Ask most casual NFL fans about Dontari Poe and you’ll likely hear something about his 40 time, unbelievably large statue or unexected “fat guy touchdowns” while in Kansas City; while Poe’s 4.98 forty yard dash at 346 (!) pounds was and is very impressive, Poe the player is so much more than a combine freak or a jump-pass anomaly. While he has largely built his reputation as a run-stuffing nose tackle, unsurprising for a man measuring 6’3 and 346, what he may offer in terms of an upgrade over Star Lotulelei is his ability to be an impact player on passing downs.
The core of Poe’s game is the ability to be an influence on the running game, and that begins with the ability to stack and shed while anchoring against the block (For reference, Poe wears 92):
On plays like those above, Poe shows both the strength to hold his position at the point of the attack and the hand usage to hold the blocker away from his frame before disengaging to make a play on the ball carrier. This might look simple, but it actually requires long arms with good hand timing and placement, as well as an awareness to know when to disengage to make the tackle; the other important part of run defending in this way is the ability to retain gap integrity. Players can often try to disengage early and break gap contain in an attempt to make a play on the ball. What Poe shows on the next play, however, is the maturity to remain in his gap to force the runner back inside and then disengages in an attempt to being the runner down:
The other way in which Poe can be effective as a run defender is his ability to shoot a gap and force a running back inside on an outside run. This requires a quickness that is unusual in defensive tackle of his size and while Star wasn’t poor in this area, he didn’t posses the same quickness as Poe.
What all of this means is that, like with Star, teams will often look to direct double teams his way on rushing plays, allowing other players like Kawann Short or Luke Kuechly to remain clean. As with Star, Poe shows the strength to hold position against these double teams, allowing the linebackers behind him to make plays:
What’s more, he occasionally showed the ability to split double teams and still force inside penetration, such as on the following play:
In this way, Poe is not only a good run defender but a versatile one. He can penetrate against zone blocking or stack-and-shed against power, all of which forces double-teams and allows the others around him to make plays. On a defense with the likes of Short, Butler, Kuechly, Davis and Thompson also likely in those inside gaps, that is incredibly valuable. One slight added bonus might also be the creation of more scheme flexibility; while the Panthers are a 4-3 defense, Poe was largely used as a 3-4 NT in Kansas City and even though this isn’t likely to be a core piece of the Panthers defense, it could become part of some passing-down packages with Short and Butler likely playing the 3-4 DE roles.