While the Indianapolis Colts are undergoing a major defensive transition, which includes adding a player like former Ravens defensive end Cory Redding, the team is still lacking what may be the most important component of a successful 3-4 scheme -- a nose tackle. There are a few nose tackles that are available in the free agent market who could serve as some insurance in case the front office is unable to nab a solid prospect in the upcoming draft, but one player could be intriguing enough for the front office to consider making some kind of movement with their second or third round picks.
Former Memphis defensive standout Dontari Poe entered the NFL Combine with a chance to blow away scouts or to relegate himself to another impressively large man who just won't cut it athletically against NFL talent. He did the former.
Poe is 6-foot 4-inches tall and weighs an impressive 346 pounds -- the perfect size combination that would indicate a space eating terror on the interior of a 3-4 defensive line. Men this size are not speedsters and typically rely on their size alone to get a shot in the NFL. Poe went beyond the typical. Poe ran a 4.98 40-yard dash, put up 44 reps on the bench press, put up a 4.56 second 20-yard shuttle time, a 29.5 inch vertical leap, and a 8-foot 9-inch broad jump.
There is absolutely little doubt after the combine that Poe has all of the physical tools a man needs to require a lot of attention from NFL offensive linemen and potentially be a force against professional competition. The questions start when one considers the level of competition he faced in college and the consistency of his performances against the competition.
One note on Poe is that, unsurprisingly, a man of his size is boot-strapped with conditioning concerns. There is little doubt that expecting Poe to be an every down defender will fail over the course of the game. What makes that attribute somewhat less concerning for Chuck Pagano and the new Indianapolis Colts defense is that, like the Ravens, it is likely Indianapolis will run a hybrid defensive front that rotates in and out a number of players to keep opposing offenses off-balance. When these rotations occur, Poe will get a breather and will not have to be relied upon as heavily as he would in other more traditional 3-4 schemes.
Another primary concern for Poe is that he was not a consistently dominant player even against lower-levels of collegiate competition. There were times that he would stand out as an unstoppable force that no one could handle, but whether conditioning or effort is to blame, he seemed to take other plays off. If he is not a full-time hustle player, regardless of how tired he might be at times, he could be a disaster in the NFL. Taking plays off against professional competition often increases the risk of big plays -- especially at a position as pivotal as nose tackle in the 3-4.
On the other hand, he has surprising finesse when he works against offensive linemen. While his size indicates an obvious opportunity to simply over-power and run over opponents, he has the hip-swivel and explosion to slide off of his adversaries as well. This suggests that with work and development he could be as dynamic a player as Baltimore's Haloti Ngata who takes snaps at defensive end.
Dr. Blue had easy work with the Poe health check as the nose tackle started in all but one game at Memphis and has no major injury history I can track down.
Evaluating the Choice
The issue is that Poe is a risky choice the earlier in the draft a team considers him. He was not so dominant -- really he wasn't "dominant" at all over the long-term -- against lower level competition to suggest that he is ready to take on men who deal with athletes like him on a semi-regular basis. His inconsistency and conditioning concerns could make him a boom or bust player on the field and not worthy of a first round -- or maybe even second round -- pick where teams generally try to find every down contributors.
There is little chance the Colts will select Poe in the first round, unless they feel so strongly about Poe that they choose to trade back into the first round -- and a team in a full-scale rebuild probably won't sacrifice their picks if they're not completely certain. This makes him a potential target in the early second, or a target later in the second by potentially trading later picks. In the second round Poe would be a solid choice, though still a gamble. In the third (or sacrificing the third round pick) he is a no-brainer.