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The Big Draft Decision
PETER KING
March 08, 2010
With defensive tackles suddenly at a premium, NFL teams with high picks next month have a weighty choice to make: Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh?
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March 08, 2010

The Big Draft Decision

With defensive tackles suddenly at a premium, NFL teams with high picks next month have a weighty choice to make: Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh?

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Born to a heating-and-cooling system technician from Cameroon and an elementary school teacher from Jamaica who met in Portland, Suh was named after his 7'3" great-grandfather. (Ndamukong means "house of spears" in the language of the Ngema tribe of Cameroon.) At age eight he stood 5'8", the same height as his dad, and loved playing soccer. Young Ndamukong didn't give it up until eighth grade, when he decided the sport wasn't physical enough. "Too many red cards," Suh says. In high school he took up football, and before long the scholarship offers came flooding in.

At Nebraska he struggled until his redshirt junior year and the arrival of coach Bo Pelini and his brother Carl, the defensive coordinator who taught Suh to play smart and aggressively. Over his final two seasons in Lincoln he had 19½ sacks and 32 quarterback pressures as he became the most feared defensive player in college football. Strangely, despite having the performance of his life in the Big 12 title game, Suh frets that he was responsible for Nebraska's loss, which came on a Texas field goal as time expired. "I blocked three other kicks last season," he said glumly. "I should have blocked that one, without a doubt. It will always bother me, the way that game ended."

Meanwhile, NFL clubs that use the 3--4 and are drafting at the top of the first round are stewing over more pressing issues such as, Do we want to put Suh at end to play the run and risk wasting his pass-rushing ability? Most scouts see him playing multiple spots on the line; maybe end in a 3--4, or tackle in a 4--3 on rush downs with the option of moving outside on passing downs.

The thought that neither Russell Maryland nor Dan Wilkinson—the only two defensive tackles taken with the No. 1 pick since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger—turned into a star doesn't faze Suh. Nor does the prospect of having to meet great expectations in St. Louis or Detroit or Tampa Bay or wherever else he might land. "The pressure won't bother me," he says. "I know I will earn every last penny of what they pay me. Whoever drafts me will get every last ounce of effort out of me."

All-out effort, that's what Bradford admired in his teammate McCoy during their four years together in Norman. "Great motor," the quarterback says. "He always came in first in every drill we did at practice, from the start of practice till the end."

McCoy grew up in Oklahoma City, the son of a human resources manager and an aircraft mechanic who had two other children, and football was his sport from the start. "When I was eight, they put me at defensive end for a while, and when I was in high school I begged my coach to let me play tight end a little as a senior," he says. "But the rest of the time it was all defensive tackle. I was just bigger than everyone else."

After McCoy had 40 sacks during his final two seasons at Southeast High, Oklahoma came after him hard. He redshirted his freshman season before becoming a three-year starter but spent his career playing in the shadows of more famous Sooners such as Bradford.

Though McCoy's stats don't compare well to Suh's (a season best of 6½ sacks in 2008, for instance), McCoy seems a natural for the three-technique position. "I think I can contain the run, but I thrive on getting upfield and going after the quarterback," he said. "I think the important thing about our position is not necessarily sacks but disruption. Look at some of the great tackles, and what they do is set up plays for the defensive ends."

McCoy smiles a lot when he's speaking. If anyone at the combine was just happy to be there, he was. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops often praised his big defensive tackle for his leadership, and at the combine McCoy was quick to befriend some of the lesser-known defensive linemen. "I just have so much fun around this game—practice, games, just being around the guys," he said. "When I'm not playing, I'm a little sick to the stomach."

The Rams have a gut-wrenching choice to make among Bradford, McCoy and Suh. A quarterback or a defensive tackle? And which defensive tackle? Before the combine McCoy and his dad, Gerald Sr., talked about how it was about time that defensive tackles were getting all this national attention. They should be careful what they wish for—there's still seven more weeks of hype and rumors until draft day.

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