Positional Analysis: Defensive tackles

This might be one of the best drafts for defensive tackles in quite some time, especially at the top, where two of the first three picks could be defensive tackles. From versatile guys at the top to quicker interior linemen to oversized nose tackles, there is a lot of variety and talent. John Holler breaks down his top 10 DT options with statistics, measurables and analysis.

VIKINGS DEFENSIVE TACKLES — Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Tremaine Johnson.

VIKINGS NEEDS — That would be the million-dollar question for the Vikings and their fans – what will their defensive tackle needs be? A lot of that depends on how the StarCaps case comes out for Pat and Kevin Williams. If they are suspended for the first four games of the season, the Vikings will need additional DT help, whether through the draft or signing a veteran free agent still on the open market – much like they did in obtaining Kennedy when the suspensions were initially looming. If they are convinced the Williams Wall will remain intact, there is still the potential that the Vikings will take a long look at the position anyway – Big Pat said immediately after the loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship Game that he was "50/50" about returning in 2010 – claims that were shortly thereafter debunked by his agent, who said he will be back in '10. This is a position that will be on the Vikings' minds throughout draft weekend. Whether they use a high draft pick there is still up to speculation.

THE CLASS OF 2010 — This is perhaps the best defensive tackle class in the draft in a decade or more. If not for the NFL being a QB-centric league, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy would be the first two picks in the draft. Even so, the two shouldn't make it past the top three or four picks and the first round could feature as many as five DTs being taken, and eight or nine in the first two rounds. This is a position that will be subject to a run – once the top two are off the board, don't be surprised to see teams trading into spots to grab someone they like. Aside from quarterback, this may be the position to watch in the first three rounds of the draft.


Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 6-4, 307 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 38 of 39 games in his final three seasons…In his final two seasons, he had 143 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, 13 passes batted down and two forced fumbles…Was a Heisman finalist and won every major defensive award – The Outland, Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards – as well as being the first defensive player ever to win the Associated Press Player of the Year Award…Had surgery on his left meniscus in his true freshman season (for which he was granted a medical redshirt) and another knee surgery in 2008…As a junior, he became the first Nebraska defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles…In 2009, his 85 tackles were the most of any defensive lineman in the country…Has incredible strength at the point of attack…Is impressive in both run stuffing and collapsing the pocket in pass rushing…Can beat double-teams, which he sees all the time…Plays with excellent balance and rarely ends up on the ground…Is almost always the first defender moving off the snap and can split double-teams as a result…Very strong tackler who finishes…Is an every-down tackle…Had an impressive Combine performance and showed why he batted down 10 passes as a senior with his leaping ability…Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 225 pounds with a 35½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: Scouts who have been around a lot longer than any of us have said that Suh is as impressive on tape as any interior defender they have ever seen. That's saying something. If he makes it past the Lions at No. 2, something is wrong.

Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, 6-4¼, 295 — Fourth-year junior…Three-year starter who started all 40 games of his college career…Improved his numbers each year and, as a junior, in 13 games, had 34 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…A two-time captain who was the first sophomore in OU history to be named a team captain – which speaks volumes to his leadership ability…A highly recruited prospect out of high school after being named a Parade All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Oklahoma as a high school senior…Had some injury problems, including a shoulder ailment and a broken finger in 2007, and an ankle injury in 2008…Has all the intangibles – strength, size and power…Has a violent hand punch…Is very solid in run defense, clogging the middle running lanes and handling double-teams…Has good agility to beat single coverage in passing situations…Has versatility, having played both inside and outside on the defensive line…Very coachable, ideal character and a vocal leader…Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength…Is inconsistent in his pass rushing…Doesn't always have good leverage when pass rushing…Had a disappointing physical showing at the Combine (see below)…Ran a 5.05 40 at the Combine with just 23 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: An argument can made that the Lions might prefer McCoy to Suh. If that isn't the case, the consolation prize is that he won't make it past Tampa Bay at No. 3.


Dan Williams, Tennessee, 6-2, 327 — Fifth-year senior…In his final three seasons, he started 32 of 39 games, registering 136 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and six sacks…Had a huge senior season, posting 70 tackles – the first Vols defensive tackle to ever have more than 60 tackles in a season…Has a wide base and is actually smaller than he was when he showed up to the UT campus – he weighed 360 pounds as a redshirt freshman…Has very good balance and rarely ends up on the ground…Has good, quick feet and can consistently beat one-on-one pass blocks…Has excellent push off the snap and can re-establish the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket…Has a striking hand punch…Chases down plays in pursuit to the outside…Occasionally will stop his feet on contact and will allow O-linemen to engage…Doesn't always play with sound technique and will get sloppy at times…Comes out of his stance too high in some run situations and will get knocked to the side…Doesn't always sift through traffic well…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A much improved senior season has elevated his draft stock. Like Pat Williams, he is best suited to be a two-down nose tackle who leaves the field in clear passing situations. Because he is purely a nose tackle, his stock might slip with some teams, but his talent should keep him in the first round, perhaps even the top half of the round.

