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2011 NFL Draft Positional Rankings: Marcell Dareus Should Not Be Surprising At Top Of Nose Tackle Prospect Rankings

PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09: Sione Fua #92 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he sacked Matt Barkley #7  of the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09: Sione Fua #92 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he sacked Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It's about time I go through and clumsily list my rankings, big board and projections when it comes to the 2011 NFL Draft. I say clumsily because we already have an NCAA guy, Drew K, and he's very likely my superior in most cases, but I've been hitting more often than I've been missing, and it's led folks to ask me to post my own thoughts in a more expanded format, so I'm here to do that. I will cover most positions, list a big board at the end, and generally talk at length about guys, of whom 95% won't be wearing Red and Gold next year. Previously, I posted my prospect rankings for the cornerback position, and before that, the 3-4 outside linebacker position.

The Nose Tackle

You'll hear people call the MIKE linebacker the quarterback of any 3-4 defense, but that quarterback isn't going to get anything done if he doesn't have the big, bad nose tackle in front of him. Patrick Willis is not Patrick Willis without Aubrayo Franklin, or somebody of equal or greater skillset. The nose tackle is absolutely instrumental in making the first contact and generally causing havoc. There's a whole lot of precise movements and strategies at work in the trenches, but if you want to simplify it: they more or less get in there and push things until those things fall down or get out of their way. Stop the run, occasionally get after the passer, demand a double team, close a hole ... these are all things that a good nose tackle should be able to do.

Aubrayo Franklin has been the starter, and his last two years have been above-average, especially 2009, where I believe he was the best nose tackle in the league. He certainly had the stats to back that notion up, though he did regress in 2010. Still, he's a guy the 49ers would love to keep around, he fits right into what Vic Fangio likely envisions as his 2011 defense, and he'll be the best nose tackle to hit free agency. Which could be a problem, in regards to retaining his services.

Ricky Jean Francois is the immediate backup to Franklin, and he's got a lot of potential and upside going forward, but he's probably not ready. He's not "boom or bust", because he's a seventh round pick, he's more so just a guy who may or may not work out. If he doesn't, that's just the way it is, but if he does, then the 49ers got lucky. Isaac Sopoaga can also move over to play nose, but that's not an ideal situation. With the free agent crop being Franklin, Ron Edwards and Pat Williams, the 49ers will cast a long look at the 2011 NFL Draft to fill their nose tackle need.

Fortunately, this is a great draft class for nose tackles. This entire draft seems to be stacked with very high-upside guys at most positions, but nose tackle is especially deep. Guys in the fourth and fifth rounds can be immediate starting candidates in this particular draft. The only caveat to the wealth of talent at this point is the fact that there are teams with significant nose tackle needs other than the 49ers, and it will be a crapshoot to see when these guys are actually gone. After the jump, I've got some rankings, some percentages regarding the chances any given player is drafted by San Francisco in each round, and thoughts on each of my top fifteen guys.

Nose Tackle Prospect Rankings

Rank Player/School Height/Weight/40 Time Rd. 1 Rd. 2 Rd. 3 Rd. 4 Rd. 5 Rd. 6 Rd. 7
1 Marcell Dareus, Alabama 6'3'', 319 lbs, 4.92 90% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2 Phil Taylor, Baylor 6'3'', 334 lbs, 5.18 75% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
3 Stephen Paea, Oregon St. 6'1'', 303 lbs, N/A 65% 80% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
4 Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss 6'2'', 329 lbs, 5.29 10% 50% 70% 80% N/A N/A N/A
5 Kenrick Ellis, Hampton 6'5'', 346 lbs, 5.19 0% 60% 75% 85% 90% N/A N/A
6 Sione Fua, Stanford 6'2'', 310 lbs, 5.28 0% 0% 65% 80% 85% N/A N/A
7 Anthony Gray, Southern Miss 6'0'', 330 lbs, 5.17 0% 0% 40% 60% 65% 70% 75%
8 Ian Williams, Notre Dame 6'1'', 309 lbs, 5.14 0% 0% 0% 0% 50% 65% 75%
9 Chris Neild, West Virginia 6'2'', 319 lbs, 5.07 0% 0% 0% 0% 45% 60% 70%
10 Frank Kearse, Alabama 6'4'', 315 lbs, 5.30 0% 0% 0% 0% 30% 40% 60%

