INDIANAPOLIS – While the defensive ends are garnering the bulk of the attention from scouts, draft analysts and pundits, the 2011 draft class of tackles might be almost as talented.
In fact, there’s a realistic chance that two of the top three picks could be defensive tackles for the second year in a row.
Following the success of Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh in his rookie season and the potential flashed by Gerald McCoy, the player picked after Suh last April, teams might not be as hesitant to spend a high pick on a position that previously was associated with bust potential.
At the top is a battle between a pair of rivals to potentially go as high as No. 1 in the draft. Auburn’s Nick Fairley has regularly been projected to go with the top pick while Alabama’s Marcel Dareus is actually the preferred player in some circles.
While both Fairley and Dareus prefer not to knock the other to build himself up, they do agree that Suh’s instant impact has made a huge impact on their own draft stock.
“I look at it like, if you go back watch in the history of watching football, before the game was started, it started up front,” Dareus said. “Some people were scared and backed up off the ball, but the real bulls stayed up front and played the game.”
Dareus is the player who dominated the 2009 NCAA title game and knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game on the way to a championship with the Crimson Tide.
Fairley played a similar role for the Tigers in helping them win a championship this season. He dominated inside against Oregon in the BCS Championship game.
While Fairley and Dareus are used to competing on the field, Fairley refuses to compare himself to Dareus.
“Compare me to him,” Fairley said. “He’s a great player, I’m a great player. So there’s no comparison.”
Still, Fairley isn’t afraid to point out the things he does well.
“Well, as far as what I bring to the field, I’m a great pass rusher and a great run stopper,” Fairley said. “I try to dominate inside in the middle and I think that’s what teams are looking for and I hope I’m the can be the guy they look for to.”
While both Fairley and Dareus are certain to be gone when the Rams come on the clock at No. 14, there are plenty of other tackles that the Rams can consider later in the draft.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock does believe there’s one tackle in the draft who could be available for the Rams who is from just up the road.
“A guy that I think is going to rise up through this draft as we get closer is a guy from Illinois named Corey Liuget,” Mayock said. “I think he’s a top 20 pick. I think he’s the ideal three technique defensive tackle. Quick, up the field penetrating guy. I really like him a lot.”
Beyond that trio of nearly guaranteed first round picks sits a plethora of defensive tackles expected to go in the second round.
That group includes Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson, Clemson’s Jarvis Jenkins, North Carolina’s Marvin Austin and Oregon State’s Stephen Paea.
On Sunday afternoon, Paea shattered the combine’s bench press record, throwing the 225 pounds up 49 times to break the previous record of 45.
Some pundits believe Wilkerson could also sneak his way into the first round. And Austin might be the most intriguing of the bunch.
As a former top ranked high school recruit, Austin comes with a load of talent but no game film from last season as he was removed from the team for taking benefits from an agent.
Austin doesn’t know whether missing that time will hurt him but he maintains that he’ll do whatever’s necessary to become a productive tackle at the NFL level once given a chance.
“I can’t really answer that, because I don’t know where the teams had me rated before the season and I don’t know now,” Austin said. “All I can do is go and work hard and perform and show them what I can do as a player and who I am as a person. I don’t’ really know. I try to stay away from all the blogs and stuff like that, because the draft is not an exact science. All you have to do is be impressive to one team.”
JONES IMPRESSES: While Paea’s strength might have stole some of the show, there was one player who rose above athletically in his workouts here Sunday.
There are plenty of people in the mock draft community that have pegged Alabama WR Julio Jones for the Rams with the 14th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. But after his performance in front of the NFL world on Sunday morning, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t even make it into the double digits of the draft.
Already an impressive physical specimen who measured in at a shade less than 6’3, 220 pounds, some questioned just how athletic Jones is. But those questions were put to rest Sunday morning.
In unofficial times from the NFL Network, Jones ran times of 4.39 and 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. As if that wasn’t enough, Jones proved even more of an athletic freak when he jumped 42 inches in the vertical and then a ridiculous 11 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump.
Some believe Jones’ performance was enough to bolster him into the top 10 of the draft.
THE CASE FOR NO. 1: Earlier this week, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers are focusing on about seven players for the top spot in the draft.
But most people believe it’s more of a four-horse race at this point with Fairley and Dareus making up half of that group. Clemson defensive end Da’ Quan Bowers and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton are also in the mix with Missouri signal caller Blaine Gabbert on the periphery.
Still, none of that quartet would openly make a case for himself to be the top selection.
“Either pick you couldn’t go wrong with Cam Newton or Nick Fairley, both of those guys are tremendous players, great guys,” Bowers said. “I think I can bring a lot of good things to the team. You can get a pass rushing defensive end, a humble guy, a guy with great character, a guy who is going to work hard, a guy that is going to go about things the right way and a guy who is willing to compete with anyone anywhere.”
Fairley said something similar.
“I’m ready to be any pick,” Fairley said. “Any team that picks me I’ll be happy with and I can’t wait to get there, hopefully bring success to the team right away.”
Dareus did make a little bit of a case for himself but also elected not to push himself too far.
“Kinda, sorta,” Dareus said. “Nick Fairley had a great year this year. Everybody did pretty good. I go out there and do the best one I can. I can say I think I’m the most versatile d-lineman here.”