Cowboys Draft Prospects: Would They Regret Drafting Dontari Poe?

Roger Goodell poses with the Cowboys' 2012 first-round pick. What if it's Dontari Poe?

59 pounds. That's the difference between Dontari Poe, Memphis' freakishly athletic Nose Tackle product, and the Cowboys' current answer at the position: former All-Pro Jay Ratliff. Cowboys fans have long been clamoring for the addition of some beef to the defensive line, and, after impressing a national (international?) audience earlier this week, many believe Poe could be the answer. The Cowboys are selecting 14th in this year's draft, and, after disappointing ends to the last two, three sixteen seasons, can ill afford to miss. Poe, originally expected to be a late first- to early second-round pick, has seen his stock rise meteorically in the hours, and days, since.

In this year's draft, the only other notable behemoth is Washington's Alameda Ta'Amu. Poe, physically, blows him out of the water, which leaves his performance as somewhat of an outlier. Thus, I propose a comparison, to evaluate Poe alongside other, previously drafted, mountains. The first comparison player, and a name that's being invoked quite often when speaking of Poe, is Haloti Ngata. Ngata appears destined for the Hall of Fame, and plays every Sunday like he plans to rip the heads off of his opponents. The second player I've chosen is Paul Soliai, a stud Nose Tackle who has received very impressive PFF grades over the past few seasons. Of great interest is not only Soliai's similarity in size to Poe (within 2 pounds and half an inch), but also the fact that he is currently a free agent. The Cowboys, therefore, may opt to pursue the 28-year-old Soliai in free agency (although he won't come cheap--he's coming off of a $12M+ Franchise Tag season) rather than invest a first round pick in Poe. The decision they make will likely affect the franchise for years to come.

As a first look, let's use a table to compare Poe's combine numbers with the pre-draft measurables of Ngata and Soliai.

Name Height Weight Arm Length 40 Yd Dash 10 Yd Split Bench Press Vertical Jump Broad Jump Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Dontari Poe 6' 3½" 346 32 4.98s 1.68s 44 29½" 8' 9" 4.56s 7.9s
Haloti Ngata 6' 4⅛" 338 ??* 4.99s 1.73s 37 31½" 9' 2" 4.69s 7.97s
Paul Soliai 6' 4" 344 ??* 5.02s 1.63s DNP** 30½" 9' 7" 4.53s 7.66s

*Data not available
**Unfortunately, Paul Soliai sprained his elbow while performing the bench press at the 2007 Combine.

Poe is clearly the stoutest of the three, being shorter and heavier than Ngata and Soliai during official weigh-ins. (Current reports, however, place Ngata and Soliai both in the 350+ range.)

While the exact impact of arm length on performance is an unknown, it is a well-known fact that NFL teams value arm length when evaluating players, especially in the trenches. At 32", Poe has the shortest arms of any of the Defensive Line prospects we've analyzed. This could cause him trouble as he attempts to fight past more experienced NFL linemen. Tyrannosauruses such as our own Phil Costa will have sufficient length to deliver an initial punch, significantly impacting his burst off the ball.

Poe's 40-yard dash time was, without question, impressive. Alongside these beastly pro-bowlers, however, his size:speed ratio becomes much more palatable. Elite, yes, but not unprecedented. For linemen, the 10-yard split of the 40 is considered far more indicative of a player's functional speed. Defensive linemen require a great initial burst; their speed over distance is rarely of consequence during a game. In this category, Paul Soliai runs away victorious. Haloti Ngata, surprisingly, finishes last, with Poe nestled exactly between the two.

The bench press is truly where Poe shined, and it seems his running has taken attention away from that. He is a very powerful man who, once he gets to the body of opposing linemen, should be able to push them backward into the quarterback. Ngata was also exceptionally strong, and has embodied strength in the NFL for the past 6 years. Soliai, though unmeasured, has played extremely strong throughout his career, as well.

When jumping, Poe's limitations began to show. Finishing 1-2 inches behind in vertical, and 5-10 inches short in the broad jump, Poe does not have the same explosiveness in his lower body as these two pro-bowlers.
In the agility drills, Poe finished between the two Samoans.

Initial conclusions:
Poe's power is focused in his upper body. 44 repetitions is incredible, but, if his arms were longer, it would be more of an asset, and more of a testament to his strength. Poe also lacks the explosive lower body numbers that you look for in a potential pass rusher. Fans looking to see him drafted as a potential line penetrator will be disappointed. He's built to collapse pockets, not penetrate them. Poe's low final 40 time paired with (relatively) high 10-yard split and agility drill times suggest that he has long legs (increasing his top speed with longer strides) and his weight is situated relatively high (slowing his change-of-direction).

