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Youth additions make DT crop the draft's strength

Top five prospects by position

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Posted April 25, 2012 @ 11:59 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

This is the eighth of a 12-part series that offers up scouting reports on PFW’s top five-ranked players at their respective positions in the 2012 NFL draft. Full scouting reports and the latest buzz on nearly 500 draft prospects, including results from roughly 200 pro days, can be found in PFW’s Draft Database.

With the addition of a quartet of talented underclassmen, this year’s DT crop could break the record for defensive tackles selected in the first round. Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox is the biggest prize of the lot, featuring an unusual blend of quickness, strength and power. Memphis’ Dontari Poe is the rarest physical talent in the enitre draft, though his on-field performance does not yet match. LSU’s Michael Brockers has the stoutness to anchor an odd front but, like Poe, is still very raw. Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Penn State’s Devon Still both must shake the underachiever label, yet could draw interest in multiple fronts and would be best as gap penetrators. Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes could also climb into the first round given his superb measurables, though his play left much to be desired. Clemson’s Brandon Thompson, Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu and Michigan’s Mike Martin can all draw early interest, as well. This year’s class offers great depth and elite talent.


1. Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State (Jr.)
Ht: 6-4, Wt: 298, Sp: 4.81, Arm: 34 1⁄2, Hand: 10 3⁄8

Notes: Saw action in all 12 games as a true freshman in ’09, making three starts at defensive tackle and one at defensive end, while recording 29 tackles, 31⁄2 tackles for loss and one sack and a blocked kick against Houston. In ’10, he started 11 of the 12 games in which he played (all but Auburn) and managed 29-61⁄2-21⁄2 with one forced fumble and two blocked kicks. Led the team in tackles for loss and sacks and produced 56-141⁄2-5 with one forced fumble and two blocked kicks in 12 starts in ’11.

Bottom line: Strong, long, quick, athletic, powerful, disruptive force who really came on late as a junior and possesses the position and scheme versatility to warrant top-10 consideration. Has few discernible flaws and quickly could emerge as a Pro Bowl performer in a “30” or “40” front.

NFL projection: First-round pick.


2. Dontari Poe, Memphis (Jr.)
Ht: 6-3 1⁄2, Wt: 346, Sp: 4.91, Arm: 32, Hand: 9 5⁄8

Notes: First name is pronounced “DON-tar-ee.” The Tennessee prep was a two-time state shot put champion and won the state title in the discus as a senior. Appeared in 11 games, making six starts at nose tackle, as a true freshman in 2009. Recorded 27 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks with three forced fumbles. Did not play against Houston because of a death in the family. Started all 12 games in ’10, registering 41-61⁄2-2 with one pass batted down. Made seven starts at nose tackle — season opener and last six games — and five starts at defensive tackle. Made all 12 starts at nose tackle in ’11 and recorded 33-8-1 with three passes batted down and one forced fumble.

Bottom line: Rare physical specimen capable of playing any type of scheme but would be most ideally suited on the nose in a 3-4 defense. Rare Combine performance showed freakish athletic talent and strength proficiency could transcend scheme and allow him to function anywhere along the line. Still needs to hone his instincts and will require some time to dial in to the speed of the NFL game but easily could draw top-10 consideration because of his rare upside. A much better athlete than football player at this stage of his development.

NFL projection: First-round pick.


3. Michael Brockers, LSU (Soph.-3)
Ht: 6-5, Wt: 322, Sp: 5.34, Arm: 35, Hand: 9 1⁄8

Notes: Redshirted in 2009. Saw action in all 13 games in ’10, making a start at right defensive tackle against Alabama, and recorded 25 tackles, one tackle for loss and zero sacks with one forced fumble. In 14 starts at left end in ’11, registered 54-10-2 with two passes batted down, one interception, one forced fumble and a blocked kick in the BCS championship game. Was medically excluded from bench-pressing at the Combine because of a right shoulder injury.

Bottom line: Could endure an adjustment period, as he worked out like a young player prematurely thrust in the draft ringer, but should benefit from an NFL strength and conditioning program (he’s bigger than he is strong at this stage of his development). Wet-behind-the-ears, extremely long-armed, gigantic plugger capable of stacking the inside or outside in an even or odd front, and his best football is ahead of him once he matures. Has some similarities to San Francisco 49ers 2008 29th overall pick Kentwan Balmer and is most ideally suited for a 3-4 front.

NFL projection: First-round pick.


4. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State (Jr.)
Ht: 6-2 3⁄8, Wt: 308, Sp: 5.03, Arm: 33, Hand: 9 3⁄8

Notes: Redshirted in 2008. Started 11-of-13 games played at defensive tackle in ’09 and posted 37 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 41⁄2 sacks, with two passes batted down. Made all 13 starts in ’10 and led the team in sacks after recording 40-8-4, with three batted passes and a blocked field goal against Michigan. In ’11,  posted 30-101⁄2-31⁄2 with one pass batted down and two blocked kicks in 14 starts. Did not lift at the Combine due to a pectoral strain.

Bottom line: A big, well-built, physical specimen best-suited to play in gaps in the pros, Worthy could garner interest from teams employing either a 3-4 or 4-3 front, given his ability to two-gap. However, he will reap the most return as a three-technique where he could pressure the quarterback.

NFL projection: First-round pick.


5. Kendall Reyes, Connecticut
Ht: 6-4 1⁄8, Wt: 299, Sp: 4.87, Arm: 33 1⁄4, Hand: 9 1⁄2

Notes: Also competed in basketball and track as a New Hampshire prep, in addition to playing linebacker, defensive end and running back. Redshirted in 2007. Played in 11 games in ’08, starting four, and recorded 20 tackles, three for loss and 11⁄2 sacks with one forced fumble. Did not play against Louisville and North Carolina while nursing a high left ankle sprain. Started 12-of-13 games in ’09, notching 37-6-3 with two batted passes and one forced fumble. Did not start against Rhode Island (gave way to an extra defensive end). Played inside and outside in ’10, when he totaled 39-10-21⁄2 with four batted passes, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 13 starts. Made all 13 starts at DT spot in ’11 and logged 46-131⁄2-41⁄2 with four passes batted down. Two-time team captain.

Bottom line: Solid, functional football player with clear first-round athletic traits, but bulked up as a senior, appeared out of shape and did not consistently finish. Prototype build and Combine performance could easily push him into the first round.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

Click here to see scouting reports on intriguing developmental D-linemen.

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