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Combine Watch List: The top seven defensive tackles

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Top 5? Not at this position. In what has been called a historic assemblage of defensive tackle talent, including the guy you'll find at the top of most lists, it seemed only fair to expand the numbers. Leaving any of the bottom three guys off just seemed strange, and this should probably be a Top 8 to include North Carolina's Cam Thomas. That said, here's our Top 7:

Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska): The best player in the 2010 draft class, Suh saved his true dominance for his final regular-season game when he picked up 4 ½ sacks in the Big 12 Championship against Texas. Still, he was no secret before then -- NFLDraftScout.com had him as their best defensive tackle before the 2009 NCAA season started. It's just that the year he put up teleported him to the top, regardless of position. What makes Suh so special? He has amazing quickness off the snap, tremendous upper-body strength (he often turned blockers into padded dummies), agility that has to be seen to be believed, and the kind of intensity and work ethic that could make him a true star in the NFL. Example: He's probably the first overall draft pick no matter what he does, but Suh will go to the Combine, and will participate in every single drill.

"I want to go out and do everything," Suh recently told Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News. "I don't want to leave any questions. I'm the type of person that feels like I don't have anything to hide, so why go up there and start trying to hide things now?" Want to see the pre-Combine prep? Here it is. Note to NFL offensive linemen and quarterbacks: This may leave you feeling a bit queasy.

Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma): Some have McCoy above Suh in their mock drafts and big boards, and while I don't feel that particular love, there's no doubt that McCoy is an impact player. What I don't see with McCoy that I see with Suh is a greater variety of pass rush moves -- McCoy seems to get caught up in blockers more often than Suh does, though that could be a question of scheme. However, McCoy is exceptional in peeling off blockers and pushing through to the ballcarrier -- this may be his greatest asset. While he's relentless to the ball, he might not be quick enough in recovering to take out the quicker-release quarterbacks in the NFL. He'll be a dominant three-tech tackle in the right system; specifically in a front four with a larger nose tackle to soak up blockers.

Dan Williams (Tennessee): With so many teams switching to the 3-4 defense (or hybrids thereof), big, dynamic space-eaters like Williams are the new belles of the ball. Characterized as an "undrafted free agent" by new Vols defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin before the 2009 season, Williams put forth a new level of dedication for his future Hall-of-Fame coach. At an ideal weight of 330 pounds, Williams has great strength to bull through double teams and let other defenders blast through. Under lesser coaches than Kiffin, he tended to bloat up off the field and become invisible on it. Showed great awareness in the passing game at the Senior Bowl, so it's quite possible that the best is yet to come. North Carolina's Cam Thomas, who just missed inclusion on this list, is another possible 3-4 inside guy.

Jared Odrick (Penn State): At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Odrick isn't a basher inside; what makes him go is his great quickness off the line. He analyzes blocking patterns very well, which allows him to shoot through gaps and make plays. Odrick is also good at what the buzzword police call "stacking and shedding", which is a cute way of saying that he's adept at getting under a blocker's pads and moving around him. Where he runs into trouble is when a lineman latches on to him and starts pushing him out of the way; that's when an extra ten pounds of functional strength would do him a world of good. The counter to getting walled off too easily is his ability to push the pocket sideways to stop slide protection -- he's pretty relentless in that regard. Against a power-blocking team like the Carolina Panthers, I could see Odrick getting blown out of the picture -- he's another scheme guy.

Brian Price (UCLA): Price has a quickness off the snap as a one-tech or nose tackle that reminds me of Shaun Rogers(notes) -- he's got a furious straight-ahead pursuit gear. He can be ridden out of the play after that first step, but he has a good supply of moves to counter those blockers who use his strength against him. He struggles in recovering and redirecting to make a play -- it is perhaps this attribute above all that separates the Ndamukong Suhs of the world from everyone else. A good rotational player who could surprise and make a serious dent as a Rocky Bernard(notes)-style disruptor.

Terrence Cody (Alabama): The Ted Washingtons and Gilbert Browns of the world have a very specific skill that teams need in certain situations -- when you want a defensive line that won't move, you get yourself a 370-pound nose tackle and build around him. It's risky business; Cody isn't an every-down player at the 370 pounds he weighed in the Senior Bowl but could be something special at about 350. If he stays bigger, he's a lower-drafted specialty pick with a short shelf life. If he shows the commitment and discipline it takes to come in lighter (no StarCaps, please!) and displays corresponding agility "Mount Cody" could shoot up a round.

Tyson Alualu (Cal): Perhaps the most underrated player on this list, Alualu played end in Cal's 3-4 and some wide 3-technique (outside the guard) in 4-3 hybrid sets. While he'd be a good 3-4 end in the NFL, his ability to rush quickly through the middle from the inside makes him an intriguing tackle prospect. If he could add a few pounds to his 291-pound frame without losing any of his quickness in space, someone's going to get a steal on draft day.

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