In his earlier combine post, OCC also introduced and compared a number of advanced NFL metrics:

1. Production ratio: [(SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF COLLEGE GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO]

This number measures the playmaking potential of front seven players coming out of college. What you want in a Production Ratio is a score of 1.0 or better. Effectively, a score of 1.0 says that a player recorded one splash play in the defensive backfield per game.The higher the number, the better.

2. Speed Score: [(WEIGHT * 200) / (40-TIME ^ 4) = SPEED SCORE]

Not all players are created equal, and it doesn't make a lot of sense comparing 40-times of players who may have a weight difference of 60 pounds. The Speed Score takes into account both a player's time in the 40-yard dash as well as his weight.

The ratio was initially developed for running backs, but works just as well for defensive linemen: It multiplies a player's weight by 200, and then divides that number by his 40 time, taken to the fourth power. This may sound weird, but is actually quite simple. The multiplications give each measurement roughly equal weight and ensure that an average score comes out at about 100. The higher the resulting number, the better the combination of size and speed in a player.

3. Explosion Number: [BENCH PRESS REPS + VERTICAL JUMP + BROAD JUMP = EXPLOSION NUMBER]

This is a simple addition that adds up the number of bench press reps with the broad and vertical jump values. Technically, this isn't even mathematically correct, because you can't just add reps, inches and feet into one aggregate number, but so be it (Heck, this is the NFL. People have been struggling with the passer rating for 40 years, so math must be bad, right?).

What this number gives you is an idea of the explosive strength of a lineman. An explosion number over 70 is considered a very good result. We'll make an allowance for this draft class and assume that anything above 65 is still good.

4. Lateral Agility: [40-YARD DASH TIME - 20-YARD SHUTTLE = LATERAL AGILITY]

This number uses the differential between the 40-yard dash time and the 20-yard shuttle to get a better feel for the lateral agility of a player, as the differential provides information beyond simple long speed and short-area quickness. Generally speaking, a player who notches a .50 or better is considered to have outstanding lateral agility, a quality highly sought after in interior linemen who usually operate in very tight spaces.

It would only be appropriate to calculate these values for Ngata and Soliai, as well, for a proper comparison.

Name Height Weight Production Ratio Speed Score Explosion Lateral Agility
Dontari Poe 6' 3½" 346 0.76 113 82.4 0.42
Haloti Ngata 6' 4⅛" 338 1.0 109 77.7 0.30
Paul Soliai 6' 4" 344 0.46 108 40.1(w/o Bench Press) 0.49

These "advanced" metrics seem to favor Poe more significantly than the raw data above. The real surprise from this comparison, however, is how poorly the taller, leaner, (and far more accomplished, today) Ngata grades out alongside Poe and Soliai. From these numbers, Poe looks to be an incredibly fast, explosive, and adequately agile tank of a man.

The real question, with Poe, is how he will perform as a piece of an NFL defense. Key for him will be his ability to understand his strengths, as well as his limitations, as he prepares mentally to play in the NFL. His former Defensive Line coach, Mike DuBose, agrees, as shown in this excerpt from a November interview with Commercial Appeal:

''Dontari is a powerful, powerful young man who has the potential (if he returns) to be the best defensive lineman I've ever coached. But he has to play powerful. He and I have had this conversation several times.''
DuBose said that during the course of a game, Poe has the tendency ''to overthink things'' a little bit, which neutralizes his explosive power.

''It happens especially when he's matched up on an offensive lineman he should be able to overpower,'' DuBose said. ''I have worked hard with him to be a complete player and work the edges.
''Like I said, potentially, I've never coached anyone as big, as strong, as powerful and explosive as Dontari.''

This type of evaluation is eerily reminiscent of complaints surrounding familiar Running Backs Marion Barber and Brandon Jacobs: powerful players that seem to desire only to prove their quickness. Speculate all you want about how Poe can blow up Offensive Linemen at the NFL level, but he may prefer to run around them, and that's something that has to be coached out of him. It's unfortunate that a prospect of his caliber hasn't quite put himself together, psychologically, as he enters the professional ranks. There's no shortage of mean and nasty among interior offensive linemen, and they could take advantage of the less aggressive Poe.

The Cowboys, under Jason Garrett, will do their due diligence. They will, no doubt, look at Dontari Poe as a potential draft target. Also certain is that, come April, Dontari Poe will have been selected by an NFL team, with expectations that he will make an immediate impact. The question is: will they regret it?

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