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Where's The Beef? 2009's Crop of Defensive Tackle Prospects

The consensus opinion among Cowboy fans and league “experts” is that the Cowboys defense needs to add a run-stuffing, space-eating nose tackle to a defense that ranked 12th against the run in 2008. While perusing this year’s list of draft eligible defensive tackles, it becomes quickly evident that this year’s class of cloggers is a bit short on heft. There are just not a ton of 3-4 style defensive tackles in this draft. Of the top 40 prospects at the position, only four tip the scales at more than 315 lbs. Of course, not every 3-4 nose tackle has to be a 350 lb. monster. Jason Ferguson has held the position down for quite some time at about 305 lbs. Good strength and balance, coupled with superb technique can compensate for a lack of overwhelming size.

One common misconception about Wade Phillips’ defense is that the nose tackle is not asked to two-gap. Every 3-4 nose tackle has to control a center and man two gaps from time to time, it’s just that Wade’s NT’s are asked to do so less than others. A Wade Phillips defense is geared more toward shooting gaps and getting penetration; this is why a 298-pound, lightning quick Jay Ratliff can excel in this scheme. Still, you can’t scheme your nose tackle out of being double teamed. It seems that Ratliff would greatly benefit from having a wide-bodied partner who would allow him to slide outside on rushing downs.

The first thing you need to know about the 2009 class of defensive tackles is that (say it with me) B.J. Raji is gone. Forget about him, get him out of your head. Save the "if we still had or 1st round pick" talk, it wouldn't matter, he is gone, gone, gone. A shallow class of run-stuffers and a stellar week of Senior Bowl practice have allowed Raji to skyrocket up everyone's draft board. Save for a full-blown combine disaster, Raji will be snapped up in the first ten selections. Raji has in fact been so impressive, is reporting that he may be among the Lions' considerations with their first overall selection.

Nose tackle may be a primary need for the Cowboys, but they can not go into this draft married to the idea of grabbing one with the 51st pick. The value simply may not be there. The second tier cloggers have a history of sliding, (see Gabe Watson, and Alan Branch) so there is a chance that Raji's linemate Ron Brace could fall to the Cowboys in the second round. If not, the Cowboys may have to take a long hard look at Clemson's Dorell Scott in the third, or take a late round flyer on a small school guy like Stillman's Sammie Lee Hill. With that said, we are still early in the process, and draft positioning will change dramatically after the combine.

I wouldn't consider any site to be the bible on player evaluations, but in all my years of being a draft junkie, has been one of the more reliable sites. Their projections always turn out to be pretty accurate. Here is a list of this year's top defensive tackle prospects, in the eyes of the staff.

1. B.J. Raji, Boston College- 6-1, 323
2. Peria Jerry, Ole Miss- 6-2. 290
3. Evander Hood, Missouri- 6-4, 295
4. Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn- 6-2, 296
5. Ron Brace, Boston College- 6-3, 324

Complete list here

Nose tackle, or defensive tackle in general has been a tough position to project in recent history. The last decade has been full of underachieving first rounders, and second day pleasant surprises. Still, a few players have played up to the level of their draft status. Here are some of the game's best nose tackles (3-4 and 4-3 alike) along with their respective draft positions.

Jason Ferguson, 7th round, 229th overall (1997)

Albert Haynesworth, 1st round, 15th overall (2002)

Jamal Williams, (corrected) 2nd round supp. (1998)

Shaun Rogers, 2nd round, 61st overall (2001)

Kris Jenkins, 2nd round, 44th overall (2001)

Kevin Williams, 1st round, 9th overall (2003)

Vince Wilfork, 1st round, 21st overall (2004)

Haloti Ngata, 1st round, 12th overall (2006)

Casey Hampton, 1st round, 19th overall (2001)

Maake Kemoeatu, Undrafted (2002)

Also, a few high picks who have not exactly panned out:

Ryan Pickett, 1st round, 29th overall (2001)

DeWayne Robertson, 1st round, 4th overall (2003)

Jonathan Sullivan, 1st round, 6th overall (2003)

Jimmy Kennedy, 1st round, 12th overall (2003)

Junior Siavii, 2nd round, 36th overall (2004)

Alan Branch, 2nd round, 33rd overall (2007)

As you can see, it has been a bit of a mixed bag as far as drafting nose tackles in recent history. And with a thin class of draftees, the Cowboys may have to venture beyond all conventional thinking to plug this hole. Is Magnus Ver Magnusson busy? Can't we just re-sign Marcus Spears, and hook him up with a platinum Golden Corral pass? Honestly, tell me that dude ain't the second coming of Gilbert Brown waiting to happen.

In all seriousness, nose tackle is a legitimate need for the Dallas Cowboys. The list of two-gapping free agents-to-be leaves a lot to be desired, and the draft class is skimpy. The Cowboys may have to settle for another slightly undersized penetrator who can at least give Ratliff an occasional breather. If there is not a nose to be had who can free up Ratliff to play some end, the defense could still benefit from always having a fresh body in the middle. However the front office chooses to address this need, the decision will go a long way in determining whether or not a defense that showed flashes of greatness can take the next step forward.

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