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Todd McShay breaks down the defensive tackles and defensive ends invited to this year's NFL scouting combine and ranks them heading into the event. To see this and more, become an ESPN Insider.
Only three defensive tackles have been drafted in the top five since Cincinnati took Dan Wilkinson first overall out of Ohio State in 1994. They are Gerard Warren (No. 3, Cleveland, 2001), Dewayne Robertson (No. 4, NY Jets, 2003) and Glenn Dorsey. (No. 5, Kansas City, 2008). The jury's still out on Dorsey, but the other three failed to realize their awesome potential, yet there's still a chance a defensive tackle will hear his name called in the top five this year.
There is reason to believe that 334-pound B.J. Raji of Boston College will continue the trend of underachieving defensive tackles, because his production doesn't mirror his considerable abilities, and he is a bit inconsistent. On the other hand, the risk could very well be worth the reward in this case. Raji dominated Senior Bowl week with a rare blend of size, quickness and power. He's big enough to clog up the middle as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme and agile enough to shoot gaps as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.
The other defensive tackle expected to come off the board in the first round is Peria Jerry (Mississippi), who isn't nearly as big or strong as Raji but has athletic ability and quickness that are easy to like. Jerry is a perfect fit for a one-gap scheme such as the one run by the Indianapolis Colts.
Raji's collegiate teammate, 329-pound Ron Brace, projects as a second-round pick, and comparing Brace to Jerry is a study in contrasts. Brace isn't going to get to the quarterback or disrupt running plays in the backfield on a consistent basis, but he is a stout interior run defender who can hold his ground and keep blockers off the linebackers who play behind him.
Four defensive tackles have been selected in the first two rounds of the draft just once in the past three years (2007), but there's a chance it could happen this year, as Evander Hood (Missouri) is a fringe first-day pick. Though Hood plays a bit too high, he has the upper-body strength, instincts and first-step quickness to contribute early in a one-gap scheme.
There is also good depth here, and one of the more intriguing prospects in the middle rounds should be Jarron Gilbert (San Jose State). Gilbert has problems holding his ground thanks in large part to his tendency to stand up coming out of his stance, but there's a lot to like about his upside, and he turned some heads at the East-West Shrine games. He moves very well for his size and flashes above-average upper-body strength.