Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is a player that has been linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a possible first round pick ever since the 2011 season ended. Poe was linked with good reasons too as the Steelers certainly could use a young nose tackle to start grooming and the measurements Poe offer certainly seem to fit the bill on paper.
Heading into the NFL combine a lot of people, myself included, could not wait to see Poe take part in the Underwear Olympics and he did not disappoint when it came to all of his measurables. Poe showed size, strength, speed and agility. He really was a combine warrior and the talk of Indianapolis.
Every year I get started with my draft preparation when the Steelers season officially ends. Yes, I watch a lot of college football throughout the season and nearly every bowl game, but covering the Steelers always comes first until the season is over. Once it is I dive head first into free agency and the draft. Until I get to the tape break downs of individual college players I rely on the opinions of other draftniks such as Mike Mayock. I trust his opinion, but am not so blind as to believe every opinion he has on every player.
After the combine I started to research the tape I could find on Poe and eventually found three games that I watched all the way through over the course of a few weeks. After watching the tape I came away feeling like I was cheated as Poe very rarely flashed and showed no true signs of being a 3-4, two gap nose tackle at the next level. Poe was used up and down the defensive line and seemed at his best as a 3 technique defensive tackle with one gap responsibilities. He made plays, but he never jumped off the tape as a first round defensive tackle or nose tackle. I have voiced those concerns over the last few weeks on the blog and on the podcast after getting a good look him.
Last week Mayock announced that after he went back through the tape of Poe that he failed to flash consistently and he dropped him down his defensive tackles rankings as a result. Did Mayock just buy into the early Poe hype and measurables early on like the rest of us? Had he not studied him in great detail before that? It certainly looks that way, because the full game tape does not lie.
When Mayock all of a sudden drops a players stock this late after the combine, it sends aftershocks through the "draft expert" world. I put draft expert in quotations as it is really an oxymoron. There is no such thing in my honest opinion as a "draft expert". We should start calling all of us that are not scouts or associated with a team, "draft educated guessers", because that is what we are. The more tape you watch though, the better you will get in my opinion at guessing and I always advise to not take the opinion of myself or others as gospel. Just go watch the damn tape yourself.
Fast forward to today now and there is a story on ESPN by Ashley Fox that goes into great detail on Poe. Fox covers the background of Poe along with his rise up the draft boards following the combine and the current questions about his draft stock. In the piece Fox also quotes former Memphis defensive line coach Mike DuBose as saying, "I don\'t think we used him quite the way we should have. We didn\'t put him in the best situations, but he never complained about it." DuBose also was quoted as adding, "He\'s a great young man and potentially the best defensive lineman that I\'ve ever coached. I\'ve never been around anybody as big, strong, explosive and flexible. To me, the flexibility part is the part that\'s rare."
Now DuBose is well known in the college football ranks as the former head coach of the University of Alabama. He also coached defensive linemen at other colleges during his career as well as in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I find it kind of curious that he would say what he did about the possibility of him not using Poe correctly. If indeed this is a self indictment, then perhaps DuBose is not as good of a coach as he is given credit for. It really sounds more like an attempt to stabilize the current questions that surround Poe in my opinion. Why wouldn\'t he want to do that?
Phil Stukenborg of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has a few other recent quotes from DuBose on Poe as well in regards to his power. DuBose reportedly said about Poe, "He is a powerful, powerful young man. Potentially, he may be the best defensive lineman I\'ve ever coached. He\'s just got to play powerful. He and I had that conversation several times." Stukenborg adds that DuBose said he wanted Poe to overpower offensive linemen more than he did during the season.
Lack of power is exactly what I failed to see on tape with Poe. He has the burst and can make himself skinny in gaps, but he was not disruptive when double teamed or locked up in one on one battles. You would think someone like Poe, who is a weight room warrior, would have easy flashed this, especially against the competition he played against while At Memphis.
Now the question that all teams are likely asking themselves right now about Poe is how his potential translates at the next level and where is he best suited to play on the defensive line. Personally I think he fits best as a 3 technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense where he can at least get a little playing time his rookie season in some sort of rotation. Until he learns how harness his strength and use proper technique, all that he has is his speed and agility.
Can Poe become a 3-4 nose tackle at the next level? I am not ruling that out, but it certainly will not happen over night in my opinion. Playing nose tackle in the Steelers system requires the player to use strength and leverage to hold the point of attack and often times take on two blockers. That player also needs to be able to push the pocket with some level of consistency when the quarterback drops back to pass. I have not seen that ability from Poe in the three games I watched.
Poe very well could still be drafted in the first round later this month, but I think the failure of him to jump out on tape, coupled with the other questions that surround him, will be enough for the Steelers to not even consider him in the first round should he fall down to them.