It was never a question of athletic ability, nor physical skill set.
When Dontari Poe was drafted No. 11 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2012, he was viewed as a high-ceiling player that came with considerable risk. He hadn't exactly lit up box scores while at Memphis but showed a raw physical ability which former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli just couldn't ignore.
Pioli may be gone from Kansas City, but his last first-round pick is blossoming for the 2-0 Chiefs. Here's NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock's take on Poe before the 2012 draft:
Think Haloti Ngata. That's the kind of skill set and the kind of size he brings to the table. He's got average college tape, but he's got freakish athletic ability for a big man. Romeo Crennel has a good one here to coach up...Most rookie defensive tackles get taken off the field on third downs. This kid's best down is third down.
The Chiefs' 2-0 start has been due in large part to their defense. Through the first two games of the season, it's giving up just 54 yards per game on the ground, which is good for second in the NFL. The Chiefs surrendered their first touchdown of the season against the Cowboys on Sunday after shutting down the hapless offense of the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1.
Much of the Chiefs' early success can be attributed to the development of Poe, who made a decision this offseason in regards to his nutrition that seems to have served him well, via Pro Football Talk.
“I eat a lot of eggs in the morning, eat a lot of protein, grilled chicken, grilled fish, stuff like that,” Poe said, according to Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star. “I’m trying to cut out the beef and the pork and stay away from the fried foods. And stay away from the barbecue."
Anyone trying and ultimately succeeding in staying away from barbecue in Kansas City has to be strong mentally, and the 15 to 20 pounds that Poe lost according to that article can't be seen as anything but a positive right now. He's moving even better for a guy who already moved well for a 340-pound defensive lineman.
Poe is leading the Chiefs and is currently tied for third in the NFL with 3.5 sacks. That's not supposed to happen from a nose tackle, let alone from a player in just his second year.
Something else that's not supposed to happen is a 340-pound defensive lineman playing in 92.9 percent of a team's snaps, but that's what Poe has done through the first two games of the season. That includes 100 percent of the snaps, all 67, against the Cowboys.
Here's a look at Poe's first sack against the Cowboys:
He's lined up in the 0-technique head up on the Dallas Cowboys' 2013 first-round pick, center Travis Frederick.
Poe sets Frederick up by initially firing out to the right, causing Frederick to drop step to his left and open his shoulders.
This is the position Poe wants Frederick to be in as he makes this next move.
The speed with which this swim move is made is not clear in still frames, but you do get a good look at Poe's technique, as his arm is behind the head of Frederick before Frederick can shift the weight off his left leg. Poe had him leaning left off the snap, punched with his left hand, and swam over the top with his right arm as he came back across Frederick's face and inside shoulder.
Poe was given a free lane directly to Tony Romo, and there's nothing the Cowboys quarterback could do at that point.
As you can see, the play was 2nd-and-9, and the Chiefs dropped both of their outside linebackers, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, their "perceived" top two pass-rushers. And still they managed to get pressure on Romo, picking up the big sack and forcing a 3rd-and-long.
Poe's ability to get pressure on his own will open up things for Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton from a creative standpoint. If you're only able to get pressure in very obvious ways, you become predictable. The Chiefs finished 27th in the NFL in sacks last season, and Hali and Houston combined for 70 percent of those sacks. Poe's development will allow Sutton to be anything but predictable.
After that sack from Poe, the Cowboys spent the majority of the day double-teaming him on passing plays, a predictable maneuver. This opened up lanes for linebackers Derrick Johnson and Akeem Jordan to make plays.
Poe's ability to get pressure on the quarterback on this play was as much about his athletic ability as it was the use of his hands. The ability to effectively use your hands to disengage blockers isn't talked about enough with defensive linemen.
Poe developed this skill after spending a year in Romeo Crennel's two-gapping defense. The principles of Crennel's defense hinged on a defensive lineman's ability to hold his ground and ultimately be responsible for both gaps on the side of the offensive lineman. As a nose tackle, Poe was responsible for the A-gaps on either side of the center.
The ability to create leverage, anchor and maintain gap discipline against grown men was a tough lesson for a young rookie defensive lineman to learn. But learning this discipline forced Poe to work on his hands, to understand leverage and the finer points of technique for the position.
Now that Poe's in an attacking defense that allows him to use his natural strength and quickness, combined with the technique he developed last year, he is in the perfect place to attack without thinking.
On the Cowboys' first offensive play, Poe wasn't the one who made the tackle, but he was a factor in the DeMarco Murray run.
Poe actually lined up at defensive end on the first play and made his way almost three yards into the backfield, helping force Murray to bounce the run outside.
We're just two games into the season, and that's not enough to say anything more than that Poe is on the right track and that there's obviously some development there. But it's hard not to see a breakout player when you see the impact he's making out on the field through these first two games.
It's not just that he's making plays for the Chiefs defense and racking up numbers. He's making plays at crucial times.
Both of his sacks against the Cowboys were on Kansas City's side of the field.
The first sack, at the Chiefs 28-yard line on 2nd-and-9, was shown above, and the second sack came on Kansas City's 5-yard line on 1st-and-goal in the third quarter, which helped hold the Cowboys to a field goal. These are game-changing plays by the Chiefs' newest playmaker.
Poe will soon become a name that's known around the league as the NFL's next great up-and-coming defensive lineman.