This is the third in a seven-part series previewing the NFL draft. Today's installment: defensive line.
Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is an athletic marvel at 346 pounds who represents the age-old NFL draft debate of production vs. potential.
Poe showed the greatest strength of any player in the 2012 draft by lifting 225 pounds 44 times at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds. How good is that? Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, is 50 pounds lighter than Poe and ran a 5.04.
Poe is likely to be a top 20 pick and might be a top 10 pick when the first round of the draft is held April 26. But the team that picks him will have to overlook one important fact: He did not dominate on the field in 2011.
The 6-foot-4 Poe had one sack and 22 tackles in 12 games.
Poe is one of the interesting stories in a deep class of defensive tackles in the draft. The defensive-end class isn't great at the top, but it has some good prospects in the second to fourth rounds. That could work out well for the Buffalo Bills, who addressed their pass-rushing need in free agency but still could take a defensive end in that range if the right one is available.
Poe is entering the NFL a year early. He did better in college using quickness and explosiveness, rather than pure bull-rushing or eating up space in the middle. He could play nose tackle for a 3-4 team or defensive tackle for a 4-3 team.
"He's a freak," said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. "He's a little bit like [Baltimore Pro Bowler] Haloti Ngata, movement skills-wise. I'm excited about this defensive tackle class. And it doesn't matter if you're a 3-4 team or a 4-3 team, there's a bunch of kids available."
"I think I'm explosive, very explosive," Poe said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's probably my biggest strength. Most people think just because I'm big I do nothing but power you, things like that. I try to use my quickness to my advantage."
Poe was a state high school champion in both shot put and discus. He opted to stay home in Memphis rather than go to the bigger, Southeastern Conference schools that were recruiting him.
Poe, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox and Louisiana State's Michael Brockers are in a closely rated group at the top of the DT list. Twelve or 13 defensive tackles should be taken in the first three rounds.
Said ESPN's Todd McShay of Brockers: "He looks like a young Richard Seymour. He's just so well-proportioned. He's tall, he's strong in terms of his lower body. I think he can continue to get stronger and really needs to improve that weight-room strength."
A couple of the top edge rushers, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, seem a tad short to be considered by Buffalo at 10th overall. North Carolina's Quinton Coples may fall to the 20 range due to inconsistency.
Players who could prompt the Bills to add to their pass rush at No. 41, if they're available, include Syracuse's Chandler Jones, Marshall's Vinny Curry and Clemson's Andre Branch. All should be taken somewhere between 25th and 50th.
Jones (6-5, 266) has ideal size but didn't put up big numbers. He had four sacks as a sophomore in 2010 and 4 1/2 as a junior in 2011, but he missed five games last fall with a knee injury. Some question the athleticism of Curry (6-3, 265), but he's a hustler who had 27 1/2 career sacks and 48 tackles for loss, best among active NCAA players. Branch has ideal size and had 10 1/2 sacks for the Tigers last season.
Edge rushers Whitney Mercilus of Illinois and Nick Perry of Southern Cal are expected to go in the second half of the first round.
ESPN's Mel Kiper on Mercilus: "Super explosive? Maybe not. But he can get around that corner, and he forced a lot of fumbles and got a lot of sacks. Granted, he's a one-year guy. I think he goes somewhere between 18 and 22."
Virginia's Cam Johnson and Boise State's Tyrone Crawford loom as third-round edge-rush candidates.