The Green Bay Packers’ defensive line simply was not good enough in 2020. Not even close. In 2019, Kenny Clark made the Pro Bowl following a season highlighted by six sacks, nine tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits. In 2020, Clark, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster combined for five sacks, five tackles for losses and 10 quarterback hits.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clark had 62 quarterback pressures in 2019. All nine defensive linemen to get playing time in 2020 recorded 77 pressures, led by Clark plunging to 28. Kingsley Keke showed some promise but all four sacks, all three tackles for losses and half of his eight quarterback hits came in two games. Montravius Adams, a third-round flop, signed with New England in free agency. With that, the Packers could use another impact defensive lineman. Unfortunately, it is a paper-thin draft class.
Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon is our No. 5-ranked defensive lineman.
Football wasn’t Daviyon Nixon’s first love.
Born in North Chicago, he was 4 when he started playing tackle football with his older brothers.
“Daviyon comes to me and he’s crying, he's like, ‘I can’t tackle him, Dad, I can’t tackle him,” his father, Rodney Nixon Sr., told The Gazette. “ And I grabbed him, I said, ‘You can tackle them if you want to tackle them. You gotta want to do it.’”
That last sentence applies perfectly. Dixon had to want it. Coming out of Indian Trails High School in Kenosha, Wis., he wasn’t academically eligible. So, he had to spend a year in junior college. Following that year at Iowa Western, he received a scholarship offer from Alabama but stuck with Iowa. After sitting out the 2018 season, he put his name in the transfer portal before again electing to stay at Iowa. A reserve in 2019, he needed to take a big step forward in 2020 to make himself a top draft prospect.
Their patience – the team’s and Nixon’s – was rewarded. Nixon was a one-year wonder in 2020 as the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year and a consensus first-team All-American. He sacked the quarterback, beat double teams and even returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s something I’m used to now,” Nixon said of having to contend with two blockers at a time. “Growing up, my stature, my size, I’m always getting double-teamed. I’ve had it in high school where teams will watch film and change entire game plans because of me.”
It was a huge step forward that Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz anticipated.
“Just a really big leap,” Ferentz said at Iowa’s pro day. “And you see that happen with some players sometimes. That’s why you just never know if a guy’s working hard, has a good attitude, you just never know what’s going to happen or when they’re going to make that jump. There’s no guarantee they will but, in Daviyon’s case, it was this last season very clearly.”
Davis, who moved to Kenosha, Wis., in 2009, had to persevere through a difficult path. But, as a top draft prospect, the finish line is in sight.
“If I had any advice to tell younger kids or even to tell myself back when I was younger, looking back on it now, I would tell myself just to keep fighting and to keep pushing through,” he told the Kenosha News. “People can say whatever they want, talk about you however they may want to, but at the end of the day, as long as you love yourself and you keep pushing and fighting for yourself, then no one else can beat you out.”
Measureables: 6-foot-3 1/8, 313 pounds, 35 1/8-inch arms, 4.86 40, 4.71 shuttle, DNP bench press.
Stats and accolades: Nixon was a one-year starter, and what a season it was as he was a unanimous first-team All-American, one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy and the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. In eight games in 2020, he tallied five sacks, 10 tackles for losses and two pass deflections. Pro Football Focus credited him with 23 pressures. According to Sports Info Solutions, he had a pressure rate of only 5 percent but missed just one tackle. His 1.3 tackles for losses per game ranks tops among this year’s interior defenders.
NFL Draft Bible says: Nixon is a dense lineman who aligned in multiple spots for the Hawkeyes including as a shaded nose or a five-technique. His consistently low pad level helps him in winning the leverage battle. Nixon stresses blockers laterally with his agility and punishes passive blockers with his hand usage. Once he gets hip-to-hip with a blocker, he uses a rip move to prevent them from getting access to his frame. In the run game, he possesses a solid anchor and is superb in the lateral run game, beating blockers to spots and shooting gaps. Nixon is a flexible athlete with mediocre explosiveness and burst. He has enough length to extend and two-gap, but largely succeeds at it thanks to his lateral agility.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position.