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2011 Stats: 53 Tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks (through 11 games)
In the midst of a season overshadowed by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, one of the few bright spots for Penn State has been the stellar play of senior defensive tackle Devon Still.
Still had an up-and-down junior year, but finished strong recording seven tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the Outback bowl. This year he shown great improvements and has been named a finalist for both the Outland Trophy (premier interior lineman) and the Bednarik Award (premier defensive player).
Until last week against Ohio State, where Still admitted he was not at his best because of the flu, he had recorded at least one tackle for loss in every game this season.
Still’s biggest strengths are in his strength, run defense and first step. He has very good quickness for a player his size and while he doesn’t have a great deal of pass rushing moves, his bull rush and swim move are enough to get to the quarterback from time to time.
Though he has been frequently double teamed this year, because of his strength and explosion off the line, Still has the ability to fight through the double team. Still’s great strength he is a great run defender, where he uses his quickness and strength to stay anchored and make plays. And once he gets his hands on a ballcarrier, he rarely lets go.
Still has improved on his glaring weaknesses from his junior year, but still has some flaws in his game.
As mentioned above, he does not have a wide array of pass rush moves and isn’t expected to be a great rusher at the next level. As far as his motor, he will occasionally give up on plays if he does not think he can make the play but will run down a carrier if he thinks he can get him.
Another weakness is his technique, which has improved since last year, but he still occasionally gets overextend, allowing him to get knocked down.
Many teams with 3-4 defenses do not put a great emphasis on their three linemen, who are viewed as players who are there just take space. However, the Patriots have always made it a priority to have great linemen, spending first round picks in ’01, ’03 and ’04 on Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork respectively.
With Seymour and Warren gone, the Patriots brought in Albert Haynesworth to fill the void on the line. But with Haynesworth gone after an underwhelming few games, the question is: Who will be the next great Patriot linemen?
Still could be the answer to this question.
At 6-foot-5, 310-pounds, he is the perfect size for a 3-4 end and a 4-3 tackle. Still is not an elite pass rusher, but he is quick off the line and can use a bull rush or swim move to apply pressure to the quarterback.
His real talent lies in run defense where Still has shown the ability to stay in place and meet the ball carrier, or drive his defender back and make a play in the backfield. While he has some problems in his technique, he should improve under the tutelage of Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
It’s too early to predict where Still will fall in the NFL draft, but most expect he will go somewhere in the first round. His stock has climbed all year-long and with a good showing in the last few games of the season, and at the combine he could be a top 15 pick.
Barring a Raiders late season or a late season collapse of their own, the Patriots will most likely have two first round picks in the early to late 20s. But if the lack of a strong defensive lineman becomes a problem late in the season, the Pats may want to trade up to get Still, who may be the best interior lineman in the draft.
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1. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State