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History shows expectations for rookie defensive tackles are too high

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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As many coaches say, things always start up front on defense. That theme definitely carried through during the draft.

Teams went after front seven defenders in a much more aggressive manner than in recent drafts. In total, 26 players were taken in the first two rounds that play in the force unit -- made up of the defensive line and linebackers. Compare that to recent years: 17 players in 2006, 20 in '07, 16 in '08 and 22 in '09.

Defensive tackles taken in Rounds 1-2 in 2010
Rd
Sel. #
Player
Team
1
2
1
3
1
10
1
26
1
28
2
35
Brian Price
2
41
2
44
2
46
2
56
2
57

While the number of linebackers and defensive ends taken in the first two rounds held close to the average over the previous four drafts, the big change came at defensive tackle. The 11 interior linemen selected more than doubled the yearly average. The expectations for the crop are pretty high as we hear post-draft minicamp reports and learn how good many of these high selections look in shorts.

The real money in any draft is spent in the first two rounds. One general manger, who could have taken a defensive tackle in the first two rounds but passed, thought the 2010 class was a little inflated and could be in for a rude awakening.

With that in mind, it might be time for a reality check. Teams should lower the expectations just a bit based on history, not fantasy.

Here are the defensive tackles taken in the first two rounds during the previous four drafts: Three in '06, four in '07, five in '08 and five in '09.

In the first round alone, there were five defensive tackles taken this year, including three in the top 10. While there are high expectations, it can't be ignored what Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Tyson Alualu, Dan Williams, Jared Odrick, Brian Price, Torell Troup, Lamarr Houston, Linval Joseph, Mike Neal and Terrence Cody are up against as rookies.

First off, a number of these players will suffer an injury that will cut their rookie campaign short. For the first time in many of their football lives, they will face offensive linemen bigger and stronger than they are. In addition, the speed of the game between the tackles will be more like a blur than a situation where they can diagnose what's happening before it's too late to protect themselves and make a play.

Last year's defensive tackle class is a perfect example of what rookies are up against. The five defensive tackles taken in the first two rounds only managed six starts. Peria Jerry, B.J. Raji, Ron Brace, Fili Moala, and Sen'Derrick Marks only generated 2 sacks, 37 tackles and no forced fumbles combined.

Could it have been a down year? More likely it's just very difficult for young tackles to have the power, technique and ability to disengage a blocker.

Rookie production by DTs taken in first two rounds from 2006-2009
Year
Player
Team
Tackles
Sacks
Forced fumbles
2006
13
1
0
2006
John McCargo
5
0
0
2006
6
0
0
2007
8
0
0
2007
Justin Harrell
10
0
0
2007
Amobi Okoye
23
5.5
1
2007
21
2
0
2008
32
1
1
2008
Sedrick Ellis
20
4
0
2008
Trevor Laws
11
0
0
2008
Kentwan Balmer
6
0
0
2008
24
5
3
2009
0
0
0
2009
19
1
0
2009
5
0
0
2009
Ron Brace
6
1
0
2009
Sen'Derrick Marks
7
1
0


If these 17 defensive tackles could only generate 20.5 sacks (about an average of one per player), five forced fumbles and 216 tackles (about 13 per man), it might be a good idea to lower expectations for the group drafted in the first two rounds this year.

It doesn't matter what grade Suh, McCoy or any of the other guys had going into the draft. They're all taking a giant leap in competition. A great rookie season would be 35 tackles and five sacks. A good first year would be 25 tackles and three sacks.

When you look at the 17 defensive tackles taken in the first two rounds from 2006 to 2009, only about half are even starters at this point. Teams might have to settle for 10 tackles and one sack from their rookie defensive tackle and hope he can develop going forward.

It's going to be tough for all 11 of the defensive tackles from the 2010 class to be success stories this season, or even in the next few years. While there's a lot of potential in this crop, right now each player has a big mountain to climb.

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