Is this the year the St Louis Rams finally get their big man in the middle? With a number of defensive linemen rising in the 2012 NFL Combine, making for an unexpectedly strong class of DTs, signs could be pointing to "yes." The Rams famously passed on Ndamukong Suh in the 2010 draft in favor of their offensive linchpin, Sam Bradford. Both made immediate impacts on their new team, but the Lions did a much better job of building a team around Suh for second-year success and beyond.
Now, DT may be a key position for Jeff Fisher, who loves building teams around strength up the middle. But the player they get may depend on what kind of deal the Rams strike for the #2 overall pick.
If they take a package from Cleveland that includes the #4 and #22, we could see a player like Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox slotting comfortably at that #22 spot. Cox is a 6'4" 298 pound interior lineman with pass-rush credentials, ready to step in and take over from Fred Robbins at the three technique. And as a healthy Fred Robbins showed in 2010, a strong player in that spot can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the defense.
However, the player to watch might be Dontari Poe, a 6'4" 346-pounder who can "play skinny" when he needs to punch through the line, or play wide when he needs to swallow up space. Poe is making waves at the Combine with his stunning speed (4.7 time in the 40, with 1.7 seconds in his ten-yard split) and strength (44 reps in the bench press).
"I love the weight room," said Poe in interviews this weekend. "It’s something I got into in high school because people always used to say college players are way bigger, faster, stronger. When you get to college, they say the NFL is way bigger, faster, stronger. I never let up on it."
A player that can carry that weight and strength might have Jeff Fisher seeing shades of Albert Haynesworth (who stood 6'6" 320 lbs as a rookie) all over again. But how high will he go? If the Rams make a deal with the Redskins for the #6 pick, they may be tempted to trade down a few more spots and lock this player up in the top ten.
However, the most notable player known to be linked to the Rams already is 6'5" LSU sophomore Michael Brockers. With his huge projectable frame, Brockers at one point was considered one of the top prospects at the position. If you squint your eyes a bit and project out a few years, that is. Brockers did not help himself yesterday, though, with a largely indifferent combine and flashing few of the skills to make anyone think he has pass rush potential down the road.
However, the Rams sought him out for a reason, and his slide should make him available as a consolation prize in the second round, if they miss out on one of the top players.