|At 346 pounds, Dontari Poe runs the 40 in 4.98 seconds at the combine. (US Presswire)|
Considering the brilliance of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, quarterbacks were the media's focus throughout the 2012 scouting combine.
The brilliance of the top two players in the draft was acknowledged by scouts in the days afterward, but it was another position -- defensive tackle -- that has talent evaluators buzzing.
Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe's startling combination of size (6-4, 346 pounds), power (combine-high 44 repetitions of 225 pounds) and speed (4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash) makes him unquestionably one of the combine's biggest winners.
Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox (6-4, 298) enjoyed a very impressive workout (30 reps, 4.79 seconds), of his own. Both join LSU's Michael Brockers and Penn State's Devon Still as defensive tackles ranked among the top 20 prospects in the post-combine Big Board.
The perception will be that the combine boosted these players' grades. In reality, the measuring tape, interviews and workouts only confirmed the unique physical traits and effort these prospects had shown on film.
What makes the 2012 defensive tackle class unique is the depth at the position. Four others fall among my final 12 first-round candidates, making it a full quarter of the 32 prospects listed on my updated Big Board playing defensive tackle.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Luck's intelligence and poise are extraordinary, but lost in the shuffle of his intangibles is the fact that he's also a terrific athlete. Folks keep looking for reasons to call Luck overrated and he keeps proving them wrong. He'll do the same when he throws for scouts at his March 22 pro day.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: By proving his size, speed and magnetic personality are every bit as unique as we had all seen on his run to the Heisman Trophy, RG3 leapt into the top two on virtually every draft board in the league. And why not? Griffin's combination of straight-line speed and touch on the deep ball might make him the prototypical quarterback for today's NFL.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Any doubts as to which of the top three junior offensive tackles would rise above the rest ended with Kalil's impressive all-around combine effort. He isn't an elite left tackle prospect in the mold of Joe Thomas or Jake Long, but isn't far off.
4. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: The 2011 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback, Claiborne was more impressive in position drills than he was running the 40-yard dash (4.50), but don't think scouts are worried about his athleticism or speed. A silky-smooth cover corner with extraordinary ball skills, Claiborne is more technically refined than former teammate Patrick Peterson, who was selected fifth overall last year by the Cardinals and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner.
5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Considering how the running back position has been de-valued in today's NFL, it would be easy to rank Richardson lower. The reality is, however, Richardson's elite talent transcends trends. He is an elite talent blessed with size, burst and incredible power who will make an immediate impact.
6. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford*: In terms of consistent dominance, there hasn't been an offensive or defensive lineman I've graded higher thus far this season than DeCastro. Only the fact that he plays guard might keep him out of the top half of the first round.
7. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Like Luck, it is easy to get caught up in the intangibles Kuechly brings to the position, but at the combine, he proved much faster and more explosive than most scouts had given him credit for. He might have locked up a spot in the top 20 in doing so.
8. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: After creating a buzz with his size (6-5, 322) and imposing wingspan (83 inches), Brockers actually turned in a less than impressive combine workout, and as such, slipped out of the top spot on some teams' defensive tackle rankings. The redshirt sophomore's upside is undeniable, but to keep his spot inside the top 10, Brockers might need a better effort at LSU's pro day (March 19).
9. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Let's be clear. Coples is not only the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the 2012 draft, he's also the most talented senior prospect, regardless of position. At a shade under 6-6 and 281 pounds, physically speaking, he'll earn first-round grades from scouts working for 3-4 and 4-3 clubs. Coples has developed a me-first reputation, however, and doesn't play with enough snap-to-snap consistency to earn the top-five grade from me that his talent obviously warrants, even though he enjoyed a dominating week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl.
10. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: Producing a workout that has earned comparisons to that of Baltimore Ravens star Haloti Ngata's when he left the University of Oregon, Poe's scheme versatility and unbelievable upside could result in a top-five selection.
11. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Measuring in shorter (6-1) and lighter (207) than expected and unable to answer questions about his straight-line speed at the combine due to a lingering hamstring injury, Blackmon's perch at the top of the receiver rankings is in peril.
12. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State*: Cox didn't earn nearly as much media attention for his spectacular combine workout as Poe, but some scouts believe his tape and efforts in Indianapolis prove he's the most versatile defensive lineman in this draft and a legitimate top-10 candidate.
13. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: In registering a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at 6-3, 220 pounds, Floyd provided an emphatic answer to concerns about his size/speed combination. Floyd wasn't the consistent big-play threat that Blackmon or Baylor's Kendall Wright were in college but his game might project best to the NFL.
14. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina: Blessed with extraordinarily light feet for a 6-2, 276-pound man, Ingram's impressive agility made him a star at defensive tackle for the Gamecocks in 2011. His athleticism is good enough, in fact, to make the transition to defensive end or even outside linebacker in the 3-4 in the NFL. Ingram's stock is limited by the fact that he has very short arms (30½ inches), which could limit his ability to break free of blocks at the next level.
15. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Still's talent has been obvious throughout his career, but until a breakout senior season in which he earned recognition as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year it simmered below the surface. Still's inability to play in the Senior Bowl (due to a sprained toe) was disappointing and for some will re-energize concerns about his consistency and motivation.
16. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Reiff was a standout left tackle for Iowa, but after appearing at the combine to be a bit less athletic (5.23 seconds in the 40) and weaker (22 reps at 225 pounds) with relatively short arms (33 1/4"), some believe his NFL future lies inside at guard.
17. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick answered concerns about his speed at the combine (4.51), but the greater test came with private team interviews in Indy. If teams felt comfortable with Kirkpatrick's answers about a recent run-in with police and the lanky press-corner's fit in their system, a top 20 pick is likely.
18. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: Martin's size (6-6, 305) and athleticism is very intriguing -- especially in a zone-blocking offense. Scouts wonder, however, if he has the physicality to be successful in every scheme. What they don't have to wonder about is Martin's light feet and balance in pass protection. Some scouts grade Martin higher than either Kalil or Reiff as a pass blocker.
19. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Instinctive, physical and a significantly more reliable open-field tackler than he was earlier in his career, Barron has established himself as the unquestioned top safety of the 2012 draft.
20. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Measuring in at 6-5 and 346 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Glenn nonetheless demonstrated surprising agility in Mobile and enjoyed an excellent week at the combine, boosting his chances at remaining at left tackle. While good outside, he was even better at left guard as a junior and might be best served moving back inside in the NFL. If he played with greater intensity, Glenn could rank among the elite offensive line prospects in the 2012 draft.
21. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: Other than linebacker drills, Upshaw only participated in one athletic event at the combine and posted a solid 22 reps on the bench press. He looked stiff and slow during his positional drills, however, drawing the concern of some scouts who question if he'll now have to be an undersized defensive end in the 4-3.
22. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Scouts had compared Wright to Pro Bowl honorees DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith, but the Baylor playmaker's stock is slipping after he looked sluggish in drills and was clocked at a pedestrian 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
23. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: The headliner in a dominant Michigan State unit that led the Big 10 in run defense and total defense, Worthy has the build of a run stuffer (estimated at 6-3, 320) but has remarkable burst off the snap, making him an intriguing pass rusher, as well. Only bouts with inconsistency push him outside of the top 20.
24. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: As had been anticipated, Perry enjoyed one of the combine's most impressive all-around performances showing speed (4.64), strength (35 reps) and explosiveness (38.5" vertical). He led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and might just be scratching the surface of his potential.
25. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: In terms of physical talent, there is no denying that Tannehill (6-4, 225) has the tools to warrant a first-round pick. He has a strong arm, good touch and obviously rare athleticism for the position considering that he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a receiver in 2009. With only 19 career starts at quarterback, however, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and, as such, might struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
26. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: I thought Reyes was the most impressive defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl, and after going back and reviewing his tape since returning from Mobile, I believe Reyes is arguably the draft's most underrated defensive lineman. His power, burst and size (6-4, 300) makes him a candidate for 4-3 and 3-4 teams and, as such, a legitimate first-round candidate.
27. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Possessing a combination of size (6-4, 265) and athleticism to intrigue scouts for 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike, Branch is likely to earn a selection in the first round; the only position more valuable in today's NFL than pass rushers are quarterbacks. Branch's inconsistency troubles me, however, as did his last-minute decision to opt out of the Senior Bowl.
28. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Scouts will have to determine whether they can trust Jenkins to stay out of trouble once he has been given an NFL contract, but the former Florida Gator ended any debate about his ranking as the elite senior cover corner in the 2012 draft with a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine workout.
29. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: At 6-2, 314 pounds, Thompson lacks the length and versatility of some of the other top-rated defensive linemen, but his squatty build and excellent power (35 reps) make him a quality run defender.
30. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the Huskers' season -- including the Capitol One Bowl -- and the Senior Bowl with a torn pectoral, but that won't keep scouts from grading the 2010 All-American as a first-round talent based on his potential to line up inside or out depending on the defensive scheme of the team that drafts him come April.
31. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: At 6-7, 323 pounds, Adams is a virtual mountain of a man and is best suited playing right tackle in the NFL. At the Senior Bowl, he stayed at the left tackle spot -- as he did at Ohio State -- and there will be an adjustment period for him as a rookie. However, in a weak senior class of tackles, he has the best combination of size, strength, mobility and experience against top competition.
32. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Due to their greater straight-line speed, some will point to Miami's Lamar Miller or Virginia Tech's David Wilson as the back likely to follow Richardson. Martin, however, is a more natural runner, demonstrating the vision, lateral agility, balance and burst to be a feature back in the NFL.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.