LATROBE, PA - JULY 29: Will this be Memphis NT Dontari Poe next year? Pittsburgh Steelers first round draft pick Cameron Heyward laughs with President Art Rooney II during a press conference after signing with the team during training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
His size and stature doesn't lend itself well to vertical speed, yet, Memphis NT Dontari Poe can move like a faster defensive end. He's 346 pounds and moves like he's 250.
His strength is an obvious asset to the position, but bench-pressing 500 pounds is usually reserved for the otherwise low-talented defensive linemen who's strength alone could earn him a training camp invite. Squatting 700 and cleaning 400 borders on Olympian status as well.
But why didn't he dominate? That's the question turning Steelers fans - if not their front office - upside down as the time before the 2012 NFL Draft drops from weeks to days, and turns quickly into hours. With his visit to Pittsburgh Wednesday, the last day teams can have potential draft participants in for meet-and-greets, the speculation ensues.
Dontari Poe 2012 NFL Draft Profile (via sbnnfl)
This isn't a great comparison on a player-for-player level, but some may remember Ohio State basketball player Greg Oden. From a physical perspective, there was absolutely no reason he should not have completely dominated both in college and in the NBA. A good kid, by all accounts, very large and incredibly quick feet and long arms. He could have been a defensive presence in the same category as Bill Russell, or at the absolute minimum, Dwight Howard.
Injuries took their toll on Oden over the years (many say it was due to his 63-year-old frame everyone assumed was actually 24), and last I heard, he was released from Portland, the team that took him No. 1 overall in 2007.
It's not that 15.7 points a game or 9.6 rebounds a game, combined with 3.3 blocks a game (Oden's numbers at Ohio State) isn't an outstanding season stat line. It's how when you watched him play, he seemed to leave plays on the floor. There was an awareness issue - a problem fellow 2006 draftee Kevin Durant did not have.
But there were some times where you watched him and thought "DAYUM...this kid is legit."
Oden was, by many accounts, the better overall prospect because of his potential, while Durant, a ruthless scorer ad tireless worker, was the clear second pick. It's obvious in retrospect who had the better of the two picks that year, and while Oden's career has simply been derailed due to multiple injuries, the questions that plagued some about Oden's true ceiling were, at most, never answered.
You flat-out do not find guys with the combination of size and athleticism as Dontari Poe very often. Teaching a guy with those kinds of attributes how to play the nose tackle position should be like a piano teacher getting a blank-slated Mozart.
That doesn't answer the main question, though. Why didn't he dominate in college? With all due respect to Memphis University and the fine staff I'm sure they have there, how does a guy with those freakish natural gifts not develop into a player? Come to that, why wasn't he playing for a higher-end football program?
The easy answers lay somewhere in the cliche questions: motivation, intelligence, care, love of the game. All things I have complete faith Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' brass asked about in their research process.
When the rubber meets the road, the Steelers aren't a franchise who only drafts guys who can contribute in Year 1. In fact, the last two first-round defensive lineman picks they've made - Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood - only played their rookie years because of injuries. 2007 second-round pick LaMarr Woodley barely saw the field his rookie year. If they were in the position to take Poe, and they made him their first-round pick, he would most likely follow the "redshirt" philosophy as many of his predecessors have.
But that upside sure is tantalizing. So much so, this is probably a moot point and another team will grab him before the Steelers would have to worry about it.
It's still one of the more intriguing draft prospects the Steelers have weighed in the past several years. They're used to taking the guy who produced in college, not the project. But the roster is in flux, top to bottom, this could be the year that strategy changes up a little bit.
Again, provided he's on the board at 24.