In every draft, there are good athletes, and then there are good football players. The goal of NFL scouts is to find a prospect that is either somewhere in between, or is an exceptional athlete who has potential to develop into a good football player. The latter is the case with Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who has a whole lot of athleticism and not much production.
Poe, who is a likely first-round pick, didn’t produce more than a lone sack in his final season at the University of Memphis, and he forced zero fumbles to go along with a measly 22 tackles as a 3-technique, penetrating tackle. That type of production isn’t ideal for a player with that kind of physical talent and the role he served.
Despite all of those criticisms, he’s one of the top prospects in the draft that who has the potential to develop into a monstrous, yet versatile defensive lineman. The question is, who will roll the dice on this boom or bust prospect?
I don’t claim to be a numbers guy, and I don’t put much stock into workouts that are done at the NFL Combine. But what Poe did after checking in at 6’4 1/8″ and 346 pounds is otherworldly. Poe’s weight is well distributed and it particularly stands out in his lower body, where he has a massive ‘bubble’ and thighs that enable him to generate lower body explosion (evidenced by his 29.5″ vertical jump despite his massive size) and power.
Versatility is an important aspect of defensive line play in the NFL as the more versatile a defender is, the more personnel packages he’s able to be included in.
While playing at Memphis, he played various techniques along the defensive line that will help prepare him for the next level. These techniques include head-up 2 (over guard) and 4 (over tackle) technique as well as shaded 2 (inside shoulder of guard), 3 (outside shoulder of guard) and 5 (outside shoulder of tackle) techniques.
The head-up techniques are important to note because when he played them, he spent some time 2-gapping, which simply means that he’s responsible for two gaps, one to his right, and another to his left. He fared well at this, but there are still some concerns that I’ll detail later.
Poe’s pad level is very inconsistent, which is typical of defensive linemen in college. He has a tendency to stand up and lose any leverage advantage he could potentially get. Pad level is vital while evaluating defensive lineman because not only is it important to see them keep their pads down, but they also need to have flexibility while penetrating.
As stated, Poe’s inconsistencies made this hard to gauge at times. However, when he keeps his pads low, he’s shown an impressive ability to bend at his knees and dip his shoulder to get past a blocker.
If there’s one very concerning aspect of Poe’s game, it’s hand use or a lack thereof. He often doesn’t use his hands well and instead relies on his strength, which can be effective because he’s immovable, and able to penetrate into the backfield. He will lock out his elbows at times when attempting to get his hands on the blocker, but this comes with great inconsistency and improper hand placement.
Because of these issues, blockers of all sorts are able to get into Poe’s chest area and slow down his penetration. That was the case against Arkansas State this past season when he was stonewalled multiple times, once by a tailback who was blocking from a one-back set.
Although he doesn’t use his hands well, Poe has very good quickness off of the line of scrimmage, and he puts it to good use against blockers. He is able to get past them and apply pressure in the pocket, consequently forcing the quarterback to step up and get the ball out quicker.
One of the ways he takes advantage of his quickness is by administering an inside spin move from the 3-technique alignment. Poe effectively sets this move up by taking a strong first step to the outside to make the blocker over-set, and then quickly spinning to the interior before getting into the face of the quarterback.
Despite his massive size, Poe is very light on his feet. There are a significant amount of instances in which he’s able to make plays down the line of scrimmage when pursuing ball carriers, and he’s able to simply move with nimble feet when applying pressure through the pocket.
Dealing With Cut Blocks
Although he is quick and athletic, Poe runs into problems when dealing with cut blocks. He doesn’t use his hands well to avoid offensive linemen who are dropping their weight and rolling into his lower body, and he often finds himself on the ground. This is an issue because there are some that believe he could be a nose tackle at the next level, and to be a quality nose tackle he has to be able to stay on his feet.
Play recognition or ball location can be an issue for all defensive linemen prospects that are coming into the NFL as it’s a skill developed through putting in work in the film room and identifying tendencies of the offensive players. Poe has an issue with this, and he’ll need to improve as he develops at the next level.
An example of a defensive lineman who wasn’t very good at this coming out of college and significantly improved as he developed over the years is Miami Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai, who was very raw. However, today he is one of the best nose tackles in the NFL.
Poe has a very impressive set of skills that come naturally to him. However, he’s not very far along in the development of his game. He needs to do a much better job of using his hands and dropping his pads to be more effective at the next level.
He is a boom or bust prospect because of his lack of production at a lower level and his rawness. It will be very interesting to see which city he plays in next, because it may determine whether he’s a pure nose tackle or a penetrating tackle.