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Cowboys 2012 Draft Prospects: Memphis DT-DE Dontari Poe

Can Dontari Poe become another Haloti Ngata? Some scouts think so...
Can Dontari Poe become another Haloti Ngata? Some scouts think so...

And now our series on potential draft prospects turns to the most polarizing figure in the 2012 draft: Memphis NT Dontari Poe. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Poe is his off-the-charts Combine performance, where he posted a 4.98 forty-yard dash (with a 1.70 10-yard split), bench-pressed 225 pounds a staggering 44 times and dazzled in the agility drills to the degree that NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock developed an obvious man-crush, and proclaimed Poe the next Haloti Ngata. Here's video of the workout that got media types all in a tizzy.

The inevitable backlash then commenced. Naysayers claimed that Poe's tape didn't match his Combine performance, pointing out that he didn't dominate Conference USA competition. Want to see for yourself? Here he is in action against Tulane; here he can be found mixing it up against perennial power Arkansas State. Looking at these and other games, Mayock, who had listed Poe as the top defensive tackle in the draft immediately after the Combine, dropped the big Memphian down to the fourth-best slot, in no small part because he doesn’t think Poe is a player who’s going to be a good NFL starter as a rookie because he'll require time to develop. And Mayock isn't alone in downgrading the big fella.

However you feel about him, Poe is an athletic freak, a huge man with the size to anchor inside at NT. He's excellent at occupying space inside and allow those on the second level to flow and make plays. Poe isn’t just a big fat dude; he has the strength to overpower blockers and the athletic ability to be a threat in the passing game. In what might be construed as a rebuttal to the backlashers, Bob Sturm has crafted an admirably objective profile on Poe. In thinking about Poe, I want to stay above the media fray and adopt Sturm's equanimity. So, without further ado, I'm going to give the floor to our panel of scouting types and see what they have to say. Gentlemen?

Want to see what these experts have to say about the controversial Poe? Make the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 5th-rated DT; 34th overall

What I like: A tall, well put together 350-pound lineman who carries his weight well and doesn't possess much soft flesh. Displays a physically put together lower half as well. Is strong through the base, legs and calves and honestly can play at 350. Has a Haloti Ngata type build. Is a monster in the weight room. Puts in the time off the field to get better/stronger. Showcases natural bend when sitting into his stance. Keeps his base down well off the football and can gain leverage initially due to pad level. Exhibits a "plus" first step for his size. Showcases the ability to get into opposing linemen quickly and keep his pad level down in the process. Demonstrates a natural snap through the hips and can simply overwhelm his man with the generated force/power he's' able to create into contact. Showcases the ability to keep his pad level down through contact when trying to knife his way into the backfield vs. the run game. With ease fights his way through contact. Is a bear to move inside, showcases "plus" natural power, can sit low into contact and with ease hold the point of attack. Displays some nimbleness as a pass rusher. Can use his foot quickness to change directions quickly in tight areas and push his way through contact once he gains a step. Exhibits a clever/concise spin move where he can slip blocks and get into the backfield in pass rushing situations. Demonstrates the power and flexibility to gain leverage and consistently push the pocket inside at the next level. Exhibits above average range for his size off his frame and will chase in pursuit. Displays good snap awareness for the most part and is routinely one of the first linemen firing off the ball. The upside with this guy is tremendous. Has the skill set to anchor a defense inside as a 34 or 43 nose. Seems like a hungry kid who is willing to put in the work and develop at his trade.

What I don't like
: Doesn't take a positive first step off the football in either the run or pass game. Needs to do a better job maximizing his first step in order to reset the line of scrimmage, wastes too much motion. Needs to do a better job finding the football. Doesn't consistently decipher information quickly and put himself around the action. Needs to learn to extend his arms consistently at the point and use his hands better. Too often gets caught playing short armed into contact. Is forced to get upright through contact when trying to shed because he doesn't gain leverage and extend his arms well initially into the play. When trying to extend his arms initially into contact vs. the run game, he tends to get doubled over more at the waist and doesn't play with the same type of bend, causing him to struggle with balance/power through the play. Isn't a real sudden pass rusher. Showcases some nimbleness, but gets caught popping upright through contact when trying to avoid blocks, which limits his power. Doesn't possess a great burst once he gains a step when truing to close quickly on the football. Showcases the willingness to work in pursuit, but the motor will cool off at times. Hasn't ever been real productive because of his lacking technique and ability to consistently find the football. Is a boom or bust kind of player.

Impression: Has a rare physical skill set due to his combination of flexibility, power and get off burst. However, he's still learning the nuances of the position. If he's willing to put in the time, Poe can mature into one of the leagues better interior presences. Nevertheless, because he's raw his floor isn't overly high either.

CBS Sports (Rob Rang): 3rd-rated DT; 17th overall

Pass rush: Flashes exciting burst off the snap to penetrate. Can slip through gaps with his get-off and is an intimidating force for quarterbacks to avoid. Shows some natural balance and lateral agility to break down and chase the quarterback but has only phone booth quickness overall and is quickly left behind by mobile/alert passers. Shows a rip and swim move, but neither is particularly effective. Relies often on a simple bull rush but it is only marginally productive due to the fact that Poe routinely stands up at contact, losing leverage and negating his own strength. Does not possess an adequate secondary move if his initial burst is contained. Too often struggles to disengage with blockers smaller and weaker than him. Needs to do a better job of using his height to his advantage and present to the quarterback obstacles to throw around. Has only four passes defensed in his career, though to his credit three of them came in 2011.

