Louis Nix III's contributions don't always show up in the box score. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
The SI 64 -- which can be found in its entirety here -- uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. Taking the 12th overall spot in our rankings is a defensive player who could dominate in the NFL -- with just a few technique tweaks.
MORE: 2014 NFL Mock Draft | Top QBs | Top WRs | SI64: Our definitive Big Board
Bio: As much as we might like to draw straight correlations between statistical output and on-field performance in football, there are times when it simply doesn't make sense. And in any pure 3-4 defense, the nose tackle will take the brunt of the beatings from opposing offensive lines, and have relatively little to show in the stat columns. And that's not necessarily indicative of his effectiveness -- depending on the scheme, the nose tackle could be charged with the duty of occupying blockers, and he could be doing it at an elite level, without a lot of crooked numbers.
Notre Dame's Louis Nix III is such a player. In 2013, Nix amassed just 27 tackles in 11 games, following a stellar 2012 season in which he put up 50 total tackles and grabbed two quarterback sacks. The problem in 2013 was his conditioning to a degree -- Nix started the season out of shape and suffered a torn meniscus that limited his final collegiate campaign. Still, when his weight was under control and he was rolling, Nix showed the kind of interior line play that must be seen -- and not just read -- to be appreciated.
"I really don't like it, because for some reason, people say I'm an All-[America] or whatever, they expect me to, like, make 10 tackles, and I don't think they really watched me," Nix said last September. "Last year I barely made a tackle a game. I don't think people know what I actually do. I get frustrated with that, because people expect me to make like Manti [Te'o numbers in] tackles and interceptions, and that's not my job.
"But it's whatever. I go out there and just do my job, which is take up some double-teams and make plays when I have to."
Well, he'll likely be expected to do more with his NFL team, and odds are, that team will take him early in the first round. Because there's more to his game than flash plays -- and there might be much more to his Sunday game than you ever saw on Saturdays
Strengths: Nix is a big man (6-2, 331 pounds at the scouting combine) who understands how to use leverage to play even bigger -- for the most part, he comes low off the snap and drives forward with his hands extended. Puts blockers back on their feet with a violent hand strike off the snap, and he's very quick about taking advantage of that with fast lateral movement to either side, which makes him an effective head-over nose tackle. Plays against slide protection very well, because Nix gets rolling at an angle in a hurry, and he's aggressive about working his way to and through open lanes. As a 1-tech tackle (lined up between the center and guard), Nix uses a decent array of hand moves to get free and start pursuing. Takes double teams on a regular basis, which fits the nose tackle profile -- he's a guy who will do the dirty work so others can blow through and make plays. Has an extra blocker assigned to him on a high percentage of plays.
Persistent player who works his way back to the pocket step-by-step, and can disrupt that way. Has surprising speed to either side of the field for his size -- Nix will chase ballcarriers with impressive effort, and he could be useful in certain zone blitz situations (think what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau used to do with Casey Hampton). Didn't stunt a lot at Notre Dame, but showed that he could get free pretty easily when he did; Nix could benefit greatly from a more diverse line scheme. Decent form tackler when he gets the opportunity. His spin move is in the embryonic stages, and it could be devastating if he develops it.
Weaknesses: When Nix comes off the snap too high, he has the same problem most bigger guys do -- he loses the advantage of his upper-body strength, and he's not quick enough to make up for it. As a result, he spends a lot of time wrestling when he could be shooting gaps. Can get walled off on run plays at times by single blockers. He needs to use rip and swim moves more accurately and consistently to offset this issue. Weight has been a problem for Nix, and he has a tendency to get top-heavy -- he'll need a better distribution between upper-body and lower-body power to succeed in the NFL. Footwork is good, but could be better; Nix occasionally gets narrow and upright, and it's too easy to push him around. He's at his best when he quickly gets his hands on the opponent's numbers and moves the blocker to one side.
Conclusion: As the positional delineations for defensive linemen drift away, players such as Nix -- who would have been expected to simply plug holes and occupy blockers a decade ago -- are asked to do more. And there's no question that with the right teaching and coaching (and a stellar conditioning program), Nix has the potential to fit the bill. Yes, he's an ideal 3-4 nose because he excelled in that role and it's most of what you see on tape, but I could also see him moving to a 1-tech or heavy 3-tech in a four-man base front and doing just as well, especially in a front (like Dallas' or Green Bay's) where the ends are more committed to pure pass pressure than run demolition. And in the right circumstance, his occasional frustrations regarding low stat totals could very well be a thing of the past.
NFL player comparison: B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers (1st round, 2009, Boston College).