Talking Points

  • Marcell Dareus is very much a nose tackle, any scout will tell you he has the ability to play that position. A lot of folks would consider that a waste of athleticism, but that's such a silly stance to take when he fills that kind of need. He would come in and start from day one in the middle of the line, unless Aubrayo Franklin is also retained, in which case he'd like up on the left side as an end. It's not that Franklin would be better than him at the nose, it's the fact that you want your best three players out there on the line.
  • Phil Taylor would obviously be number two, and he could surprise people with how high he goes. It's not something the 49ers would do, but Taylor is worth a top fifteen pick, he just won't end up going there. I look at Taylor something like a Tyson Alualu situation in Jacksonville - he didn't quite fit the positioning, but they liked him and he turned out great.
  • A startling trend with this class of nose tackles: more than half of the top fifteen on my list have had a history of lack of effort on and off of the football field. Now, a nose tackle running out of his motor late in games is understandable, he's paid to be, well, on the fat side. But the tendency to give up coupled with a stalling motor is a combination of question marks that absolutely scares me.
  • The problem with nose tackles is they're not generally drafted so high, but they are such an important position, that you could value a guy as a fourth rounder and if a team is scared enough at the prospect of losing him enough, they could pull the trigger in the second round and then we'll see a run of nose tackles. I think in either the second or third round, there will be several taken within a ten-pick span.
  • There is a substantial dropoff after number seven on my list. The players just start getting to be big, without any actual athleticism and things of that nature. There are still prospects there, but there is no reason to really get into it. Remember, there will be a run of nose tackles, but there won't be a seven-player run of them.
  • For what it's worth, the next guys on my list include players like Blaine Sumner, Terron Sanders, Terry Griffin and Harold Ayodele.

Individual Thoughts

1. Marcell Dareus - He has the size to play the position, which is one of the most important things for a nose tackle. For the 49ers, it's a little less of an issue, as Jim Tomsula has coached up two nose tackles who are a bit undersized in Franklin and Jean Francois, and it's true that the smaller guys (in relative terms) flourish in the kind of 3-4 alignment that Vic Fangio runs. He's lacking long-time experience, and has shown a tendency to give up on plays, something that is damning for a nose tackle, but it's not something that occurs with regularity. Dareus started out as a great run stopper who developed an ability to power into the backfield and put up solid numbers rushing the passer. As it stands, I have Dareus as the best nose tackle in this draft, and it's not all-that close.

2. Phil Taylor - This man is absolutely nasty with his hands, with a huge arsenal of moves in that regard. He could come in and put them both on you and send you back flying, or he can slap at you and make you look silly when he pushes you effortlessly to the side. If you're going one-on-one against Phil Taylor, you're going to get put on your butt nine times out of ten. Factor in his ability against the run and his tendency to push himself into the backfield and hand the quarterback, and you have a pretty complete nose tackle. My biggest problem with Taylor is one of leverage and coachability - his problems as a player have been with him throughout his entire college career and he's never seemed to improve them much. I don't like his pad level, more often than not, he just rises and stands up, playing way too high for his position. You can't play standing up and take on two blockers in the NFL, you're getting put right on your back in that situation. When you run a defense like Fangio's, you're going to have precise instruction on most plays, and Taylor's inability to correct little mistakes is a question mark at this point. He's also been known to have a lack of effort on and off the football field.

3. Stephen Paea - Some would say that Paea's rise is only due to his monster combine performance with the weight-lifting, and as 49ers fans, that should scare us. Isaac Sopoaga broke the top ten in the bench press and it never translated well to the field, but I can tell you right now: with Paea, it will translate. He's an athletic guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's a little short, with below-average arm length, but he'll make up for that by getting right in the center of an opposing player's gravity, and knocking them senseless. His hands off the snap are a force to be reckoned with, and sometimes I feel like centers are going to go flying before I snap out of it and realize they just stumbled and fell down. He's not as good a fit in the scheme as far as San Francisco is concerned, but he's the kind of player you change that scheme for. Paea could be a first rounder.

