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Chiefnj
05-15-2007, 12:24 PM
Rookie defensive tackles in for an education


By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst




(May 14, 2007) -- One of the toughest positions on the field for a young player to master is defensive tackle. The speed of the game inside is like a blur for a rookie. The strength and size of the offensive linemen in the NFL is something just a rare few can adjust to when they first put their pads on. As one defensive line coach said to me this past week about first-day draft picks at defensive tackle, "Most of the rooks physically dominated their college opponents with little technique and they are in a world of trouble now."

The speed of the game is a whole other problem, especially with offensive lines that have worked together for years or are masters of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking schemes. Rookie defensive tackles inevitably play too high to see the ball or the quarterback and it's easy pickings for the offensive linemen.

Health is also an issue for rookie defensive tackles. In the past four years, there have been 28 defensive tackles drafted on the first day of the draft (Rounds 1 through 3) and only 10 of the 28 were active for all 16 games their rookie season.

So with nine defensive tackles drafted on the first day of the 2007 draft, what do they really have to look forward to this season? Let's look back at the last four years to determine the future. Production expectations for a rookie defensive tackle has to be brought into a realistic area. Sure, Kevin Williams showed up as a first-round pick of the Vikings as a rookie in 2003 and started all 16 games and had 51 tackles, 10 sacks and four passes defended, but he's the exception, not the rule. Will first-round picks Amobi Okoye (Houston) or Justin Harrell (Green Bay) be the next Kevin Williams or will they be the next Brodrick Bunkley? Bunkley didn't start a game and had nine tackles, no sacks, no forced fumbles and no passes defended as a rookie for the Eagles last season.


The Cards likely want more out of Alan Branch than two or three starts.
What about the second-round defensive tackles taken in 2007? From 2003-06, there were just five defensive tackles taken in the second round -- Shaun Cody (Detroit), Jonathan Babineaux (Atlanta), Junior Siavii (Kansas City), Tank Johnson (Chicago) and Anthony Adams (San Francisco). As a group they generated only 10 starts their rookie season with just four sacks while averaging 20 tackles each. An average year for this year's second-round tackles -- Alan Branch (Arizona) and Turk McBride (Kansas City) -- should be two or three starts, 20 tackles and one or two sacks.

A lot of defensive tackles went in the third round this year -- Jay Alford (N.Y. Giants), Tank Tyler (Kansas City), Brandon Mebane (Seattle), Ray McDonald (San Francisco) and Quinn Pitcock (Indianapolis) -- which is surprising considering NFL averaged 2 tackles taken in the third round from 2003-06. The third round has two great stories in the past few years. Darnell Dockett was selected by the Cardinals in 2004 and promptly started 15 games and produced 39 tackles and 3 sacks. If you didn't know the truth about rookie defensive tackle production that might not impress you, but the league average suggests it was a great season.

Of the 10 tackles since 2003 taken in the third round, eight of them didn't have any starts as rookies and only Dockett was active for all 16 games. In the past two years, none of the five tackles taken started a game, and they only generated one sack and an unimpressive 20 tackles combined. On the other hand, maybe a team will get lucky and find a Cory Redding. The Lions franchise tagged him this past season, but in his rookie season, mostly at defensive end, he didn't start a game was active for only nine games and had seven tackles and no sacks. Three years later, Detroit has a good player.

Of course, there is also a 20 percent chance one or two of this year's selections turn out to be Junior Siavii, Donnell Washington or Vincent Burns and gone from the game.

Finally, the fans and media expect big things from this year's first-day draft picks, but keep in mind a good season will be to hit the average the previous 28 first-day draftees achieved in their rookie seasons. Keep this guideline with you before you start believing these young defensive tackles down in the trenches are headed towards being a bust -- start 30 percent of the games, be active for 75 percent of the games, be in on 19-20 tackles, grab one or two sacks, defend one pass and either force or recover one fumble. That's a solid rookie season at defensive tackle.

Mr. Laz
05-15-2007, 12:27 PM
interesting ... thanks

Coogs
05-15-2007, 01:40 PM
nj,

Gosh darn it! With all of the youth being added on both sides of the ball, I was just thinking about getting out my homer goggles with regards to the upcomming season. Then you had to go and post this and slap me back to reality.

Chiefnj
05-15-2007, 02:05 PM
I found it somewhat suprising/sobering. The internet myth is DT is a simple position to master quickly; unlike WR. Myth busted.

The positive is that Tank is somewhat similar to Darnell Dockett - character concerns dropped them in the draft.

Direckshun
05-15-2007, 02:07 PM
Well what I'm looking for is two rookies to show promise. They don't need to be dominant yet, just productive.

And stay healthy doing it.

A Pro Bowl from either one of them? Maybe, a couple years down the road. But this year, stay healthy and make some noise, and you'll have been a great pick for us.

trndobrd
05-15-2007, 02:31 PM
Well what I'm looking for is two rookies to show promise. They don't need to be dominant yet, just productive.

And stay healthy doing it.

A Pro Bowl from either one of them? Maybe, a couple years down the road. But this year, stay healthy and make some noise, and you'll have been a great pick for us.


If they can give positive production in the rotation, I would be thrilled.