INDIANAPOLIS - Ndamukong Suh brought unprecedented glamour to interior defensive linemen as a senior at Nebraska, then as the defensive rookie of the year for the Detroit Lions.
Auburn's Nick Fairley and Alabama's Marcell Dareus hope to follow in his success.
NFL decision makers say game-changing defensive tackles are hard to find, but Fairley and Dareus are versatile and bear enough similarities to Suh that both are expected to be chosen early in April's NFL draft.
"It's hard to find guys who can play the run and push a pocket up the middle and get in the quarterback's face,'' New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Those guys jump out at me right away.''
Fairley and Dareus will compete with Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers to be the top defensive lineman picked.
Defensive end has long been the most lucrative position on the line, but Suh's dominance gives Fairley and Dareus hope that they might get picked before Bowers. Suh burst onto the national scene when he had 4 1/2 sacks and 12 tackles in a loss to Texas in the 2010 Big 12 championship game. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist, was selected second overall by the Lions and was named an All-Pro as a rookie.
"I followed him for the most part after I saw him play Texas,'' Dareus said. "I watched him through the Heisman and the draft and how he played this year. He did a great job.''
Suh was unique, and Reese said it would be unfair to expect anyone to duplicate him.
"Ndamukong Suh, those kind of guys - those guys are rare talents,'' he said. "You don't see a lot of those guys. You might not see another guy with that skill set for another 10 years.''
Still, Reese said Fairley and Dareus can be special.
"You always want big guys up front who can play the run and can rush the passer,'' he said. "You usually get one or the other. When you get guys who can do both, that's a bonus.''
The Cleveland Browns have the sixth overall pick, and coach Pat Shurmur is impressed with the two defensive tackles.
"They're obviously two very fine players, and guys that would be a good fit,'' he said.
Fairley was the Lombardi Award winner as the nation's top lineman and the defensive MVP of the national title game against Oregon. The All-American also led the Southeastern Conference with 24 tackles for a loss and had a school-record 11.5 sacks.
Dareus had 11 sacks combined in his final two years at Alabama. He was the defensive MVP of the 2010 national championship game against Texas after knocking quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and returning an interception for a touchdown.
"That game really put me up there,'' he said. "People saw that and saw the attributes that I brought to the game, and it kind of prepared me for where I am now.''
He missed the first two games this past season with an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from an agent and hasn't approached the dominance from that Texas game.
"Everything that sounds good ain't what it's cracked up to be,'' he said. "I apologized to my team, I apologized to my coaches. I'm just moving on.''
Dareus stopped short of declaring himself the best defensive tackle available.
"Nick Fairley had a great year this year,'' Dareus said. "I go out there and do the best I can. I think I'm the most versatile defensive lineman here.''
They will compete with Bowers, who is widely considered the top defensive end. Bowers considers his brain his best tool.
"I watch a lot of film,'' he said. "I study my offensive tackles a lot. It's just about being a student of the game.''
Bowers suffered a small meniscus tear in his knee in October, but waited until the end of the season to have surgery. Because he's still recovering, he has chosen to wait until his pro day on March 10 to work out. By then, he expects to be fully ready to show his NFL potential.
"I think I can bring a lot of good things to the team,'' he said. "You can get a pass-rushing defensive end, a humble guy, a guy with great character, a guy that's going to work hard, a guy that's going to do things the right way and is willing to compete with anybody anywhere.''