The following is the 9th in a series of draft profiles for potential 1st and 2nd round picks for the Dallas Cowboys. These profiles are put together with the specific needs of the Cowboys in mind, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and game tape to get an idea of who might fit in best with Dallas come draft day.
40 time: 4.91, Bench Press: 44
August 18, 1990 (21)
Before we talk about one of the most highly debated talents in this draft, I think it is worthwhile to revisit a few things that have appeared in this space over the last few months.
First, when Jerry Jones spoke to the media at the Senior Bowl in Mobile in January, he had an interesting quote about his defensive front and which model he is attempting to follow:
We know Baltimore is a team which we can look to and say that is what we would like to be.
Interesting. They want to follow the Baltimore model on the defensive front. That is worth following closely, because as anyone knows, Baltimore has one and sometimes two pieces to their defensive front that we have not seen on the Cowboys roster since Jason Ferguson ripped a chest muscle in the 2007 season opener - never to return. A large space eating nose tackle.
Now, let's continue down that road with a few thoughts I shared from a recent mailbag:
There is no question that since about 2009, I have been a proponent of kicking Jay Ratliff out to defensive end. This has been a source of much argument as people cite that Ratliff is a solid nose tackle and that he says he enjoys playing over the center. But, I use a different approach altogether. My rationale is simply studying the most successful 3-4 defenses in the NFL and comparing the player that they attempt to play at the nose and comparing them with Jay Ratliff from a simple size standpoint. The results are not close. The Jets employ Sione Pouha at 6'3, 325. The Steelers have had Casey Hampton 6'1, 325. Green Bay has used Ryan Pickett at 6'2, 340. San Francisco uses Isaac Sopoaga: 6'2, 330. Baltimore uses Terrence Cody at 6'4, 350 (and Haloti Ngata at 6'4, 330). Big Vince Wilfork anchors the New England 3-4 (when they run the 3-4) and he sits at a hefty 6'2, 330.
Meanwhile, Mr Ratliff fluctuates between 290 and 295 most times, and while he effectiveness is not to be doubted, I just don't think that he can drop anchor and demand the same level of attention that players who weigh as much as 50 pounds more than him can sustain. He wears down as the season goes on and December represents his worst production on a tackle-per-game basis.
Is it possible when we put all this together that Jerry Jones was telling us at the Senior Bowl that they are convinced they need to find their Haloti Ngata?
Which brings us back to the source of many debates: The merits of Memphis defensive tackle, Dontari Poe.
Poe is a very interesting study. I believe before the NFL Combine, the Cowboys were believing that they could get a guy like Poe in the 2nd round. Nobody had him ranked in January higher than about the 40th best player in the draft. With the Cowboys at #45, it did not seem like a stretch to grab the nose tackle of their dreams in the 2nd round.
Then, the combine happened. He lifted 44 times, demonstrating strength that is seldom ever seen. He ran a sub-5 40-yard dash. 300 pound humans don't do that very often, and yet Poe, at nearly 350, did it. These two exhibition of superior physical tools made jaws drop and before long, he was projected to go in the Top 10 of the draft.
But, that caused many people to reference his college football games. Since, those should matter quite a bit more for prospects than workouts, one would think. And his college statistics of 5 sacks in 3 years gives people great concern. In 3 years at Memphis, one of the worst programs in college football as they won just 5 of 36 games while he played, Poe totaled 5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. That production total at the Conference USA level is simply underwhelming to say the least.
But, when watching him play, you must consider a few things. 1) It seems like his motor is fine and that he is giving solid effort despite Memphis losing week after week. One game I watched this week had SMU with a 28-0 lead early in the 2nd, and Poe still busting his tail against double teams on numerous occasions. 2) Because he is the only player of substance on a sub-standard defense, he attracts a ton of attention. Double teams and backside cut blocks were something he saw quite a bit. 3) How important are stats for a 2-gapping nose tackle, anyway?
Which takes us back to the Haloti Ngata comparison. At Oregon, Ngata totaled 10.5 sacks in 3 seasons and 23.5 tackles for loss. Better, but not substantially better as Ngata never eclipsed 3.5 sacks in a single season. Then, as Ngata was getting All Pro accolades he had just 6.5 sacks in his first 4 seasons combined. Basically, dominating the league while averaging 1.5 sacks a season. A good nose tackle is not about big numbers. It is about attracting attention, causing chaos, and keeping your linebackers clean.
Phil Taylor, Baylor's big nose tackle that went to Cleveland last year had 5.5 sacks in 3 years of college football. Then, the 335 pound DT had 4 sacks as a rookie and was mighty disruptive all season. Like Poe, he came out of nowhere to settle into the 1st round of last year's draft. And the Browns are pleased to have him.
With Poe, I saw a push on the pass rush. I saw a good motor. And I saw a player that despite constant double teams was not going to be moved. Would I have like to see much more domination of a player at the Conference USA level? Absolutely. But, it is absurd to hear people claim that this guy should be completely ignored. He has all sorts of promise and intrigue as you watch him play a stout tackle on a defensive front - something the Cowboys have been missing.
Here are some youtube cut-ups for your own personal eye-ball test:
Here you see him lined up at several different spots for Memphis. He uses a spin move on a few occasions that looks like it has some real potential. He demands a double team or he ruins quite a few run plays. This is a pretty strong performance in my opinion.
Vs Arkansas State
The footage here is not ideal at all, but it does show his position versatility as Memphis moved him around quite a bit to afford him some opportunities to avoid all of the attention he merits. The biggest issue with him for this exercise is viable footage on the internet for people to study. I was able to acquire some better looks for myself, but I posted the best I could find - and it isn't great quality.
And then this clip, which is where Dontari buys his mom in Escalade. Everyone seems pretty pleased with the surprise.
The Case For Taking Dontari Poe at #14: The Cowboys want to find a way to make their defensive front more dominating. To do so, you need match-up issues and even at his worst, Poe is still 350 pounds with enormous strength. You could easily move Ratliff to defensive end, preserving his abilities and elongating his career. Poe should make your middle linebackers far more effective as they have fewer guards on them because of the double teams that Poe will get constantly. He seems to play hard in the 4 games I have studied and if he is coached properly, you seem to be able to run a proper 3-4 for the first time and mirror what the successful teams in the scheme have been doing all along. But it starts with a giant anchor in the middle, and Poe could do that in day 1 with the team.
The Case Against Taking Dontari Poe at 14: Clearly, position scarcity requires you to either take him in the 1st round or not get a shot at him at all. That makes his price higher than his value at this point. As much as I want an anchor for my 3-4, it is hard to say that it would be worth pick #14 unless he really can be Haloti Ngata (who was pick #12 of the 2006 draft). Poe is a young player with tremendous upside, but it is more based on his potential than his present. If you are confident in your player development ability and his hunger to realize his potential, than you take him. But, the Cowboys may not be in a position to take a player who needs refinement. There are safer picks in this draft for the Cowboys, but there may not be a pick that has a potentially higher ceiling. And there is the quandary.
I know he is in the conversation for the Cowboys, but I question whether they will have the courage to pull the trigger with picks available that may not be as risky.
Dre Kirkpatrick - Alabama
Mark Barron - Alabama
Fletcher Cox - Mississippi State
Michael Brockers - LSU
Quinton Coples - UNC
David DeCastro - Stanford
Melvin Ingram - South Carolina
Courtney Upshaw - Alabama