NFL Draft: DT position loaded with talent

This year's crop of defensive ends have garnered most of the attention but the defensive tackles shouldn't be overlooked.

The only position that can rival the strength of the defensive ends group just so happens to be the guys lining up right next to them. Never has there been more than five defensive tackles selected in the first round of the draft, but this year's class is so talented it could set the standard. The league is nearly divided down the middle between teams running the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Different players fit different alignments like pieces to a puzzle, but the 2011 crop has enough depth to fill spots in any scheme.

Two elite players sit head and shoulders above the rest of the class, and they know each other very well from opposite sides of the Iron Bowl. Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Auburn's Nick Fairley ruled the trenches of the SEC and emerged as two of the nation's most dominant defenders. Dareus has all but assured himself a top-three selection and is versatile enough to fit into any scheme. Fairley on the other hand is the prototype three-technique defensive tackle (4-3) – a disruptive interior player that can penetrate and wreak havoc in the backfield. Although he's seen his stock suffer due to questions about his work ethic, he's may be too talented to slip out of the top 10 picks.

Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson and Illinois' Corey Liuget are two fast-rising prospects and may find themselves chosen as high as the middle of the first round. While the two aren't familiar with each other on the battlefield, they offer contrasting styles similar to Dareus and Fairley. Wilkerson likens to Dareus, as he fits into either defense. He's talented enough to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment. In fact, he's played both spots during his college career. Liuget meanwhile is a "shoot the gap" defensive tackle who will excel at getting up field in a four-man front, similar to Fairley.

The class contains two more fringe first-round prospect that could be selected late on day one if the right team values their skill sets. North Carolina's Marvin Austin is another gap-penetrating three-technique with outstanding athleticism for his size. Although he owns first-round talent, he was one of many Tar Heels defenders suspended for the entire 2010 season. Baylor's Phil Taylor is a truly massive prospect that moves quite well for his size. He's the perfect fit at nose tackle and teams running the 3-4 will covet his skill set.

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