The 2012 NFL Draft class may have the most diverse selection of defensive tackles compared to any year in recent memory.
Featuring very different (but good) players in Dontari Poe, Michael Brockers and Devon Still, the 2012 NFL Draft will include a defensive-tackle class that makes an immediate, yet lasting impact.
While Poe, Brockers and Still are all nice players, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox is the best defensive tackle in this class and it's not even close.
I popped in Mississippi State's game tape against Alabama and my first impression of Cox screamed athleticism and explosion off the line of scrimmage. On almost every play, the tackle was the first player off the line on his defense.
This lengthy defender has the agility and the "wiggle" to move past offensive linemen and get into the opposing team's backfield, causing constant disruption.
While Dontari Poe is also disruptive, Cox has a much higher football IQ and he is able to recognize what the offense is doing before the play starts. In one instance, Cox was the only lineman to stay home on an Alabama screen play, forcing Trent Richardson back inside and leading to an incompletion.
I was also very impressed with Cox's work ethic.
The defensive tackle rarely took a play off and worked hard from the first drive to the last against a tough Alabama squad, no matter the score.
Cox is a true beast in pursuit and he gives everything he has when rushing the passer.
One play stood out to me. On a first down pass, Cox tried to get by the offensive tackle with a quick swim move. When unsuccessful, the lineman spun around and worked upfield. Sensing QB A.J. McCarron in his sights, Cox ran stride-for-stride with McCarron outside of the pocket, forcing an incompletion.
That play occurs at 3:22 in the video of Fletcher Cox vs. Alabama 2011.
The fact remains that Cox is the most explosive player off the line in this draft. He is frequently in the backfield, disrupting the offense's flow, and he is always around the ball.
He's a perfect fit in any 4-3 front and he could be a difference maker in a place like Tennessee or Seattle. Philadelphia is a very possible destination, too.
Cox's motor never stops running, which can't be said about Poe or Still. He remains effective throughout the course of a ballgame.
The lineman has big-time strength and he was able to hold his own at the line of scrimmage on almost every play, most of the time getting into the backfield.
This Mississippi State standout deals with cut blocks very well, shedding the offensive player and getting after the running back almost immediately. Past that, he does a tremendous job at keeping his outside arm free and working downhill to make a tackle.
If I noticed any downside, Cox's main issue is that he gets too far upfield at times and he doesn't stay home to control his gap. Such is a minor flaw and very coachable at the next level.
This defensive lineman is the whole package. He's strong enough to stop the run, but fluid enough to rush the passer.
Cox is a top-10 talent who makes plays and he'd be a key acquisition for any team come draft day.