|Still raises his stock in Indy, but so do other defensive-tackle prospects. (US Presswire)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Devon Still did nothing to diminish his stock in the eyes of NFL evaluators at the 2012 combine, but the crop of defensive tackles appears to be deeper than expected.
The Penn State senior is ranked as the 10th-best prospect in the 2012 draft by NFLDraftScout.com, which ranks LSU junior Michael Brockers the top defensive tackle in the class.
"I think hands down I'm the best defensive tackle in this draft, just because I feel like I want it more," Still said. "I was able to take over a lot of games this season. Just the production that I had, I was able to disrupt plays even if I wasn't making tackles or sacks."
Still wrapped up his four-day NFL job interview in Indianapolis with athletic testing Monday. He posted a 40-yard dash time of 5.08 seconds with 26 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press with hundreds of scouts in attendance.
Measured at 6-5 and 303 pounds with 33¼-inch arms and 10-inch hands, Still backed up his belief that he belongs with the big boys. There was never a doubt in Still's mind. Since a dominant Outback Bowl performance to end the 2010 season -- 3.5 tackles for loss against Florida center and Dolphins first-round pick Mike Pouncey -- Still was convinced he would make a living on Sundays.
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Competition for the distinction of the top defensive tackle in the draft sharpened Monday. Two months before the draft, Still knows a lot can change.
Memphis junior defensive tackle Dontari Poe grabbed the spotlight from Still and Brockers in workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, posting a 40 time of 4.98 seconds at 346 pounds only about an hour after throwing up 44 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
"I think I'm explosive -- very explosive," Poe said. "That's probably my biggest strength. Most people think just because I'm big, I do nothing but power. I try to use my quickness to my advantage."
But there are doubts Poe can transfer that athleticism to the field. His potential is undeniable, and the rare agility he exhibits brings a boost on draft day, but his college production was another story. The 21-year-old Memphis native had only five sacks and 101 tackles in three seasons with the Tigers.
Brockers' value has also been boosted by the "p" word -- potential. He measured 6-5 and 322 pounds, and his 83 7/8-inch wingspan has defensive line coaches imagining the possibilities. He had 10 tackles for loss as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, his only season as a starter for LSU. There's reason to believe he's not a finished product. Brockers weighed 280 pounds as a freshman, when he ran the 40 in 4.8 seconds -- roughly a half-second better than the 5.36-second 40 he posted Monday.
To scouts, the sky is the limit for Brockers. Does that mean he's better than Still?
"I haven't really watched his film, so I can't sit up here and say I'm better than him," Brockers said. "I do know what I do good. I play the run. I'm a force in the middle. And I feel like I do a very good job with that."
Still has to shake similar questions as a late bloomer.
After tearing two left knee ligaments as a freshman and a broken ankle in fall camp the following season, Still said he fully dedicated himself to being a football player before the 2011 season. He credits defensive line coach Larry Johnson for keeping him motivated and schooling him on the finer points of on-field technique and how to watch film.
"I think I had a very average year my junior year and I never strive for being mediocre. I try to be the best that I can be," Still said. "I put in a lot of overtime during the offseason just to prepare myself to be one of the best in the country for my senior year and make my mark at Penn State."
Still said Penn State left guard Johnnie Troutman, who was also at the scouting combine, deserves credit in his emergence from reserve to Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. They became so familiar with each other squaring off in practice four or five days a week that by last season, one-on-one matchups became a test of fortitude. Troutman said the game slowed down for Still, who stopped overthinking about his responsibility within the scheme and let his ability take over.
"It definitely helped me over the past three years playing against a guy like him," Troutman said. "For his size, he's a real quick guy, so you've got to move your feet and don't blink, because if you blink and punch and miss, he's going to be by you."
Penn State might be Linebacker U, but the Nittany Lions are accustomed to sending defensive linemen to the NFL. From Courtney Brown to Michael Haynes to Aaron Maybin, Jared Odrick to Tamba Hali to Cameron (Derek) Wake, the tradition is tangible.
Still, who could not return for Joe Paterno's funeral but did attend the campus memorial service, hasn't met new coach Bill O'Brien. Still said the vibe he gets from teammates is that O'Brien is a "very enthusiastic coach and he pushes them to the limit." While Penn State transitions to a new era, Still remains cognizant of repaying the program that helped him reach the doorstep of a lifelong dream.
"What drives me is that when I first started playing football, whenever I do something, I'm very competitive," he said. "I want to be the best at it. When I got injured my first two years at Penn State, a lot of people said I wouldn't be the same player as I was when I showed up on campus. I think that drove me just to prove everybody wrong. To this day, I don't think I'm where I need to be right now. I want to make my mark in the NFL, just as I did at Penn State, and become one of the best."
Jeff Reynolds is the Senior Editor for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.