|Dontari Poe could land with a 4-3 team now instead of a 3-4. (US Presswire)|
Although he was officially designated as a defensive tackle by NFL combine officials, many scouts felt even before the workouts that Dontari Poe of Memphis best projected as a nose tackle at the pro level.
Without question one of the prospects who generated the most buzz at the scouting combine, Poe exhibited such freakish skills that it doesn't seem to matter now what kind of front is utilized as a "base" defense by the team that selects him.
The massive Poe (6-feet-3 1/2, 346 pounds), who registered 44 repetitions in the bench press and clocked a 4.98 time in the 40, demonstrated abilities that translate to the 3-4, for sure, but also displayed that he can clearly play in a 4-3.
While he wasn't one of only four defensive linemen labeled nose tackles who were invited to the Indy workouts, the suspicion was that was his best position. But it's now possible, given Poe's scintillating performance, that he could become the second highest-regarded nose prospect in a row to be chosen by a 4-3 team.
Last year, Phil Taylor of Baylor was viewed by many scouts as the premier nose tackle in the draft pool. Taylor was selected 21st overall by Cleveland, which had begun the transition to a 4-3 under new coordinator Dick Jauron, and was paired with another very good nose tackle, veteran Ahtyba Rubin, inside.
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Some observers questioned the sagacity of the Browns but, a year later, no one can argue with the results.
Despite winning only four games, Cleveland finished 10th in the league in overall defense. Taylor recorded 59 tackles and four sacks, only 1.5 sacks fewer than he had in his college career. Although he struggled at times early in the season, Taylor became a force inside, once he improved using his hands more than just his size.
"(The position) never really mattered as much to me as it did some other people," Taylor said.
Poe might not duplicate the Taylor move, but there is certainly a chance, and coaches and coordinators from 4-3 teams were intrigued by putting him in the inside of their line.
"The guy is pretty rare," said Seattle coordinator Gus Bradley.
For his part, Poe doesn't seem to care where, and in what kind of defense, he plays. He cited Pittsburgh perennial Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton as a player he followed -- and the Steelers have been mentioned as a potential landing spot -- but also pointed out that he played various fronts in college. And that he even lined up at end in some defenses. There are a few scouts who insisted to The Sports Xchange the last few days that Poe might be able to log some snaps at end in a 3-4.
"I've played outside. I could do it," Poe said. "But I think I can cause a lot more problems inside, no matter the (scheme)."
• On the subject of nose tackles, there is a dearth of prospects at the position, and this year's draft doesn't appear to be much different. With the switches anticipated by some teams, there likely will be only 11 franchises using the 3-4 as a "base" front in 2012, but as many as five or six of them need nose tackles. Part of the need will be filled in free agency, with a very good veteran like Sione Pouha of the Jets expected to change teams. But clubs still need to draft young nose tackles, and, if Poe is taken by a 4-3 club, some teams could be scrambling. Of the four players labeled as nose tackles at the combine, two of them, USC Christian Tupou (289 pounds) and Kheeston Randall of Texas (293), might not have the kind of bulk teams are seeking at the position. The other two nose tackle candidates in Indy, Michigan's Mike Martin and Josh Chapman of Alabama, checked in at 306 and 316, respectively.
Martin, who also had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, may have established himself as the best "pure" nose tackle in the pool. Perhaps the surest bet, though, is Alameda Ta'amu of Washington, who like Poe was listed as a defensive tackle, but who has the size (6-3, 348), bulk, and demeanor to project as a nose tackle. There is only one 3-4 team in the top 10 of the first round -- Washington at No. 6, and the Redskins have bigger priorities -- but there are five in the top half of the stanza.
• A few weeks ago in this space, we cited the possibilities that tailback LaMichael James of Oregon might be able to play some in the slot, as a part-time receiver in the NFL. The jury is still out on James' potential as a receiver, as it is on other undersized burner, Florida's Chris Rainey. Both James (5-8, 194) and Rainey (5-8 3/8, 180), ran 4.45, tied for the second quickest time among backs, and both caught the ball well. But scouts want to see them catch the ball even more, and will spend time evaluating their hands at the pro days for the players. For now, they are regarded as complementary or change-of-pace backs and potential return men. But a few scouts noted that James, in particular, could be surprisingly rugged at times.
• One tailback who seemed to grow on scouts was Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati, who followed up a very good Senior Bowl week by performing well in most facets of the combine workouts. Pead was a little stouter than many scouts expected who hadn't seen him up close but felt he would be at 5-10, 197, but still ran under 4.41, and looked pretty smooth and fluid in the drills, including a 6.95-second three-cone drill.
• There are mixed opinions on the fact the St. Louis Rams are advertising so early -- two months before the draft -- that they plan to deal the second overall pick in the draft, but the consensus is that it won't make much of a difference.
"Look, everyone knows they're going to trade it anyway, so what the big deal?" said one general manager with a pick in the top 10, who won't make a move, despite some questions at quarterback. "Everyone has plenty of time to conduct due diligence now, to examine (Robert Griffin III) in every way possible, and for the Rams to gauge the price. In the end, (the early advertising) won't make much difference."
In the unlikely event the Rams get stuck with the choice, St. Louis officials told The Sports Xchange they are still examining the top prospects on the board after Andrew Luck and have a few in mind. It is expected that Southern Cal tackle Matt Kalil and wide receiver Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State are two near the top of the Rams' board.