Over the course of the 2011 Carolina Panthers season the Panthers were gashed in the run game by opposing teams, ultimately causing multiple defeats despite an otherwise strong outing by the Panthers. The suspected culprit of such collywobbles were the young, inexperienced, and outmatched Defensive Tackles, headlined by Rookies Sione Fua, Terrell McClain, and other youngsters, Andre Neblett, Jason Shirley, and Frank Kearse. Scores of Panther Fans have vindicated the Panther DT's for the defensive woes last season, and even more are vociferating the selection of a Defensive Tackle in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. However, the more prudent measure may be to let our young defensive tackles progress and hone their techniques for another season before pulling the trigger on a potential blue chip defensive tackle. Another possible scenario could be reinforcing the depth at Defensive Tackle with a couple of developmental prospects found late in the NFL Draft or via free agency.
This Defensive Tackle class is without a clear headliner, or an elite prospect worthy of early selection. Even so, this DT class is backloaded with potential gems who could selected in the closing rounds of the Draft this season. Most of the Panther Defensive Tackles are young guys who have exhibited smatterings of success and athleticism during their careers, and following this mold, I've chosen a couple of guys to look in to.
Kheeston Randall: 6'5 297 lbs. Projected 5.07 40 yard dash, 33 inch arms
Randall attended Texas for his college career, and was hyped to be a 2nd Day pick before the past season. Randall finished last season with 31 Tackles, 4 TFL's, and 1 Sack. His low numbers could be attributed to his assignments; Randall was charged with eating up blockers at Texas, rather than penetrating gaps, something that could be seen more of in the future. At the Senior Bowl, Randall was consistently disruptive, and made it into the backfield on several occasions. Randall is agile, and powerful, rarely being moved off of the line by a single lineman. Kheeston has also been labeled as a good character guy with a high motor, constantly volunteering in the community. Currently, Walterfootball.com labels Randall as a 3-5th round prospect.
DaJohn Harris: 6'3 308lbs. Projected 5.06 40 yard dash, 32 5/8 inch arms
Harris played his college ball at USC (or U$C depending on how you look at it :^)) racking up 22 Tackles, 7 TFL's, 1.5 sacks, and 6 passes batted down this past season. Harris exhibited quick burst and good instincts during his time in Southern California, showing fluidity and awareness in recognizing plays and batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Anyhow, Harris has been criticized as having a weak motor, and not giving 100% effort all game. During the East-West Shrine Game Harris shredded through blockers with his rip move and ensured his spot as the best player on the West Squad. Walterfootball.com lists Harris as a 5-6th round pick, while CBSSports.com lists him as a 2-3rd round pick.
USC DT #98 Da'John Harris Highlights 2010 (via CaliforniasGold)
Travian Robertson: 6'4 305 lbs. Projected 4.99 40 yard dash, 32 1/2 inch arms
Travian attended USC (the other one) and grew up in Laurinburg North Carolina. Last season, Robertson collected 49 Tackles, 8 TFL's, and 2.5 sacks. Robertson has very quick feet and raw power, and exhibited his abilities sparingly during his college career. During the East-West Shrine Game, Robertson dominated opposing offensive linemen, and showed good pad level. However, coaches were disappointed in Robertson's hand placement and technique, citing him for being sloppy and fundamentally unsound. With a little coaching, and seasoning, Robertson could become a solid NFL Lineman. Walterfootball.com lists Robertson as a 5-6th round pick, while CBSSports.com has him as a 7th-FA player.
Travian Robertson DT #42 South Carolina Highlights (via GHSquaredSports)
DeAngelo Tyson: 6'2 306 lbs. Projected 5.02 40 yard dash, 33 3/8 inch arms
Tyson played college ball at Georgia, and amassed 20 Tackles, 3.5 TFL's, and 1.5 Sacks. Tyson showcased good push and pad level, and was able to disrupt the pocket on several occasions. Frankly, there's not a lot of info on the internet about Tyson, neigh any recent highlight videos. Per reports, Tyson did have a good game against Florida this past season, and racked up 16 tackles against Georgia Tech during the 2010 season. Tyson was a highly touted recruit coming out of college, and may be viewed as a good developmental tackle. Walterfootball.com classifies Tyson as a 7th rounder or an UDFA, CBSSports concurs.
Jaye Howard: 6'3 292 lbs. Projected 4.99 40 yard dash, 32 1/8 inch arms
Howard spent his college career at Florida, and was viewed as an early round prospect coming into the season. This past year, Howard accumulated 65 Tackles, 10 TFL's, and 5.5 Sacks. Howard is extremely athletic, and has very nice lateral speed that allows him to move across the line of scrimmage fluidly. During his time at Florida, Howard exhibited explosion and good penetration skills that helped him flush the QB out of the pocket. Despite that, Howard doesn't have the raw power needed out of top round pick. Howard also was very aggressive, being caught jumping offsides in a hard count multiple times. During the Senior Bowl, Howard didn't make much of an impact, and failed to make a lasting impression. Many analysts believe that Howard has worlds of talent, yet he hasn't equivocated his athleticism into production. Walterfootball.com has Howard listed as a 5-6th round pick, while CBSSports.com cites Howard as a 6-7th round pick.
Jaye Howard (via BrownsOrBust)
(Players I like, but didn't have the wherewithal to write about: Akiem Hicks, Nicholas Jean Baptiste, and Marcus Forston.)
In Conclusion, the Panthers best option might be to pass over a raw Michael Brockers in the first round, and select a DT later in the draft, and further develop the young DT's already on the roster. Picking up a prospect with potential, a la Randall, Harris, Robertson, Tyson, and Howard allows the coaching staff to further evaluate the talent at hand, and perhaps cultivate a future starter at the Defensive Tackle position. The draft is full of players with talent who haven't had experience playing in a pro style system, or in a professional weight training acumen, and with the proper coaching and exposure these players can mature into solid contributors in the NFL.
Sound off CSR Community, Do you think these guys can be developed into mainstays for the Panthers? Which late round DT's do you have your eye on? What do you think about taking a Defensive Tackle in the First Round?