Nose for the ball

Road graders is a term that represents the meat in the middle of the pack, eating up linemen, stout against the run and making plays in the backfield. Every NFL team covets these players heading into the NFL Draft.

Combining size and athleticism, defensive tackles that can make plays is an art and many end up going higher than expected because of the constant need.

Missouri defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison isn't known as a pass-rush specialist but is considered a terrific run stuffer. With a 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame, Ellison is a bit raw – considered a player with upside – and a moniker he is glad to have.

"I think it means I'm still kind of raw as a player, because I haven't been playing since I was little," Ellison explained. "I don't know. I think that I can improve on everything, my technique and football knowledge. Once I get those up, that'll be a big plus for me."

Ellison admits he needs some coaching to take his game to the next level. He understands that a defensive tackle isn't solely about stopping the run. Exhibiting some pass-rush capabilities will go a long way towards extending his career.

He posted 6.5 sacks over the last two years, and when he talked to us at the Senior Bowl he explained the need to improve upon his technique.

Since then, he has been hard at work, getting a jump start on training camp.

"When I was out in Arizona, they would fly different coaches out and we'd go through different kinds of things, pass rush, things like that, so I remembered the drills and just worked on those," said Ellison. "Just doing different stuff against bags. I really don't have anybody to go against now that I'm back home. By setting bags up and doing different kinds of drills."

While teams like the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots have talked to Ellison about the 3-4 defense, most of the admiration for his skill set has come from those employing the 4-3.

Ellison played both tackle and end in college and seems to be suited for defensive tackle in the traditional 4-3 or perhaps a hybrid scheme like the Oakland Raiders plan to use, thus their interest in the man they coached during Senior Bowl week.

One preference he does have from the team that takes him is utilizing the tools he has been instilled with.

Some defenses employ a read and react scheme up front, using their linemen to plug the holes. Others, and Ellison's preference, task their linemen with attacking.

"I was always taught that our defensive tackles still have to run to the ball," said Ellison. "I've seen some teams where the defensive tackles are just there to plug up a hole. Their tackles don't really run. I think I'd fit better in one of those defenses where you're expected to go after the ball."

The St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts have shown interest, but what team couldn't use a good defensive lineman with upside that runs to the ball?

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