Run defense: Shows the burst to split gaps and make the play on his own. Also has the ability to create a pile in the middle, even showing the ability to split the occasional double-team. However, is just as often blown off the ball due to his high pad level. Needs to do a better job of being the aggressor and tossing blockers aside to make the play rather than falling off blocks onto ballcarriers as they go by. Flashes good lateral agility to side-step blockers and can surprise you with his speed and effort in lateral pursuit. May struggle as a nose guard in the NFL due to shorter than ideal arms (31 5/8), especially considering his height. Good strength and balance to sit down, lock-out and create a pile, however, leading to possibilities inside and out (in the 3-4).

Explosion: Has an explosive burst off the line. Consistently among the first linemen moving at the snap. Generates power through his hips and can rock the offensive lineman back onto his heels with his initial surge. Gathers momentum quickly and can explode into the ballcarrier, showing the ability to separate the football (four forced fumbles over his career).

Strength: Possesses excellent weight-room strength, although it doesn't always translate onto his play due to his short arms and high pad level. Can wow you with his ability to push the pocket and drag down ballcarriers with just one arm but doesn't play with power consistently enough for a man with his talents.

Tackling: Surprisingly light on his feet and shows the ability to break down reasonably well to make the tackle in tight quarters against much smaller, quicker ballcarriers. Can knock ballcarriers to the ground with a good shove and latch-on, drag-down tackles while engaged, but also shows the ability to wrap securely, as well as enough explosiveness to force fumbles.

Intangibles: Given a second-round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. Voted Team MVP and Defensive Player of the Year by his teammates. If Poe had returned for his senior season he would have been playing for his third head coach in four years.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 2nd-rated DT; 8th overall

Positives: Rare combination of size, foot speed and movement skill—carries nearly 350 pounds exceptionally well and does not have much sloppy weight. Big-time weight-room strength—squats 700 pounds and bench-pressed 225 pounds 44 times at the Combine to lead all participants. Good bend and pad level for a big man. Stout trunk and anchor. Has two-gap ability. Plays with a load in his hands and can tug and jerk to disengage. Able to compress the pocket. Nice in-line lateral agility. Forceful tackler. Surprisingly nimble—is athletic enough to zone-drop and play on his feet. Extremely versatile. Tough and durable. Solid character, work ethic and accountability.

Negatives: More mass than length—has relatively short arms and small hands. Inconsistent get-off. Minimal sack production. Does not consistently convert weight-room strength into power. Is not a fire-breathing competitor and does not consistently chase outside the box. Instincts are still developing. Stamina will have to be monitored. Limited exposure vs. high-quality opponents and did not consistently dominate mid-major competition.

Summary: Rare physical specimen capable of playing any type of scheme, but would be most ideally suited on the nose in a 3-4 front. Rare Combine performance showed freakish athletic talent and strength proficiency could transcend scheme and allow him to function anywhere along the line. Still needs to learn how to play the game, but upside is off the charts and easily could draw top-10 consideration.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 3rd-rated DT; 15th overall

Versus the Run: Massive DL with think trunk and long arms. Fires out with good leverage in the run game. Shows excellent initial pop and has the size/strength to control the point of attack as a two-gapper. Shows the ability to flat-back and take on double team. Flashes ability to stack-and-shed but sometimes struggles to get off of blocks. Short arms do not help in this area. Is a powerful hitter and can jar the ball loose. Shares some similarities with former Baylor standout DT/NT Phil Taylor (Browns; 1st round 2011).

Pass Rush Skills: Flashes ability to collapse the pocket. Needs to win with power moves and/or on twists/stunts when he gets moving laterally first. He shows good lateral agility for 330lbs (see: forced fumble with 14:47 remaining 3rd QTR vs. SMU 2011). Is a good athlete for size but lacks the explosive first-step to consistently shoot the gap. Flashes violent hands and ability to rip and swim through blocks. Overuses his swim move but when he uses it properly it can be effective. Shows adequate awareness as a pass rusher; will get his hands up and disrupt QBs passing windows.

Quickness (hands/feet): Does not explode off the line but has adequate first-step quickness. Impressive later agility for such a massive player (ie Vs. ECU 14:46 1st QTR). Quick and violent hands. Can improve technique but shows quick hands and works hard to keep blocker off his body.

: Generally plays hard and shows some toughness but he lacks ideal mean streak and nastiness. Effort is better than adequate but not great. He rarely stops working during a play but he wears down and will struggle to go 100mph at times. Effort versus double team needs to improve, especially on passing downs.

Intangibles: Works at his craft. Hard worker in the weight room. Passionate about the game. No off the field issues to our knowledge.

And here's an excellent SBNation profile on Poe:

For weeks now, I've been saying that the Cowboys are going to draft one of the "big three" defensive linemen in the first round. That said, I don't envy the Dallas war room should Dontari Poe be the only one of the three remaining when they come on the clock at pick # 14. As these scouts suggest, Poe has a lot of ability; he very well could become a Haloti Ngata-type of player. But, if the Cowboys are going to rebuild this roster in time to take advantage of their core players waning years, they must score hits in rounds 1-3 for the next two drafts. Therefore, unless they are absolutely certain Poe can be a game-changer starting in September, I doubt they'll pull the trigger. I'm definitely slotting him as a legitimate first-round option but, because so much uncertainty surrounds him, I think the actual chances of him wearing the star in 2012 and beyond are slim.

Next up: Oklahoma OLB Ronnell Lewis

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