Steelers Defensive Tackle Draft Prospects – Early Rounds
By Christopher DiMarino
James Farrior’s release has given Steeler fans a little more definition on how this draft might carry out. Aside from Guard and Nose Tackle the inside linebacker is the other main need for the Steelers going into camp. There are a couple of interesting first round options (which I will investigate in the future) but a large drop off after that. Nose Tackle could be regarded as the biggest area of need because it is the only position without a feasible option to start the 2012 season. But that doesn’t make it a simple decision. The Steelers won’t just go out and draft a NT with the first round pick. A 3-4 Nose Tackle needs to have a particular set of skills. Among those skills, managing double teams, collapsing the pocket and gap responsibility are the most prevalent. In college, the focus of most Defensive Tackles is getting after the quarterback, and accordingly that requires a different set of skills. All of this results in a particularly small class of Pittsburgh Steelers ready Nose Tackles.
Understanding what the combine results mean:
This article is a follow up to my 2 previous posts. To see each players’ information, use this link. To see their combine results use this link. I focused on 5 of the measurables from the combine: 40 yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and cone drill. Each of these results shed some light on what each player can do on the field. I consider combine results compulsory; skill, instincts and intelligence also factor in to the physical ability a player displays. But a players’ potential is commonly linked to his combine results, because coaches believe they can teach technique.
The 40 yard dash can be big for Defensive Tackles but isn’t that important. Chasing a QB out of the pocket requires speed as does closing the gap on a running back. I would still not weigh the 40 speed too highly. A Nose Tackle needs to be better at accelerating than straight-line speed. More often than not, the Nose Tackle will only have about 3 feet of running space before he hits a blocker.
The cone drill is another running drill that has limited importance. A strong score here can indicate good footwork and agility which can be useful on stunts and maintaining gap positioning. Both the 40 and cone become even less important when you consider a Defensive Tackle for a 3-4 role. The larger size favored typically comes at the cost of speed and agility. The Tackle’s strength and leg drive are the important physical metrics.
The vertical and broad jumps give us an idea how players use their legs. This is very important for big Nose Tackles. It shows us their leg strength and how that strength carries their heavier frames. The vertical jump is a strength used from a stationary position. This can be important when a Tackle wants to gather himself on a run in gap control and adjust to the play (without being blown back). The broad jump will show the power of the leg drive which is a huge strength for Nose Tackle. These two combined can attribute to how immovable a tackle is. Sometimes on run plays, the Nose Tackle wants to sit in a gap, so his ability to force himself there without being driven back is very prevalent.
The bench press is the drill most people look at to determine a players’ strength. 90% of what a Nose Tackle will be doing is picking a direction and moving (with a few lineman hanging off of him) in that direction. This effort requires a combination of leg drive and upper body push. The jump scores are only partially indicative of leg drive, but the bench is a very good at depicting upper body strength. That makes this score important. Keeping a low pad level, proper technique and having a high motor represent other important factors that will affect a Nose Tackle’s success in pushing the pocket.
Analyzing who will likely go in what round:
To analyze what the combine metrics mean to on field play, I will describe the perfect mold for a Nose Tackle. You want a guy who has the height to swat passes and the weight overload Offensive Lineman. You want a guy who has the strength to push Lineman back and collapse the pocket or blow up run plays in the backfield. You need a guy with a high level motor who can continually bring the same effort and have the endurance not to tire at the end of the drive when the ball is near his own goal line. You need a guy with the vision to identify counter runs, screen plays and double teams and know how to effectively deal with them. You need a guy who has the intelligence to detect which hole the back will attempt to run through and where the quarterback’s eyes are fixed downfield to affect his positioning choices. You need a guy who has the fundamentals to capitalize on every ounce of strength and athleticism he has and translate that into on field performance.
