Tapping The NFL Draft: Defensive Tackles

CraveOnline's draft coverage takes an in-depth look at the men who anchor the defensive line.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Defensive tackle is one of the most underrated positions on a football team.  It's a position that is not centered on personal statistics, but rather what they allow their teammates to achieve. 

This year is one of the deepest DT classes in recent memory, and though there is no sure-fire superstar like Ndamukong Suh in 2010, this class should have as many as 10 first and second rounders selected.

3-4 NOSE TACKLES (3NT): 3NT's have one job: plow the road.  3NT's usually line up over opposing centers forcing offensive lines to double or even triple-team them, allowing DE's and linebackers to make plays.  Stats are not usually an accurate representation of these players as sacks are not expected.  Prototype players: Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata

Dontari Poe, Memphis, 6'3", 346 lbs
Poe was thought of as a good project type player until he put on a great show at the combine and turned himself from a borderline first rounder into a top 10 pick.  Poe's size and skill-set are made for the 3NT, but he is quick enough to play in the 4-3 much like Vince Wilfork in New England.  Poe's lack of statistical production in a 4-3 at Memphis brings some concern about his boom/bust potential.
Draft Projection: #8 overall to the Carolina Panthers

Alameda Ta'Amu, Washington, 6'2", 348 lbs
Ta'Amu has the size a 3-4 team craves.  He can occupy blockers, gobble up running backs, and is smart and willing to play his role on a team.  There have been concerns brought up about his pass rushing skills, but in a 3-4 that's not a detriment except occasionally in nickel and dime formations.  A team like the Pittsburgh Steelers should jump at the chance to take him 2nd round.
Draft projection: Late 2nd – early 3rd round

Josh Chapman, Alabama, 6', 316 lbs
A solid plugger of rushing lanes, Chapman was the cornerstone for the Alabama d-line.  Chapman is tough, plays through pain (played most of 2011 with torn ACL and meniscus in his knee), and teams think he's a safe pick.  Chapman's biggest problem is his height and short arms, which can be a problem if you can't knock down passes while being blocked.
Draft projection: 3rd-4th round

4-3 NOSE TACKLES (4NT): 4-3 NT's job is to eat up blocks allowing defensive ends and 3T's to get upfield.  4NT's are usually smaller and quicker than their 3-4 counterparts.  Prototype players: Ndamukong Suh, Vince Wilfork

Michael Brockers, LSU, 6'5", 322 lbs
Brockers was dominant for a stout LSU run defense and is considered one of the safest prospects in this year's draft.  Brockers is raw and if he gets his hands on you, you're going to go down.  With his size, Brockers could be considered for almost any of the DT positions, but there are some concerns about his quickness and ability to get after the quarterback.
Draft projection: #15 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles

Brandon Thompson, Clemson, 6'2", 311 lbs
Thompson's skill set is best suited for a 3-4, unfortunately his size is not.  Thompson can make all the tackles and has the strength necessary for a DT.  Some scouts think he can only be effective as a two down player, essentially becoming just a body on third down.
Draft projection: 2nd round

PASS RUSHING TACKLES (3 technique or 3T): These players can be classified as hybrid players, capable of moving to the defensive end position in a 3-4 scheme or putting pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.  Prototype players: Justin Smith, Richard Seymour

Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 6'4, 298 lbs
Cox is considered to have the most diverse skillset in this DT class.  He has the strength, size, speed and quickness to play as a 3T or as a 3-4 DE, like the 49ers' Justin Smith.  The only caution teams are showing with him have to do with the fact that he is still very raw and is learning the position.  If he were more polished he'd be going higher.
Draft projection: #25 overall to the Denver Broncos

Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, 6'2", 309 lbs
Worthy has exceptional initial quickness and burst to get between tacklers, and the sheer strength to blast through gaps in the offensive line.  Worthy needs more time to develop and has a tendency to take plays off.  He'll do best on a team that does not require stardom from him immediately.
Draft Projection: #31 overall to the New England Patriots

Kendall Reyes, Connecticut, 6'4, 299 lbs
Reyes looks like he belongs at this position.  He's a natural leader and is open to coaching and has the intangibles to be a team captain.  Reyes still needs some development and can sometimes be a non-factor against elite blockers.
Draft projection: 2nd round

FALLING FAST:
Devon Still, Penn State, 6'5", 303 lbs
Coming out of the 2011 season, Still was considered the top DT(3T/4NT) prospect and possible top 15 pick.  Still does look the part, and can look dominant, but only when he wants to as he does take plays off.  His mental make-up has scared off many teams and it is not unthinkable to see him slip to the 3rd round despite his first round talent.
Draft projection: Late 2nd – early 3rd round

DARKHORSE:
Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati, 6'5", 295 lbs
Wolfe is not on the level of his peers in terms of speed or quickness, but is moving up draft boards, because despite those deficiencies, he was able to produce with 9.5 sacks and 70 tackles his senior year.  There is a chance someone takes him 2nd round and moves him to 3-4 DE, though his true value comes later.
Draft projection: 3rd round 

SMALL SCHOOL  PROSPECT:
Akiem Hicks, Salve Regina (Canada), 6'4", 318 lbs
Hicks plays faster than you would expect just from looking at him.  He was enrolled at LSU before being ruled academically ineligible and transferring to Salve Regina.  Hicks will need time to develop.
Draft projection: 4th – 5th round

Photo Credit: Shelby Daniel/Icon SMI

Keep logging on to CraveOnline.com for pick by pick projections and analysis leading up to the NFL draft on April 26th-28th.

J. Lance Moose is a contributor and lead football writer for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JLanceMoose, and subscribe on Facebook facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.