Marcell Dareus was born into a large family of seven children with an American-born mother and a Haitian immigrant father. He was the sixth child of the seven; six boys and a single girl (a girl who probably had a little trouble dating in high school with all those large, protective young men around). There was a lot that Marcell never really had to learn, he said - his siblings and his mother were his teachers, and the family took care of him. His father passed away when Marcell was only six, though, and his mother was left alone to raise a house full of children. Times became hard. Food could get scarce. Marcell noticed it - you don’t miss it when your belly is empty too much - but his family tried to insulate the younger ones against the worst of it.
There was a palpable joy in the family when his mother remarried - having a breadwinner helped with many things, and food not the least of them . But the celebration was cut short a few years back, when she nearly died of congestive heart failure, and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair. Marcell saw things as they were, and it broke his own big heart. He’d always been a happy-go-lucky kind of kid, with his mother having a big effect on him and all those brothers watching out for him, but this was something that he couldn’t just smile his way through. He struggled with other things - Scott Livingston, an assistant football coach at Huffington High, where Dareus spent his senior year (he’d started at Hayes HS in Avondale, and then when Hayes closed, Marcell moved to East Lake, and Huffington HS), had been looking out for the big kid, but Scott was killed in an auto accident that winter.
At this point, some of Marcell’s direction came from Lester "Sarge" Reasor, the retired head of the high school’s Junior ROTC Program.
"When (Scott) died, I took the baton and ran with it," said Reasor.
Sarge became Marcell's legal guardian when Dareus was a senior at Huffman High. He also became the legal guardian of all but the oldest Dareus children, but Marcell began to live with Sarge and his wife, Juanita. Juanita and Sarge keep a scrapbook to highlight Marcell's football career, and tried to keep the young man fed. That scrapbook is going to get a lot bigger, very soon. Dareus also had help from Mike Vest, Bernard Warren and Steve Ward, three local men who came together to offer Marcell yet more support. Vest runs the Birmingham Athletic Partnership, a nonprofit group that reaches out to at-risk Birmingham youngsters. Warren was an academic adviser at Hayes, while Ward coached both Marcell and his brother Demerius at Hayes for two years. You can’t overestimate the importance to a young man from a difficult environment that mentoring can play in his life.
"I can't put it into words how proud of him I am," Ward said. "You have to be at the school and be in the environment and see what goes on every day. For him to make it out of all that and all that home stuff and be successful like he is now, you'd be amazed. If you could actually have been here and seen...There were many days after practice I had to take him home and get him something to eat."
With his mother’s health deteriorating and Dareus seeing the financial stress on the rest of his family, he made a man-sized firm decision. Ever since he had been young, he knew that he could play football. Marcell decided that it was up to him to bring revenue into the family, and he set his sights on getting into the NFL to do so. He played defensive end in Nick Saban’s pro-style 3-4 system at Alabama, but at only 6’3.5” and 319 lb (stout and squatty in NFL terms), he’s probably even better as a 4-3 player at the next level, although the question of whether he’d fit better as a nose tackle or possibly an undertackle in a single-gap 4-3 remains to be seen.
He’s got a great first step, but isn’t as quick or smooth at penetration as Auburn DT Nick Fairley, the player that Denver is usually paired with if Dareus is not the prediction. Fairley can slice into the backfield for his sacks, and he’s used to simply dominating the players who went up against him. Dareus gets the job done, but he tends to push the pile back into the QB more - he’ll probably get you more hurries than sacks, although with current Broncos veterans Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil on the edges, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Denver adds a pass rusher to complement Doom, Dareus could be very effective for them. He’s been a brick against the run, and Denver needs to see that area developed.
In Marcell’s sophomore season at Alabama, he only started four games, but that’s not what scouts took away from that year. It was 2009, and he registered 33 tackles and 9 of them for a loss - not elite-level play. But what really caught people’s attention was his play in the BCS Championship game against Texas following that 2009 season; a game in which a clean hit of his knocked then-Longhorns QB Colt McCoy clear out of the game, and during which he later intercepted a shovel pass and took it back to the endzone. He finished the night being awarded the Defensive MVP of the game. True to his character, Dareus wasn’t affected much by it.
