INDIANAPOLIS - Nate Stupar wasn't about to disagree with Penn State teammate Devon Still.
An interviewer at the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend told Stupar, a Nittany Lion linebacker, that the day before, Still had declared he thought he was "hands down, the best defensive tackle in this draft."
Stupar laughed at that, and shook his head.
"The best of the best are here. Devon Still, he's a monster," Stupar said. "I've played behind him, played with him, he's easily one of the best players at defensive tackle I know."
Stupar said Still (6-5, 303) routinely beat double-teams at Penn State.
"When he has a goal in his head, there's nothing that can stop him . . . Third-and-2, we needed a big stop. Devon just jumped the count, ran right past the [blocker] and crushed the running back in the backfield. I was like, 'I'm glad he's on my team.' "
Still, born in Camden and raised in Wilmington, is part of an intriguingly deep d-tackle group in the 2012 draft. That might be relevant for Eagles fans, even though DT isn't an obvious, aching need like linebacker. General manager Howie Roseman said recently that when the Birds have made drafting mistakes, it has been when they drafted to fill a need, instead of looking at the best player available. The Eagles will get a chance to address linebacking when free agency starts March 13. Whether they do that successfully or not, there is an excellent chance that given the strength of this DT class, the best player available when the Birds get ready to make the 15th overall selection on April 26 will be a defensive tackle.
Though Still places himself at the top of that grouping, analysts disagree. They generally see LSU's Michael Brockers, who enters the draft with 2 years of college eligibility remaining, as No. 1. Still, a 5-year collegian, whose first two seasons were marred by injury, generally ranks with a group of four tackles just behind Brockers, any of whom could present value at 15th overall. One of the four, Memphis' Dontari Poe, wowed combine watchers by managing 44 reps of the 225-pound bench press and running a 4.98 40 - all while carrying 346 pounds on a 6-4 frame. Suddenly, comparisons are being made between Poe and Detroit star Ndamukong Suh.
But there is more to playing d-tackle than combine drills, of course. Still provided the rationale for his claim: "Just because I feel like I want it more. I was able to take over a lot of games this season," he said. "Just the production that I had, I was able to disrupt plays even if I wasn't making tackles or sacks.
"I think I had a very average year my junior year, and I never strive for being mediocre. I try to be the best that I can be. I put in a lot of overtime during the offseason just to prepare myself to be one of the best in the country for my senior year, and make my mark at Penn State."
Defensive end Jack Crawford, another of the six Nittany Lions invited to the combine, said Still was capable of making that mark earlier.
"He's always had that drive and that athleticism," Crawford said. "He just had a little bit of bad luck early on with injuries. An injury hurts your confidence, it hurts a lot of things about your game. Coming into this season, he was 100 percent and he had a focus, he had that drive to keep on playing . . . he was just unstoppable. It was a pleasure to play alongside him. We had a great season together. It was just like playing alongside Jared Odrick [a first-round pick of the Dolphins 2 years ago]. Playing alongside Devon, I always saw it coming. He just needed that opportunity, and he showed it."
Still was asked when he sensed he could be a dominant force.
"I kind of felt that after my bowl game my junior year, when we played against Florida, I thought I was able to play with them, because I played against a top-15 pick, their center [Mike Pouncey, now of Miami]," Still said. "That right there just springboarded me into the following season."
Still played in just one game his first two seasons at State College, coming back from an ACL tear only to suffer a broken fibula.
"Just being healthy my final three seasons at Penn State was big for me, because I got a chance to get on the field and learn college football," Still said. "The first 2 years really held me back, but I was able to grow mentally those final 3 years.
"What drives me is that when I first started playing football, whenever I do something, I'm very competitive. I want to be the best at it. When I got injured my first 2 years at Penn State, a lot of people said I wouldn't be the same player as I was when I showed up on campus. I think that drove me just to prove everybody wrong. To this day, I don't think I'm where I need to be right now. I want to make my mark in the NFL, just as I did at Penn State and become one of the best."