The NFL Combine showed us a lot of things this year in regards to who can be stars and who could be busts. For every Robert Griffin III there is a Vontaze Burfict.
The defensive tackle position came up particularly strong this year with three big candidates that could all be drafted in the first round. Those three are Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox and Devon Still.
Each has their own strengths that could be a god send to certain teams, and each has their weaknesses that could hold them back. For this article, I am assessing their technique, strength, agility and potential. At the end of this slideshow, I will pick which one I believe is the best in these categories combined.
After a rough start to his career as a Nittany Lion, Devon Still had a monster Senior season where he racked up 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks while being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He certainly got the scouts attention.
Still didn't have the best Combine results, but they were still decent. He didn't blow anyone away, but he didn't really hurt his stock either.
He is regarded as one of the safer picks in the draft with a lot of people labeling him as the most NFL-ready defensive tackle. This is not without reason. Still has great technique and looks like he knows the intricacies of the position. He commands to be double-teamed, but he is great on escaping blocks. If you leave him one-on-one, expect a tackle for loss.
While Still may be great for stopping the run, he does leave a little something to be desired with the pass rush. He has great block shedding ability as mentioned above, but he tends to not be fast enough to chase down a quarterback or pursue a running back in the open field. Expect more quarterback hurries than anything else.
Either way, Still looks to be an immediate starter on whatever team picks him.
One of the many LSU defensive players being drafted, Brockers was looked at intensely before the season, and is still ranked towards the top of the picks in the Draft.
Brockers didn't necessarily have a bad Combine performance. It just wasn't up to the expectations people had for him. Ultimately, it did knock him down a spot or two on most mock drafts.
The most noticeable thing with Brockers is his large frame. His strength is the big part of his game which he relies on to break blocks, which he certainly does. SEC teams tended to double team him, though it rarely worked. Brockers has great movements versus linemen, often catching them off guard and allowing him to make it into the backfield. From then on, he has great instinct that allows him to shut down any play.
While he may have the most talent of any guy here, Brockers does have some detracting qualities. The biggest one is technique, which can only really be helped by coaching and more experience (he has only started one full year). He tends to become too up-right when diagnosing plays, often giving linemen a larger body to block. The main thing a team will need to realize with Brockers is that he needs time to develop.
If he can get his weaknesses shored up though, Brockers could make an immediate impact on an NFL team for years to come.
Before the Combine started, Cox was viewed as mid-round, maybe second round prospect. After an impressive Combine performance however, he soon garnered talks of being a top-15 prospect.
Cox ran an impressive 4.79 40-yard dash, benched 30 reps of 225 and registered a 26 inch vertical. He is certainly an athlete.
Remember how I called him an athlete like two seconds ago? Well that is his biggest strength. Cox is a very quick lineman who gets into the backfield a lot and runs down the QB/RB. He relentlessly pursues plays after they're done, which saves some big plays from happening. A majority of his talent resides in his athleticism.
That is where another problem lies. While Cox may be athletic, he does not have very good technique or moves. If he is double-teamed, he has difficulty breaking the block and is stopped for that play. Cox is still finding his niche in a defense and could certainly be coached into a very good player.
If Cox can learn how to get past blocks and plug holes in the line, he has the highest ceiling of any player in this article.
There are multiple reasons that I chose Devon Still as the guy who should be taken first in the Draft. Let's go through them.
First and foremost, this is the guy that has the best chance of living up to potential. He already shows great technique and strength, all he needs is speed and he is set to be a huge play-maker. Still requires the least amount of work for anyone in this article.
In addition to his "safe pick" label, Still is the most ready of any prospect here. If a team is picking him in the first round, then they probably need him immediately. Still is almost certainly a starter from day one. Like I said, he is the safest pick.
Don't be surprised if you hear Still's name a lot in the next few years. This guy certainly has a future ahead of him. It would be a shame if a team decides to look past him for another defensive tackle.