"Me and my family, we came together after that," he said. "Me and my family, we went through a little hard times. . . . After the game, I came home. We had a good time, just sat around and ate and talked. Had a good little time.” He also noted that a few more people recognized him, but not many. Nothing else. That kind of centered ease of dealing with success is one of the many things that make Dareus considered a ‘safe’ pick. That’s something that’s very attractive about Dareus - he’s easy on the locker room, and murderous on the field.
Despite his mother’s challenges and issues, she was a big part of his life. "There's no doubt who's in charge," former Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, currently with Clemson, said. "She has great influence on Marcell. Very, very disciplined. When she told him to do something, he said, 'Yes, ma'am' and did it. She has a really good perspective that you don't get something for nothing, you have to work to make it happen. I heard her say that to him many times."
As his mother’s health degenerated and the stresses on his family grew (the youngest boy has been moved to California to live with another brother so that he could finish high school), Marcell struggled with the pain of that situation. A friend of his offered to bring him to a party in Miami, and Marcell thought that getting away for a few days might help him deal with the stress of that time. He paid for, and got a receipt for, the cost of his flight, which his friend had provided. His friend says that he also paid for a hotel room, but Marcell said later that he never slept there and didn’t know much about it. He also didn’t know that the party was set up by an agent, in violation of the NCAA's rules. Suddenly, Marcell was in over his head. When he found that there were agents at the party, he immediately asked to leave. Later, while still in Florida, he would call home and get the news that he’d been dreading - his mother had passed away. His world got a little smaller, and a little colder.
His friend - North Carolina DT Marvin Austin - became a target of an NCAA investigation and was suspended from the Tar Heels' football team for the entire 2010 season. Dareus got a slap on the wrist in the form of a two-game suspension, but it hasn’t affected his draft status. How big was the issue to the teams that looked at Dareus? John Elway’s response has been typical:
We talked to him about it today, and he told us the whole deal. That is not a concern for us.
That’s been about the standard response around the league: Marcell is just a good kid. Dareus has been a good guy despite a rough life, and a lot of people are ready to vouch for him. But, his upside isn’t considered as high as that of either Texas A&M's Von Miller or Auburn's Fairley, two of the other players who are also sure to be high picks in Thursday's first round. Hitting on the pick for Denver means more than just doing well. It has to produce a player who has an impact immediately and who is at the least in the running for Pro Bowls and All-Pro status over his career.
Consider this piece of video in which Dareus comments, “If something's in your way, you've gotta knock it down and get where you're trying to go. If (it knocks you down), get back up and finish what you're doing.” It’s a nice insight from the young man and a good way to see life, with all its ups and downs; Dareus has seen plenty of both. He’s looking forward to finding out which team he’s going to go to, and to beginning to help out the family that has given so much to him, as well as living up to all of the mentors that had reached out to him and made sure that he was well, housed and fed.
With a 300-plus-pound young man, that’s a tall, tall order. But Marcell has seen a lot of both sides of life, and his widely extended family has made sure that he’s come through them just fine. He’s a simple fellow at heart, a guy who likes to watch cartoons, loves to play football and loves to laugh. He’s been described as a bit naive, and that probably contributed to his behavior around his trip to Miami - but when he found that there were agents at the Miami party, he had trusted his friend Austin, but he also knew the right from wrong of the situation and he immediately left. The death of his mother that same weekend put a dagger in his heart, and hardened his belief that it was time to help out the family. Even with a possible rookie salary cap, Dareus is going to go high enough to be in line for substantial guaranteed money and lots of zeros over the years. Much of it is going to go to his family, for all that he’s received from them. It’s just his way.
Marcell Dareus’ draft profiles have generally been very positive. New Era Scouting did their usual thorough job, and their notes are a fair example of what’s out there:
Pass rush: is a much better pass rusher than people give him credit. Dareus gets out of his stance quickly due to an excellent first step. ...doesn’t simply have to rely on power moves. Closes fast on the quarterback. Has technically sound handwork to disengage from blockers. Good rip move.
Pursuit: Consistently plays with high effort and is relentless. Shows good balance to maintain his pace when getting knocked around. ...Dareus routinely saw multiple blockers in 2010. He still finished with 11 tackles for loss as a junior.
