Last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers doubled down on defensive tackles, selecting Gerald McCoy 3rd overall and Brian Price in the second round. Between those two and Roy Miller, the Bucs are fairly set in the middle of their defensive line, the onus now falls on pass-rushers to come off the edge while what looks to be a very good interior D-Line handles its own business.
This year’s draft still comes with some solid men in the middle, particularly Auburn’s Nick Fairley and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus. If character concerns weren’t an issue, this would be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory at defensive tackle, unfortunately the best prospects in this year’s class all come with considerable red flags with regard to personal character, teams should draft at their own risk…
Here are the top Defensive Tackles in the 2011 NFL Draft:
1.) Nick Fairley, Auburn - Nick Fairley is a classic example of how the 24-7 news cycle can hurt a kid. If you go off of merit there isn’t a better option at D-Tackle in the whole draft. Fairley was the dominant defensive players on the best team in the hardest conference in football last season. He has the quickness and agility to be a very talented interior pass-rusher and he has the strength and instincts to be a detriment to any opposing team’s run-game. But when you give the media three months to dissect a kid you get asinine statements like, “he’s more country strong than weight-room defined.” Put it this way, the only legitimate question mark about Fairley is his work ethic. But considering he worked his way through junior college to reach his goal of one day playing for Auburn, I don’t think there’s a lack of drive there.
2.) Marvin Austin, UNC – If Marvin Austin had played last season he would arguably be first on this list. As it stands he was suspended for improper contact with an agent and missed his entire senior season. The questions with Austin are all off the field. He’s gained a reputation as a me-first player as a result of his suspension this year. Teams wonder if he has kept himself in adequate football shape and whether he’s going to continue to develop and meet his impressive potential. On the field, you can’t help but like what you see and his combine numbers and pro-day certainly seem to indicate he’s in peak physical shape. Austin is a supremely gifted athlete with above-average footwork, impressive upper-and-lower body strength and good speed and agility. If he keeps his head on straight, he should be a very good NFL tackle.
3.) Marcell Dareus, Alabama – To me, the top three tackles in the draft are all so class this list could be ordered several different ways. Marcell Dareus is first on many people’s lists but it’s not as if he doesn’t come with a few concerns as well. First of all, Dareus has inappropriate contact with an agent as well. Unlike Austin, Dareus only missed the first two games of 2010 but the me-first perception people have of Austin could certainly be true of Dareus as well. Dareus is also an under-classman and still needs a little more time to develop to get close to his potential. That potential is staggering though. Dareus looks to translate a little better to 3-4 Nose Tackle. He could put on a little more weight and his lower-body strength and ability to anchor and hold the point of attack would be ideal for teams running out of the 3-4. His pass-rushing ability will develop (if coached properly) but he’s never going to be exceptional there.
4.) Corey Liuget, Illinois - Liuget is the type of kid you want in the locker-room. Hailing from Miami, Corey picked Illinois over southern schools to play for coach Ron Zook. After two years he wanted to transfer due to home sickness, his mother told him he wouldn’t be welcome home if he transferred. So he grew up. He owned it and became a leader in the locker-room and the meeting rooms. That’s the type of response to adversity that you want out of a prospect. On the field Liuget is solid, he doesn’t possess elite footwork but has the quickness and strength to require a double-team from most defenses. Has a low center of gravity that he uses to his advantage. He does tend to wear down if he’s played a lot at the end of the game, but NFL strength coaches will have something to say about that and this kid has the work ethic to improve it.
5.) Muhammed Wilkerson, Temple - Wilkerson is a monster at 6’5 300 lbs. At just 21, he is still somewhat green and will require some coaching but the athleticism he possesses is extremely impressive. Was named the Temple Defensive MVP last season and graduated high school at Hargrave Military Academy. At this point Wilkerson is more finesse than strength, he struggles to drive back interior linemen, but that will improve as he gets in an NFL weight program and adds strength to his impressive frame. It remains to be seen whether he would project well into a 3-4, has the size but but is long-limbed and may not have the ideal strength for the nose tackle position.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Phil Taylor, Baylor - Started at Penn State but transfered to Baylor. Has a few marks against his character but is a talented prospect with plenty of potential.
7.) Stephen Paea, Oregon State - Possibly the strongest player in the draft, squats 600, benches 500 and put up the 225 bar at the combine 49 times. Lacks lateral quickness though, is basically a bull-rusher every play.
8.) Kenrick Ellis, Hampton - Projects beautifully as a nose tackle, at 6’5 340 has ideal size to anchor the middle of a 3-4. Anchors well, can fight off a double team and has surprisingly quick first step. Can play as a pass-rusher in addition to being nasty against the run. Question about competition (FCS) but is a major sleeper.
9.) Drake Nevis, LSU - Probably needs to add a little bit more size at the next level but still factors as a late second or early third round pick.
10.) Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson - Big, durable tackle out of Clemson. Played in 48 games over his four years, starting 37. Not flashy, but solid.