4. Jerrell Powe - Powe is as high as number two on some boards and as low as number seven on others, which is a concern from the get-go. I would challenge many of those who put him at seven, though, and caution them against just watching tape from this past season and not considering all things. The biggest thing to remember about Powe is the fact that Ole Miss changed his role considerably in 2010, and he regressed. They tried to get him rushing the passer more and doing things he's just not cut out to do. Powe is a nose tackle, and a very good one at that. Good, long arms and a devastating push with his hands highlight his ability at the point of attack. Powe is my sleeper as a nose tackle, he could be taken as early as the second round or as late as the fourth. I would love him in the third.

5. Kenrick Ellis - A smaller school product who has gone under the radar, the best thing I can say about Kenrick Ellis is the fact that he never quits, unlike some of the players already mentioned. Ellis is the kind of guy who looked to be doomed as a late round pick, but somebody with high potential, and he decided at sometime in the beginning of 2010 that this wasn't gonna fly. Ellis put the work in, and absolutely dominated in 2010. He's got a great motor for a guy who is pushing 350 pounds, and he hates the idea of taking a play off, or at least that's what I get from his body language. There are character concerns there from earlier in his NCAA career, and I think he plays a little too high for my liking. He has solid double-team potential, but he can disappear at times and be shutdown by particular players here and there. Ellis could sneak into the second round if a team likes him enough, and I would be very happy to have him in San Francisco. I think he's a great guy to have starting, with someone like Ricky Jean Francois, who possesses a different skillset, backing him up.

6. Sione Fua - He's not the sexiest option at nose tackle, for the simple fact that he's not that athletic, and doesn't have the elite-level power to make up for that. He's right in-between two playing styles, but somehow it all works out for him in the end more often than it doesn't. Fua's power just seems to be inconsistent, he can power through multiple guys, or get shoved around at other times. He's got a great bullrush, but he's not real explosive by any means. It's a matter of give and take for Fua, but there's a lot of raw potential there that Fangio and Harbaugh are already familiar with. He may be able to start at day one, but there will be some growing pains. Still, his ceiling is through the roof (how does that make any sense at all?) and he's worth it in the fourth round, by all means. I like the fact that he's not really huge as far as weight goes, but his frame is really solid, so he eats up space with the best of them.

7. Anthony Gray - He's my "sleeper lite," in that I can't say for sure that I think he'll break out, but I think there is more natural talent there than the guys under, and perhaps the guy above him. Gray has a fantastic base and is good at pushing people around. The caveat: he can also get pushed around a little bit, and doesn't have great instincts. I've seen him lower his head and just run into things, when the play starts going the opposite direction, he just keeps plugging away. At the very least, when he is plugging away, it looks good ... it's jut not always in the right direction, you know? Gray is an anchor, and can stop the run. Very solid developmental guy, and I have him higher than most other rankings.

8. Ian Williams - The best athleticism of the "lower tier" nose tackles in the draft, there's a lot to like there, especially for the 49ers. He doesn't get after the passer a lot, but he does everything else at a high level. He's a solid anchor who will stop the run every time, and he can occupy two blockers. If Williams gets a good coach and some time to develop, he can be deadly.

9. Chris Neild - The best anchor of the "lower tier" nose tackles in the draft, Neild's lower body strength is some of the best out there, and he plays with great leverage to utilize it. He's hard to move, he's a bull moose out there and his presence is felt, even if he's not putting up any kind of stats at all. If Neild gets a sack, something horribly wrong happened with the offensive line, because he's definitely not good at it, but that's not the forte of nose tackles anyway.

10. Frank Kearse - He's a very underrated, under-the-radar kind of player with a lot of athleticism and ability to do all things well. Rushing the passer, stopping the run, anchoring the line - he does it all, but he's just so raw and so inconsistent. Many considered him a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT, but he's now gaining consideration from 3-4 teams as a nose tackle. The Steelers have taken an interest in him, at this point. I would love to get him in the seventh or an as undrafted free agent.