Wes Bunting now rates Alameda Ta'amu as the #11 best player in this draft. For those unfamiliar, Ta'amu is a big muscular physical 335lb player with a motor that doesn't quit. He is not a fat blob, he's thick and strong. This sounds exactly like what you want out of a nose tackle, does it not?
But Dallas already has a pretty good nose tackle in Jay Ratiff, why would they want to change something that's been working? There's so many things that aren't working why would such a change be a prime candidate for a valuable 2nd round pick?
Dallas has a defensive line problem. Successful 3-4 defenses like San Francisco and Baltimore got a lot of pressure out of their defensive ends in 2012. San Francisco, for example, got 13 sacks out of their two starting defensive ends. Dallas' two starting DEs (Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher) only combined for 5.5 sacks.
Dallas fans also noticed that interior pocket-collapsing pressure was absent again in 2011 just as it had been in 2010. Ware had a career year but what's amazing is that he missed a number of sacks because the QB was able to step up in the pocket. The Eli Manning games in particular stand out as Ware was frequently in Manning's 5-step and 7-step drop point BEFORE Eli got there. So if you beat a QB to his drop point how is it even possible not to get the sack? Ware didn't get those sacks because Eli would just stop his drop and step up away from the pressure. His guards and centers (which Giants fans will tell you were not that good, by the way) stonewalled the Cowboys d-line at the line of scrimmage, providing Eli all the room he needed to waltz around in the pocket. Had there been more pocket-collapsing pressure, who knows how many QBs Ware would have bagged in 2011!
So we've established that the defensive line play both individually (sacks) and as a component of a team (pressures and pocket-collapsing) was an issue in 2011. Why would moving Ratliff help?
The Baltimore Ravens know a thing or two about running a 3-4 defense. They have arguably been the best 3-4 defense in the league the past decade. After their nose tackle Haloti Ngata's breakout 5.5 sack season in 2010 the Ravens did something curious. Instead of keeping him at nose where he was effective, they moved him to right defensive end. There Ngata was even more effective in 2011, adding 2 forced fumbles to his 5 sacks and 5 passes defended. Ngata was replaced at nose by a wide-bodied 350lb 2nd round pick named Terrence Cody.
Moving a strong nose to end where he will see more single-teams can create success. But is Ta'amu the player to play nose for the Cowboys? Here is the scouting report from Wes Bunting.
A massive presence inside, possesses elite natural width and girth through his lower half, but doesn't look soft at all, as he carries his weight very well. Displays the ability to sit into his stance, keeps his base under him and generates a snap off the football. At times gets a bit upright doubles over at the waste into blocks in order to stay low, but he can gain natural leverage bending at the knees. Doesn't have the initial quickness to threaten gaps off the football and penetrate. However, for his size displays a good initial burst, gets into blockers quickly and does a nice job getting under the pad level of opposing blockers and using his hands to gain leverage and fight his way through contact. Displays very good anchor strength inside. Has the ability to eat up the double, sit into his base and is tough to get a push on off the football. Is also very coordinated when asked to play off slide blocks down the line, using his combination of short area quickness, balance and power he routinely can fend off blocks and works extremely hard for a guy his size in pursuit. Lacks ideal range closing from the backside, but the work rate is most definitely there. Now, is tight in the hips and isn't a guy who can quickly re-direct, shed and work his way back toward the football. However, initially there is some short area quickness in order to keep himself clean -especially in quick set situations- and uses his power to fight through blocks once he gains any kind of step. Possesses only average ball awareness at this time and will take himself out of some plays, but seemed to improve as the season went on.
Isn't going to be a consistent pass rushing threat at the next level. However, has the ability to come off the ball quickly, keep his base down and push the pocket on his bull rush. Works his hands well through contact, is a bit slippery for a big guy and has the motor to fend off blocks and work his way toward the quarterback. Doesn't have great closing speed, but is a tireless worker who has a motor that doesn't stop. Struggles to breakdown consistently on ball carriers and can be side stepped even in a phone booth when in position to create a negative play.
Impression: This is the kind of guy who has the ability to anchor the middle of an NFL defense in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front. Needs to do a better job finding the football, but overall he looks like a starter who you eventually will be able to win with in the NFL.
Elite natural strength, the ability to eat up double-teams and collapse the pocket, and a tireless motor to wear down O-linemen. He sounds like the kind of guy that can upgrade 3 positions. A huge NT to collapse the pocket upgrades nose tackle in a way Ratliff hasn't been able to do the last 2 years. Ratliff moving to defensive end definitely upgrades a defensive end position. When you have a nose tackle that demands double-teams and a monster DE in-between that NT and Ware that makes DeMarcus Ware's job all the easier, helping upgrade that position.
Is this a realistic possibility? The mock drafts right now have Ta'amu as a 2nd round talent due to his lack of pass-rush ability. Should he escape the first round as expected there are only three 3-4 teams drafting before the Cowboys in the 2nd round: Washington, Kansas City and Arizona. The Redskins are locked into Barry Cofield for the foreseeable future. KC and Arizona could use an upgrade but do have nose tackles under contract so it is not a need. Furthermore, both have bigger fish to fry in terms of team needs.
Is Ta'amu the massive, powerful, endless-motor nose tackle the Cowboys have needed that could upgrade multiple defensive line spots with one draft pick? I think there's a pretty good chance he is.
Alameda Ta'amu vs Utah (via MetaDraft)