Jared Odrick, Penn State, 6-5, 304 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter…In his final two seasons, in 26 games (24 starts) he had 84 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks and four passes batted down…A Parade All-American as a high school senior…Missed time in 2007 with two broken bones in his left hand, which was followed by a dislocated ankle…Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a senior…Has faced double teams constantly and has shown he can still make plays…Has good burst off the snap to split double teams…Has good agility and can do spin moves and stunts with ease…Can bull rush up the middle and collapse the pocket on pass plays…Has an excellent swim move to lose blockers and get to the ball…Has good instincts and sniffs out play-fakes consistently…Does not have great lower-body strength and is more of a finesse player…Will lose balance and lunge when caught out of position…Comes out high from his stance at times and can be controlled…Isn't overly quick when chasing a QB or a running back…Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: Odrick is a talented player who was the focus of every offensive coordinator he played against and still had solid production. If the Vikings are looking DT in the first round, he could be the player they have in their sights. Can be a three-technique tackle or an end in a 3-4 scheme, which makes him fair game for just about everybody.

Brian Price, UCLA, 6-1¼, 303 — Third-year junior…Started 30 of 35 career games, finishing his career with 97 tackles, 44.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles…Blew up as a senior, making 48 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks…Also used as a blocking fullback on offense…Grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood and had two brothers die via gunfire in a four-year span…His godfather is former NBA basketball star Brian Shaw…Has a very strong upper body (see below)…A top-notch interior pass rusher who always seems to be in the opposing backfield – almost half of his 48 tackles were for a loss last year…Has extremely good burst off the snap…Has good closing speed to get to the man with the ball…Is a very good tackler and enjoys making the helmet-shaking hit…Has very good hand use and keeps blockers away from his body…Isn't a physical specimen and wears down as the game progresses – pulls himself out at critical times late in games because he's gassed…Not a high-character guy and some fear he will fall prey to the trappings of NFL celebrity…Isn't overly stout as a run defender and doesn't show the same fire as he does rushing the passer or chasing down plays…Given his size, many scouts believe he won't be a solid pass rusher at the next level…Gets sucked in on fakes and misdirection…Ran a 5.16 40 at the Combine with 34 reps, a 28½ inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player with great burst early in games and fading as the game progresses, he may never be a full-time, every-down player in the NFL. He has the ability to be a Pro Bowl-type player, but until he fully commits to the game he will be viewed as a potential bust. A first-round talent, who may not go as high as we have him rated in the mid- to late-second round area.

Tyson Alualu, California, 6-2½, 295 — Fifth-year senior…Started all 39 games in his final three seasons, posting 145 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and four forced fumbles…Came to Cal weighing 315 pounds and got as low as 263 when he played defensive end in 2008…Played defensive tackle, a 4-3 end and a 3-4 end as the Cal coaching philosophy changed personnel and he had to adapt…His 65 tackles in 2009 were the most by a defensive tackle in a decade-and-a-half at Cal…Married with two kids…Had consistent production, which improved in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks in each successive season…Has good burst off the snap and can be disruptive up the middle…Can hold his ground in run defense and can handle a double team without being washed out…Has solid leaping ability (see below) and can disrupt passing lanes…Has good agility and is hard to get off his feet, even in pursuit…Plays to the whistle, has a nasty streak and never gives up on a play…Improved his stock a lot at the Combine…Does not have the kind of natural size most NFL DTs have…Doesn't always play with the same aggression…Doesn't use his hands consistently and blockers can get into his body…Is a one-trick pony as a pass rusher and will need to add complementary moves to his bull rush…Didn't show good upper-body strength at the Combine (see below)…Will get eliminated at the line by double teams too often…Ran an impressive 4.94 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Isn't going to leap off the page at you, but he has the versatility to play everything but a nose tackle in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Few players are such a unanimous fit, so he may go higher than we have him projected as a late second- or early third-round pick.


