As defensive coordinator of the New York Giants for two seasons, Steve Spagnuolo witnessed how dominating linemen like Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck can take over games and lead a franchise to a Super Bowl victory.
Now, the second-year head coach of the Rams is trying to decide whether St. Louis would be better off selecting quarterback Sam Bradford or a tantalizing defensive tackle prospect with the first pick in the April 22 NFL draft.
And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sitting at No. 3, have a vested interest in the outcome.
Clubs have been reluctant to draft defensive tackles with premium picks in the past 15 years, but Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma are both considered players of immediate impact. Some talent evaluators have McCoy and Suh ranked as the top players at any position in the 2010 draft and the Bucs, who finished last in rushing defense, crave a disruptive force in the middle.
The last time a defensive tackle was taken No.1 overall, however, was when the Bengals selected Dan Wilkinson in 1994.
"I'm of the mindset that every draft just kind of stands on its own,'' Spagnuolo said at last week's NFL owners' meeting in Orlando. "There are some premier defensive tackles in this draft class. As a team, you trust your evaluation and you make the pick. If you go back to trends and tendencies, you might get yourself in trouble.''
By all accounts, Bradford had a stellar workout at his Pro Day on Monday, alleviating fears his shoulder problems will linger. The Rams need to groom a young quarterback, but Spagnuolo doesn't discount the possibility of bypassing Bradford and selecting Suh or McCoy.
"One thing about defensive tackles - they can basically be evaluated on every play,'' he said. "You can't say that about a corner or a safety. Even a wideout or a running back, you've got to go through a lot more plays. Defensive tackles get hit every play. They have to do something on every play that affects what's going on. I enjoy evaluating defensive linemen, probably, for that reason. Every play, there's something. Did he get off? Can you take on the double team? Is he a pass rusher from inside?''
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said the franchise is placing a priority on acquiring players who are passionate about football.
According to Spagnuolo, McCoy and Suh fit the bill.
"They both have high motors,'' Spagnuolo said. "That's a credit to the programs they're in and how they're coached. We're always looking for that because I think that's something inside. It's not like all of a sudden there's a guy you don't see with a high motor and you say, 'We'll just get him to play harder.' The film doesn't lie.''