Alabama’s Marcell Dareus with the third pick in the first round in 2011. Ndamukong Suh second overall, followed by Gerald McCoy with the third selection in 2010. Boston College’s B.J. Raji at number nine in 2009, preceded by Glenn Dorsey of LSU at pick five and Sedrick Ellis two players later at number seven (2008). NFL teams are starting to get it. If you want the top Defensive Tackles coming out of college, you better be prepared to take them early in the draft.
From 1993 to 2008 an average of two DT’s were taken in the first round. The initial player on average selected at pick #11, followed by the second DT at pick #19. Most clubs focused on finding offensive talent at the top of the draft; OT #6, QB #7, RB #8, WR #9. Defensive End and Defensive Corner trumped interior defensive linemen at #6 and #10 respectively (on average).
It stands to reason when the highest correlation to winning is Offensive Pass Efficiency, teams zero in on QB, WR and OT. Runs Success Rate, the third most significant factor, pulls in RB’s and stopping the pass with Defensive Pass Efficiency and Defensive Pass Success Rate puts top priority on rush and coverage.
Lost in the translation of the formula are Defensive Tackles and their ripple effect on the entire unit. Sighting two-deep rosters, DT’s are most commonly found in the 1st round (21%), 2nd round (12%) and as undrafted free agents (18%). That last number seems significantly high, but in comparison to other positions is actually on the low end.
The shrewd General Manager or Director of Player Personnel looking to upgrade his defensive front will have the best chance between picks 1-10 (75%) and 11-20 (58.3%) of finding players to start 56 games over their first 5 years. Behind Safety and Tight End, it’s the greatest single percentage drop of any position from picks 21-50 (tied with OT).
It takes strength, quickness, agility and speed to rush the passer and stop the run between the tackles. Finding athletes that possess all these qualities is like finding a penny in a thousand pounds of quarters. Good luck.
NFL Combine studies of DT prospects between 2005-2008 point towards the very best of the best. Of the 155 prospects tested, 5 exceeded peer average in six of seven events. The most statistically significant being the 3-cone drill. Short area, close quartered quickness is a must in today’s NFL. All 5 (100%) were starters at the end of ’08. By comparison 26 prospects exceeded five of seven events, only a 12% starting rate. No other position was even close in that range of disparity.
National Football Scouting (NFS) puts minimum standards on the position; 6’1” to 6’5”, 280+ lbs, 5.10 or better in the 40 yard dash, 12+ Wonderlic Test. NFS prioritizes size, strength and speed for the position. Followed by aggressive play & toughness, quickness of feet-body-COD, instincts, pass rush ability, taking on blocks, effort in pursuit, tackling and any special skill qualities.
The Football Educator finds the NFS performance and capsule summary as one of the best out there;
DT – They are primarily “readers” and must possess sufficient strength in arms and shoulders to control their area. Pass rushing is a must. Must have great physical and mental toughness. Should be a weight-lifting addict. Having players who have played the position before is extremely helpful since he will then understand the adversities of the position. Not a good position to project a conversion. It takes an extremely unselfish player. A real second-effort, never quit type of guy is needed here.
NT – Outstanding agility and ability to change direction is needed. Very quick feet. Explosiveness and quick reactions are vital. This player must be very durable to meet the position demands. He must have middle linebacker mobility and be able to do a lot of close quarter fighting. Agility, balance, explosiveness, great upper body strength, quickness, and a fierce sense of competition.
- Initial Quickness – Move on movement, sudden, gains advantage
- Instincts/Recognition – Feel, read and react. Right place at the right time. Locate, aware, digest?
- Defensive Run – Strength at the point of attack. Open field. Strong or weak? Lateral quickness.
- Neutralize/Dbl Team – Can he disengage? Play with functional strength? Stack and control blocks?
- Defeat Block – Use of hands. Control & separate. Stuff & shed. Recover?
- Lateral Pursuit/Effort – Desire to get to ball. Tough, aggressive with intent to pursue. Quickness, range.
- Tackling – Stop ball carrier at line of scrimmage or dragged back? Open field? Angles, wrap, control, strike.
- Pass Rush – Quickness, speed, athletic ability. Use of hands, adjust on the move, relentless, press, power, burst, acceleration.
- Use of Hands – Strength and or explosive use. Control with authority. Quick. Jolt or soft fend off?
- Close on the Quarterback – Desire? Surge or burst off separation to close.
The best description of a top caliber Defensive Tackle is a Ninja warrior in a Sumo wrestler’s body, or better yet an M1 Abrams at 61.3 tons and 42.0 mph. Neither of which I think you want to get in the way of. So take heed and be ready to expand your defense budget to acquire some more TANKS.