Lamarr Houston, Texas, 6-2¾, 305 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 33 starts in his final 39 games…Blew up as a senior, registering 68 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and eight sacks – exceeding his production from his previous three seasons combined…In 2007, started at both defensive end positions before moving inside for his final two seasons…Plays with very good awareness and is always one of the first to read and react on plays…Is both productive and a plugger in run defense…Never takes plays off and makes tackles to the sidelines when plays get strung out wide…A hard worker who leads by example…Has good hand punch and upper-body strength to push the line of scrimmage back…Maintains good leverage…Does not have great lower-body strength and will struggle to anchor at the next level…If he doesn't win the battle off the snap, he is often neutralized and can disappear for short stretches…Doesn't have a great burst off the snap to beat double-teams…Is a solid tackler, but isn't a consistent heravy hitter…Ran a 4.88 40 at the Combine with 30 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½ inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Houston is a one-season marvel, but anyone who watched film on him in 2009 had to be impressed. We have projected him as a third-rounder, but seeing as he has accepted an invitation to go to the draft, he will be waiting around a long time for his name to be called. We are amending our decision to the second round for the sake of Houston and his family.

Terrence Cody, Alabama, 6-3¾, 354 — Fourth-year junior…Spent two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College…Started all 26 games he played in two years at Alabama, making 44 tackles and 10.5 tackles for a loss…Had a brutal childhood in which his father died in a car crash when he was 12 and Cody had to work to help support his seven younger sisters and brothers…Weighed as much as 420 pounds…Suffered a sprained MCL in 2008 and didn't lift at the Combine with a sprained left AC joint…Is huge with incredible size, including 34½ inch arms and massive 11-inch hands…Can anchor and handle double-teams like few nose tackles in the college game…Is shockingly light on his feet for a man his size and has very good agility…Reads and reacts in a hurry…Durability is going to be a concern because he has never been a weight-room guy and his weight has fluctuated severely…Not as productive as his hype would have you believe…Some teams won't have him rated anywhere close to this, reducing his options…Isn't a dedicated practice player…Ran a 5.72 40 at the Combine, didn't lift and had a meager 20½-inch vertical jump and a 7-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Cody has the potential to be a great nose tackle in this league, but his downsides are pronounced – not a hard worker, not willing to do the extra work to improve, etc. – that he will likely fall well into the second round. He has the skills to be special, but could just as easily play himself out of the league in two years, making him a big second-round gamble-on-greatness pick.

Linval Joseph, East Carolina, 6-4½, 328 — Third-year junior…Started 27 of 41 career games but didn't become a full-time starter until 2009 – when he recorded 60 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and three sacks (all career highs)…Was a state bench-press champion in high school in Florida, with a winning lift of 415 pounds…Weighed 370 pounds as a freshman, but dropped down to almost 300 following back surgery…Has long 34½-inch arms and incredible upper-body strength…Has good lower-body strength to anchor in the run game…Has surprisingly good feet and has the agility to slide from side to side to make plays…Has decent closing speed when he gets the ball in his sights…A very coachable player who was respected by the staff and his teammates alike…Didn't play against top competition and his learning curve will be higher than most of his fellow draft prospects…Does not have good technique and will need a lot of coaching up…Seems to play up on his tip-toes on too many players and professional offensive linemen will take advantage of that…Doesn't have elite lower-body strength and struggles with double-teams…Doesn't drive players backward on contact…When linemen get their hands on him, he struggles to get away from them…Ran 5.10 40 a the Combine with an impressive 39 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Joseph has a lot of good qualities and most of his bad qualities can be cured with good coaching. Would be a guy the Vikings might consider if he's still on the board at the end of the third round.

Al Woods, LSU, 6-3¾, 309 – Fourth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2009, having played in a big rotation of DTs with the Tigers his first three seasons…As a senior, he had 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and one sack…Has very good size and incredibly long arms (36 inches)…Is well-muscled and physical…Can anchor against double-teams and maintain the line of scrimmage…Is a punishing tackler who drives players into the ground once he gets his hands on them…Has good quickness off the snap…Chases down plays to the outside and can work his way through traffic with surprising ease…Has very limited experience and will need to refine many aspects of his game on the job in the NFL…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves – it's bull rush or nothing…Doesn't play with a mean streak and isn't a vocal leader…Has blinders on and gets washed away with side blocks…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 5.15 40 with an impressive 37-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: A raw talent who didn't become a starter until his senior year, he has a long way to go to be an effective pro. Coming from a pro-ready system, he has a leg up, but his lack of experience and one-dimensional approach to pass rushing will probably keep him on the board until the final day of the draft.

Geno Atkins, Georgia, 6-1½, 293
Arthur Jones, Syracuse, 6-3¼, 301
Earl Mitchell, Arizona, 6-1¾, 296
Mike Neal, Purdue, 6-3, 294
Jeff Owens, Georgia, 6-1, 304
D'Anthony Smith, Louisiana Tech, 6-2¼, 304
Cam Thomas, North Carolina, 6-4, 330

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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