Welcome back to draft season, everyone! Much like we did last year, we're going to take a look at a number of prospects whose skill sets may appeal to the Green Bay Packers and break down their film to get a feel for how they could fit into the team.
Today we kick off the 2014 scouting reports by taking a look at a big anchor for the middle of the Packers' 3-4 defense: Notre Dame Fighting Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III.
As is customary for me when reviewing linemen, the first thing I looked at when studying Nix was his explosiveness off the snap. In his sophomore and junior years, Nix had exceptional explosiveness off the line, but his he seemed to taper off and become merely average his senior year. At the same time, he seemed to develop a bit of a habit of coming up high as his burst lessened. This makes a lot of sense considering that Nix was dealing with injuries his senior year, and it's certainly a cause for concern. Despite the drop off in initial burst, Nix made up for it with his tremendous functional strength, anchor, and leverage. Nix is also a very good athlete with very good short area quickness and overall movement skills.
Nix is one of those rare 3-4 lineman who not only serves and an immovable two gap plug, but is able to penetrate and create impact plays in the backfield without sacrificing (usually) gap integrity. Using his very good initial burst, particularly during his underclassmen years, Nix was able to get inside of linemen and grab/club the insides of their shoulders before they could get their hands on him, which resulted in the running back either being forced to redirect or get swallowed. Even when Nix couldn't blow by linemen, he used overpowering leg drive and vicious hand punches to overwhelm them. Nix does seem to have a bit of a problem getting off blocks, however, and sometimes fails to make a play despite working himself into a good position to make a tackle. Nix also seems to overrun plays and allows himself to get washed out, this being a particular concern his senior year. That being said, Nix does pull out a nifty swim move to disengage from time to time when he senses the offensive lineman is overextended. Nix seemed to be a sure tackler, though sometimes going a bit high, but interior linemen rarely get to make form tackles and his technique seems acceptable.
When he faced double teams, Nix is almost never taken off the point of attack, getting low and using very good leverage to remain fixed in place. In a lot of cases, Nix was even able to drive both linemen into the backfield. In the instances where double teams did start to move him off the line, Nix displayed a clear understanding of the principle of lowering his center of gravity, going so far as to drop face first into the ankles of the offensive lineman in order to create a pileup and blockade his gaps. Nix also proved adept at splitting double teams when the opportunity presented itself, pulling at the shoulders of the linemen to create separation between the blockers and then using his short-area athleticism to quickly step inside of the block.
As good as Nix is against the run, he shows definite room for improvement as a pass rusher. Nix's primary tool against the pass is the bull rush. He uses sumo styled punches to keep the opposing linemen off balance and drives them towards the quarterback, collapsing the pocket and constricting the area the quarterback has to maneuver. Unfortunately, Nix doesn't display any finishing moves on film, such as rips, swims, and hump moves to translate that constriction into sacks. This isn't the worst thing in the world for a nose tackle as their responsibility while rushing the passer is to collapse the pocket and take away the quarterback’s avenues of escape from outside rushers while not allowing gaps for the quarterback to slip through in the interior. Thus, being aggressive in the pass rush as a 3-4 lineman can do more harm than good. Still, you'd like to see a guy with Nix's athleticism occasionally take an opportunity to finish off the quarterback and I don't think Nix has the skills to do that at the moment.
If the Packers select Nix, they’re going to be selecting an eventual elite run-stuffer with some value added as a pocket collapser. I think Nix would end up being an upgrade over Raji in some aspects as I think that Nix will be able to hold the point better than Raji and allow the linebackers to remain a little cleaner behind him. That being said I don’t see Nix as being quite that athlete Raji is and I don’t think Nix represents any improvement in the pass rush. The slowdown Nix experienced his senior year is also a bit of a cause for concern, as sometimes nagging injuries can slow down a player on a semi or fully permanent basis. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on in the pre-draft process. If Nix regains the explosiveness he displayed as a junior, I see a top 15 pick being justified; if Nix ends up being the payer he was as a senior, he’s more of a late first/early second round kind of guy in my mind.