Steelers Draft 2012: Defensive Line

Even though nose tackles rarely play all three downs, GM Kevin Colbert says it's still a critical element of the Steelers' defense. So that's why he's looking at those at the top of the class.

Casey Hampton missed three games in the first half of last season and then stayed healthy all the way up to the playoff game, when he tore an ACL.

Even with that good run of health, the veteran nose tackle finished 12th on the Steelers' defense in snaps per games played. So at the combine, GM Kevin Colbert was asked – in regard to the soon-to-be 35-year-old Hampton and the fact he's entering the final year of his contract – if two-down nose tackles are still as important in the draft as they were when the Steelers drafted Hampton in the first round in 2001.

"You can't get to third down if you don't stop them on first and second, so that's important," said Colbert. "Traditionally, anybody you take in the first round you like to be three-down players. But, a nose tackle, you know, chances are you're not going to get him if you don't take him high, if they're worth anything."

Is Dontari Poe "worth anything?" The Steelers are trying to find that out. They hosted Poe this week. He's the only nose tackle expected to be taken in the first round.

There was no buzz from sources at the South Side after Poe left, but there are several reasons the Steelers are considering him if he slips to pick 24:

-- He's a fit 6-3½, 346 pounds and ran a 4.91 40 at the combine.

-- He's a tireless workout warrior in the weight room.

-- He won't turn 22 until August.

So, he's young, big, fast and strong. And he's only attended a mid-major school (with mid-major college coaching) for three seasons.

Even though his lack of production (14½ tackles for loss last two years) and problems locating the ball might cause such an athlete to slip to pick 24, his line coach at Memphis, Mike DuBose, told that Poe's worth elite consideration.

"I don't think we used him quite the way we should have," DuBose said. "We didn't put him in the best situations, but he never complained about it. … He's a great young man and potentially the best defensive lineman that I've ever coached. I've never been around anybody as big, strong, explosive and flexible. To me, the flexibility part is the part that's rare."

As for the other highly regarded nose tackles, there are really only two – since Mike Martin is a better fit for 4-3 teams – and those two figure to be drafted in the second round:

* Josh Chapman (6-0.5, 316) was a two-year starter at Alabama and is reminiscent of former Steelers nose tackle Joel Steed (6-2, 310), who was drafted with the 67th pick of the 1992 draft.

Chapman played half the season with a torn ACL that required surgery in January. He'll likely be drafted sooner than Steed's 67th slot because of the growing number of 3-4 defenses.

* Alameda Ta'amu (6-2.4, 348, 5.31) was a three-and-a-half-year starter at Washington and played well late in the season, once he gained control of his weight.

Ta'amu did make Cordy Glenn look bad in the Senior Bowl when Glenn moved to guard, but Ta'amu is more likely to land closer to the Steelers' second-round pick (56th) than their first.

As for defensive ends, the Steelers have three solid players at the two positions, and young NT Steve McLendon can play outside as well.

Looking for a fourth, the Steelers hosted a couple of mid to late-round defensive ends, but since then the stock of Cincinnati's Brett Keisel-like Derek Wolfe has skyrocketed. Perhaps the days of finding a future 5-technique defensive lineman in the seventh round are long gone.

Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers

First Round – Dontari Poe (NT/DT), Memphis.

Second Round – Josh Chapman (NT), Alabama; Devon Still (DE), Penn State; Alameda Ta'amu (NT), Washington; Derek Wolfe (DE), Cincinnati.

Fourth Round – Loni Fangupo (NT/DT), BYU.

Fifth Round – Akiem Hicks (DE), Regina (Saskatchewan).

Sixth Round – Jared Crick (DE), Nebraska.

Seventh Round – John Hughes (NT), Cincinnati.

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