a dominant interior player with the skills to terrorize opponents as a run stuffer or pass rusher, and his unique skill set makes him the top defensive prospect in the draft.

Taylor Mays 3. Taylor Mays, FS, USC
Some scouts rate this hard-hitting safety as the top defensive player in the 2010 draft. An exceptional athlete with outstanding instincts and awareness, Mays is the prototypical enforcer defensive coordinators covet in the middle of the field.

4. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
The mammoth run stuffer is immovable at the point and gobbles up double teams with ease. Cody's ability to clog the middle is invaluable in the pro game, but concerns about his weight may cause his stock to drop prior to the draft. Nevertheless, few defensive tackles have the potential to impact a defense like Cody.

Colt McCoy 5. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
McCoy has not put up impressive numbers this season but remains a highly regarded quarterback prospect due to his superior intangibles. McCoy shows good accuracy, awareness and anticipation as a pocket passer, and continues to surprise scouts with his athleticism on the perimeter. McCoy's overall package makes him the top choice among senior quarterbacks.
Complete "Sweet 16" ...


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