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With Poe falling, McClellin rising, who'll be picked first on draft day?

by | Senior NFL Columnist

NEW YORK -- Quick question: Who gets drafted first -- Dontari Poe or Shea McClellin?

It's not exactly the Andrew Luck-RG3 debate that was under way a couple of months ago, but it's a question worth asking on the eve of the NFL Draft. Both were virtual unknowns in February, yet both are valued so highly now that they're among 26 draft-eligible players invited to this weekend's event -- which means somebody at the NFL thinks they'll be first-round draft picks.

And they should. The only question is: Who goes first?

Three weeks ago, you would have said it was Poe, the guy who gained immediate fame at the NFL scouting combine when he blew up the workout, running a 4.98 40 and benching 225 pounds an astonishing 44 times. That vaulted him into the first rounds of most mock drafts, with the University of Memphis defensive tackle climbing into some top 10s.

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But that was then, and this is now, and now Poe's stock has flattened so much that the NFL Network's Mike Mayock admitted he didn't know where he would be drafted -- with the mid-20s the most likely destination. The reason: What you see is not what you get, and what you get in Dontari Poe is a marvelous athlete who didn't make a lot of plays.

"I'm struggling with him," said Mayock. "He has so much upside, but he has significant downside, too. He's a boom-or-bust guy. His tape is really average. His ability is extraordinary. I happen to think he's got a motor and will become a really good player, but he has significant downsides."

McClellin does not. He's much closer to a sure thing than Poe. Of course, he doesn't have Poe's talent, though as a high-school senior he was -- and this is no misprint -- the Western Idaho Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. Still, he didn't wow scouts at the combine as Poe did. But the draft is not only about combine workouts; it's about performances in games, and that's where the pendulum swings toward McClellin.

He seldom misses a tackle, is always around the pile and is extremely productive, with 33 tackles for losses and 20.5 sacks in his last 37 games for Boise State. Don't ask me why it took the rest of the country so long to wake up to him, but now that it has he's moving up so quickly in most mock drafts that he's approaching Dontari Poe territory.

"This guy is Mike Vrabel," said former Dallas player personnel director Gil Brandt. "You look at guys on tape, and Shea McClellin plays 100 percent every play. [Now, you take someone like] Whitney Mercilus, and look at him vs. UCLA, and you say, 'This is the greatest pass rusher I've seen in my life.' But if you look at him against Ohio State and Wisconsin, he's terrible. This guy [McClellin] doesn't have bad games."

Poe does. Or can. And that's an issue.

"You turn on the tape, and he never produces," said one GM. "The equipment guy at Memphis must love him because at the end of the game he takes his uniform off, and the equipment guy just hangs it up. The guy hasn't broken a sweat."

It's a good quote, while not exactly true. Nevertheless, Poe was remarkably inconsistent throughout his college career -- producing few sacks and not all that many tackles. I've spoken to coaches and scouts over the past couple of months who worry about what player they'd be getting, which is one reason his stock tailed off. But Poe would like to set the record straight, and that's why we're here.

"I don't think that's fair," he said of criticism at a pre-draft event in New York on Wednesday. "I think I'm going to be a great player. If you knew the defense that we ran, I did everything I was supposed to do.

"What the coaches told me to do I did, whether it's making certain plays or keeping offensive linemen off linebackers or whatever it may be. I did my job, I did what I had to do, and I did it all the time. I'm a hard-working guy -- a guy who is not lazy -- and, contrary to popular belief, I made plays. Whatever job was there to be done I got it done."

If Poe is a mystery, McClellin is not. At 6-3, 260, he's nearly 100 pounds lighter than Poe (346), and while he ran the second-fastest 40 among defensive linemen at the combine (4.66) he didn't gain national attention until earlier this month. That was around the time clubs started running videotape of the guy and found someone who is quick, physical and relentless -- a pass-rusher who, unlike Poe, looks like a can't-miss prospect.

"Why did it take everyone so long to find you?" I asked him Wednesday.

"I don't know," he said, "maybe it's that Boise State thing we have going on. Not a lot of attention is paid to Boise State and the players who go there, and that's the way we like it. We were taught to handle things differently -- to lie in the weeds; then, when it's time to come out and strike, we strike."

McClellin is versatile. He can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense or defensive end in a 4-3. Like Poe, he is smart, able to pick up coaches' instructions quickly and apply them to the field. Unlike Poe, he's not much of a risk. Granted, he doesn't project the ability Poe does, but he might be a more reliable pick.

And there's the problem. With Poe, you might be gaining someone ordinary, or you might be getting a future All-Pro. A scout I trust described him as "one of the rarest of the rare, a guy who is talented but not productive," and that will scare off some suitors. But it won't scare off most.

McClellin is the safer choice. Poe has more upside. You make the call.


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