Quickness: Dareus has surprising foot quickness for a player his size (Doc’s note - look how that’s worked for Ryan Clady. Different side of the line, but the same advantages). Consistently gets across the face of offensive linemen...
Run defend: Does a great job on the edge maintaining his position. Anchors his position nicely. Shows good leg drive to move blockers around...
Strength: Dareus has NFL-ready strength throughout his frame. He’s thick in his lower body, which helps him bull rush. Got to show his strength playing the nose on occasion in 2010.
Tackling: Is a sudden, hard-hitting tackler. Isn’t a big-time hitter like other interior linemen in this class. However, he’s more technically sound in his wrap-up.
Technique: An experienced five-technique...He consistently extends his arms to hold the edge. Stays low like a veteran to get leverage. Dareus’ technique is NFL ready and why he could be a good contributor early in his career.
Final word: It’s not often 3-4 defensive ends come along who are as polished, strong and athletic as Dareus. Playing end in Alabama’s pro-style 3-4 defense, Dareus should start as a rookie if a team with the same scheme picks him up...He’s a good pass rusher for such a big player, but most teams will like him for his run-stopping ability.
The Broncos have a single goal for the first pick of their new Cerberus front office model, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates to the underworld. In Denver’s case, they’re trying to raise a defense from the NFL underworld, and to do so, they’re going to need to reconstruct the interior of the line. While the team currently has Robert Ayers, Elvis Dumervil and Jason Hunter as DEs, the only two DTs left are Kevin Vickerson, an athletic player who is usually described as a ‘journeyman’, and Louis Leonard, the fourth-year, 6’4”, 325-pounder who would probably be another nose tackle if he stays. So, what is the key for the Broncos?
"We've got to hit on it," said Elway, the Broncos' head of football operations. "We've got to find somebody who's going to be a good player for us for a long time. And then hopefully we don't ever pick there again."
The question will be whether Dareus matches up as both safe and valuable. There’s no question that there’s a lot to like about him, if Denver keeps the #2 pick. He’s very sound technically: keeps his pads low, uses the same kind of bull rush that Dumervil does - they both have long arms, unusual strength and they get and keep under the defender to drive him back. He’s got a nice swim move as well as his bull rush, and he’s got light, quick feet even though he’s 319 lb. He can stunt, and he controls people by getting his hands on them and using his leverage to move them wherever he needs them to go. He saw a lot of double teams last year, and was intermittently productive against them. Denver needs a guy who can take on those double teams at a much higher level at nose tackle, but if he’s set up as a single-gap undertackle, while he may not put up the numbers of a Warren Sapp, he’s going to be stout and effective.
Denver also needs a guy who plays like hell, who can help lead the team, and who has an immediate impact on the game. That’s a tall order for a laidback guy who just finished his junior year in college, especially since DTs usually take a couple of years to mature and produce in the NFL. The pressure would be enormous on either Dareus or Fairley, or whoever they choose, to contribute immediately. That’s often given as a strength for Marcell - that he’s one of the most NFL-ready players in the 2011 Draft, and he’s one person off the gridiron and a very different guy when he’s on it - he likes to play to the whistle, plays nasty much of the time and yet is a very calm person off the field. .
But the change from college to the NFL is a big jump, and few make it as easily as, for example, Ndamukong Suh last year. Even Houston Texans DE Mario Williams took a couple of years to come to grips with it, and many fans were convinced that he was a bust when he didn’t dominate immediately. They have changed their minds by now, but Denver is a tough town that’s seen too many players, coaches, losses and bad decisions over the past four years. Their expectations are likely to be a mile high, and some of the fans' decisions on the pick will be instant ones.
Of Dareus, his old coach Kevin Steele says: "That's what this country was built on: Guys pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and fighting through adversity,. . . He had some difficulties he had to fight through. The thing about it is, his positive attitude is ultimately what got him to where he is today."
Can Marcell Dareus handle the job? I’d be slow to bet against him - he’s overcome a lot, and has showed that he’s a very good player. Is he the kind of player who will force mismatches and who can infuriate the OL, RBs and QB? That’s a tougher question. We’ll find out who thinks so, come the draft. At three days and counting, it won’t be long now.