A Look at This Year's NFL Draft Defensive Tackle Prospects
Marcell Dareus remembers exactly when his football career began and who provided his inspiration.
"I started playing when I was in the fifth grade," said Dareus, a former standout defensive tackle for the University of Alabama. "I was swinging on swings and people came and said, 'You're a big guy. Why don't you come and play?' I started playing.
"I didn't have the money for it, but we played and we had a good time. I started watching (former Tampa Bay star) Warren Sapp, what he did, and I'm like, 'Why can't I do that?' So I pushed myself to do what he did."
The quest to attain the lofty status of Sapp, a seven-time Pro Bowl participant, continues for Dareus. He will take the next step when the NFL Draft unfolds on April 28-30. Dareus is considered a possible top-five selection in the first round, and some observers see him being picked as high as No. 2 overall by Denver.
Dareus is 6-3, 319 pounds, and a superb athlete for a man of his size. At Alabama, he was the MVP in his team's win over Texas in the BCS national title game after the 2009 season. He used that honor as a springboard to an impressive performance in the 2010 season, when he finished with 34 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
With his formidable bull-rushing technique, the Birmingham, Ala., native has the ability to send the pocket crashing around opposing quarterbacks. He sheds blocks nicely.
He played a lot of nose tackle in Alabama's pro-style 3-4 defense. But he also played tackle in a 4-3 scheme, and says he could adapt smoothly in that type of NFL formation. He could even slide to defensive end in a pinch.
"Playing (for coach Nick Saban at Alabama) and playing a pro-style defense, I'm ready for the league," Dareus said during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "We did all the plays the NFL teams would do and did a lot of the things that came with it – a lot of stunts ... a lot of coverages and calls.
"I learned a lot from coach Saban. He taught a lot of the little things; it's the little things that matter. Finishing through the line, finishing up on your reps, follow through with your hands, follow through on your stunts. ... There's a lot of things he taught me along the way and a lot of things I already had in my arsenal. It was a good combination."
So far, 2011 has been a good year for Dareus. He finally got to meet his longtime idol, Sapp, during a television taping at the Combine. "Watching Sapp," Dareus said, "really made me play football."
And Dareus has spent his time since the Combine working out and making plans for how he'll take care of his six brothers and sisters once he cashes his first check as a professional.
Dareus' father, a native of Haiti, died when Marcell was six years old. His mother died last May. Dareus, who gave up a year of eligibility at Alabama to try the NFL, told Yahoo.com that he wants to purchase a house with his NFL money so his family has a meeting place for Christmas dinner and other special occasions.
"We're really close," Dareus said. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to come out – to really help my family. We're all struggling in certain ways. It will be a big benefit to help my brothers and sisters to the point we can do something in life."
One of Dareus' rivals in college was Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, whose Tigers won the national championship this past season. And now, when the subject of defensive tackle prospects for the draft arises, Dareus and Fairley are generally listed No. 1 and 1A.
"I have nothing against him," Dareus said about Fairley. "He went out there and played his butt off this year. He looked like a great competitor ... he made the plays. Can't anybody take that from him."
When Fairley was asked about Dareus at the Combine, the Auburn star had nothing bad to say.
"He's a great player, I'm a great player," Fairley said. "So there's no comparison."
Make no mistake: There will be comparisons as the two tackles advance through their NFL careers. Because they played in the same state, at a similarly high level for recent national championship teams, and entered the draft at the same time, they will be inextricably linked in the minds of fans.
At the Combine, Dareus dodged bold declarations of superiority.
Asked if he thought he was the best tackle in the draft, he said: "Kinda, sorta. Nick Fairley had a great year this year. Everybody did pretty good. ... I can say I think I'm the most versatile D-lineman here."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S DEFENSIVE TACKLES
It's a strong group of defensive tackles. Marcell Dareus could be the first chosen based on his body of work at Alabama and his versatility. He can play nose in the 3-4 or operate at tackle and even end in a 4-3. Auburn's Nick Fairley is challenging Dareus for the top distinction, but most of Fairley's attention came this past season during the Tigers' run to the national championship. Fairley, the Lombardi Trophy winner in 2010, started only two games in 2009. Baylor's Phil Taylor, Illinois' Corey Liuget and Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson all could be selected in the first round.
THE LAST FIVEThe last five defensive tackles drafted by the Colts ...
2010: Ricardo Mathews, seventh round, Cincinnati.
2009: Fili Moala, second round, USC.
Terrance Taylor, fourth round, Michigan.
2007: Quinn Pitcock, third round, Ohio State.
2005: Vincent Burns, third round, Kentucky.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 10 defensive tackles expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft ...
Marvin Austin, North Carolina, 6-2, 309
Marcell Dareus, Alabama, 6-3, 319
Nick Fairley, Auburn, 6-4, 297
Lawrence Guy, Arizona State, 6-4, 304
Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson, 6-4, 309
Corey Liuget, Illinois, 6-2, 303
Drake Nevis, LSU, 6-1, 298
Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 6-1, 303
Phil Taylor, Baylor, 6-3, 334
Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple, 6-4, 308
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.