From that definition you can see what components of being a good Nose Tackle are related to the Combine. This may be a large bill for any prospect to fill out, so let’s focus on the main thing he will need to be a Steeler. I believe there is a size/strength cut off to be successful in a 3-4 NFL defense. I don’t have a number, but to be successful against the average interior Offensive Lineman, a Nose Tackle must possess enough momentum to move the pocket. A stalemated Nose Tackle isn’t a terrible thing (if he’s occupying multiple Lineman) but the Nose will typically be required to get up field. That being said, I believe certain prospects at their current state, will need to get stronger and/or bulk up to be maintain their possibility of becoming a Steeler.
Round 1: The first round was littered with potential. I think that some of them did poorly enough that unless they impress in their pro day, they may slip out of the first round. Michael Brockers had a pitiful combine, but he is one of the players that teams may still take on a whim because of his college success’. Devon Still didn’t do a complete set, so expect his pro day to be much more revealing about his overall athleticism. Fletcher Cox had a good combine and it should solidify his positioning as a late 1st rounder. He is a smaller, speedier type of Defensive Tackle and would likely be a bad fit for the 3-4. If you haven’t heard about Dontari Poe’s combine than you likely shouldn’t be reading this article. He absolutely killed at the combine and would not surprise me if he is a top 10 pick now.
Round 2: Brandon Thompson is interesting because he’s the only top round guy who wasn’t redshirted and still attended a decently prestigious school. He didn’t run a 40, but his bench was good. He’s got a little more mass to him and if he beefs up a bit I can see him fitting the Steelers mold. Kendall Reyes is the same size as Fletcher Cox, but a power guy rather than a speedy.
Round 3: There were 3 players projected to go outside of the 1st two rounds that I considered. Mike Martin and Alameda Ta’amu both did a great job and increased their stock considerably. Marcus Forston didn’t stand out but likely didn’t drop. Ta’amu was the only other very large Defensive Tackle and didn’t impress like Poe, but showed strength to go a along with his big size. Mike Martin impressed me the most out of all the Defensive Tackles. He wasn’t on my radar because he’s shorter and smaller than I’d prefer at Nose. I’ve watched him play, and he plays very athletic for Defensive Tackle, but would he have the size and strength for the NFL? His combine result surely insists he does. He improved on a very fast 40 time by putting up 225lbs 35 times. If he was able to gain some weight and still maintain some of his speed, he would be similar athletically to Dontari Poe but with a better resume of experience. Also you have to consider that it would take a miracle for Poe to be around for the Steeler’s first pick, and Martin will likely be around for their second round selection.
Looking at projection changes POST combine:
The projections pre combine were taken from CBSsports.com. I made the post combine projections based on their performance.
|Pre Combine||Post Combine|
|Name||School||Proj Rank||Proj Round||Change||My Round Projection|
|Michael Brockers||LSU||8||1||v||Mid 1st|
|Devon Still||Penn State||10||1||v||Late 1st|
|Fletcher Cox||Mississippi State||21||1||-||Late 1st|
|Jerel Worthy||Michigan State||24||1-2||v||Mid 2nd|
|Dontari Poe||Memphis||27||1-2||^||Early 1st|
|Brandon Thompson||Clemson||32||1-2||v||Late 2nd|
|Kendall Reyes||Connecticut||41||2||^||Early 2nd|
|Marcus Forston||Miami (Fla.)||79||2-3||-||3rd|
|Mike Martin||Michigan||96||3||^||Late 2nd|
|Alameda Ta\’amu||Washington||104||3||^||Late 2nd|
Who still demands serious consideration from the Steelers:
I’m convinced of one thing; if a first year player is going to start at Nose Tackle for the Steelers early in the 2012 season, he will need to be large (at least 325lbs). Anyone can gather that this would only leave the Steelers with a possibility of drafting Ta’amu (because Poe will likely be gone). I believe at this point, that if the Steelers draft a Nose Tackle in the first 3 rounds, there is a 75% chance that it is Ta’amu. I’d say there is a 15% chance Martin is the guy because of his strong combine and connection to the Steelers so far. The other 10% would be if someone else drops to a position where the Steelers can snatch him.
Responding to comments
- To see a similar study that I’ve completed for the Offensive Guards, use this link