+Strong two-gap nose tackle
+Outstanding against the run
+Outstanding quickness for his size
+By the low standards set by nose tackles, outstanding against the pass
+Makes incredible arm tackles
+Locker room clown that is loved by teammates and fans
+Draws double teams
+Gets good leverage
-A bit offsides prone
-Really should be 330lbs
Coming into the 2012 season, having seen his redshirt freshman game film, I thought Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III was the most underrated prospect of the draft. He then went from likely 4th rounder (that’s what the media called him) to 1st rounder after an outstanding sophomore season, and he was no longer really underrated in my book. He was fairly rated. He still passed on the draft last year, which puzzles me given how weak last year’s draft class was. In my 5 years of scouting, last year’s class is the weakest I can remember and this year’s class is the strongest. He’s still a talented player, but I’m disappointed to not see him make a few more strides in his conditioning that keep him from being a top 10 prospect in my mind. If he does slim down, he could become the best nose tackle in the NFL, but I’m not ready to say that’s what he will be quite yet.
Nix has solid measurables. He has average height at 6’2, a ton of bulk at 345lbs, and outstanding speed for his size with a 5.17 40 yard dash, according to NFLDraftScout.com. In my mind, he’s too heavy, though. It’s not about his athleticism, which is more than adequate for his size, but his stamina. First of all, if Dontari Poe is any indication, it’s possible to be 345lbs and not look morbidly obese. As you can see from the photo above, Nix doesn’t have that kind of Dontari Poe build. Obviously, not everyone can be Dontari Poe (if the 100 meter dash had weight classes, Poe would be a gold medalist), but Nix should be able to lose the beer belly without having to compromise too much of his strength. Right now, Nix is carrying around too much baby fat, and it isn’t worth the minimal added strength it gives him given how much it affects his stamina. He’s only on the field for about 55% of Notre Dame’s plays, about 40 snaps per game, and he could play as much as 75% of Notre Dame’s plays if he was around 325lbs. Stamina is the only thing that keeps Nix from being top 10 worthy in my mind (I’m not a doctor, so I won’t address the torn meniscus).
Nix is outstanding against the run. He has the strength necessary to make any arm tackle, and his quickness is outstanding. He gets an incredible jump off the ball for a nose tackle and gets an outstanding initial punch. He likes to try to jump the snap, which makes him a bit offsides prone, but when he does jump the snap, he immediately disrupts the play because he gets outstanding leverage from his incredible initial punch. He’s very powerful and flexible so he always gets good leverage and protects his pads. Unlike your traditional nose tackle, he’s so fast for his size that he can actually play in a one gap defense in the NFL, since not only is he athletic enough to penetrate but also fast enough to make plays in the open field. He’s only average laterally, but he has great body control and straight line speed, which allows him to be moderately effective in pursuit and in open space. Of course, asking him to two-gap is probably a better idea, since pursuit wears at his stamina a bit. He also does a very good job of drawing double teams, but he almost never beats them. His hand usage is very good, and he draws a lot of holding calls. He’s got very long arms for his height, an essential aspect for two gap linemen as it makes arm tackle a little easier, and it helps him get that great initial punch. He also takes good angles to the ball, but he can be a little too aggressive against screens. He could hone his swim move against the run when he catches linemen leaning on their hands. He’s an outstanding run stopper and a very good fit to be a two gap lineman.
By the incredibly low standards set by 345lbs defensive linemen, Louis Nix III looks like Warren Sapp against the pass. His quickness is incredible, his hand usage is excellent, he gets great leverage and he is outstanding in pursuit. He does an excellent job of deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage and he draws lots of double teams, none of which he beats, sadly. He has extremely loose hips and deceptive quickness for his size that fluster opposing linemen. Yet he is still a 345lbs defensive tackle, and he’ll never exceed 5 sacks per year. But he’s one of the only nose tackles I’ve ever seen who isn’t a liability against the pass, yet you still want him off the field as much as possible on passing downs just to conserve his stamina for running plays, on which he is tremendously more valuable.
I can’t help but feel like that Nix’s diverse skill set makes him slightly overrated among NFL GM’s, because there is no one ideal fit for him. The fact that he isn’t a liability against the pass is incredible, but that ability will be slightly wasted if given two gap responsibility, for two-gappers are supposed to read the play before they penetrate and Nix’s quick first step allows him to penetrate. If he must read the play first, the first step will be meaningless and he’ll have less value as a pass rusher, not that any two-gapper can ever have any real value as a pass rusher. Yet, at the same time, if you give him some one gap responsibilities to allow him to be aggressive against the pass, although he is outstanding as a one gapper for his size, it will wear away at his stamina when he must pursue. The net result is that I fear he will get lost among your Dan Williamses, Linval Josephs, and Phil Taylors of the world; a very good player when on the field but not on the field enough to ever be a very good player. Those guys still have plenty of value, but it’s hard to say they are valuable enough to be worth first round picks.
Think about it this way; let’s say I’m a GM for a team with a 3-4 defense that needs a two gap nose tackle. For me, how is Nix a lot more valuable than, say, Daniel McCullers? McCullers is a specialist; he has no value whatsoever given one gap responsibilities. Yet, as a two-gapper, McCullers is no worse than Nix; ridiculous strength, lots of power, can make any arm tackle he wants, almost useless against the pass in part because he’s bad as a pass rusher by any standard but also because he has two gap responsibilities, and it’s nearly impossible to have a positive effect as a pass rusher when you are two gapping. Nix has all of what McCullers has (except length, plus McCullers is better at conserving his stamina) and more. Nix is quick, athletic, has outstanding long speed, loose hips, and he can play in space. Yet none of these things make Nix more effective given two-gap responsibilities than McCullers since none of these things are particularly valuable for two gap linemen. Sure, 3-4 teams go to a 4-2-5 when they see 3 receivers on the field, subbing out a defensive lineman and moving each outside linebacker to defensive end. But Nix’s ability to one gap in this situation doesn’t matter since Nix is the low stamina defensive lineman we will likely be subbing out when we go to the nickel. The only thing that makes Nix more valuable to me is that I don’t have to trade Nix away if I move to a 4-3 defense. So why is McCullers a third round prospect while Nix is a mid-first round prospect? Well, McCullers is underrated, but people love the fact that Nix has a skill set that works in any defense. The problem is that he can only play in one defense at a time, and his lack of stamina keeps him from greatness in all situations.
Ultimately, I think Nix is a talented player whose value will always be limited by his mediocre stamina. I think he can lose 20lbs and become a more valuable player, but, until his stamina increases to a point he can play 20 more snaps per game, he’ll be great when he is on the field but not on the field enough to be great.
NFL Comparison: I don’t like the B.J. Raji comparisons, since Raji is a joke against the run for his size, so I will go Linval Joseph. Joseph and Nix are both athletic and strong, and Joseph is the prototypical example of a guy his size playing with success in a 4-3 defense. I haven’t really heard much talk about Nix playing in a one gap defense, but it would be a much better use of his pass rushing ability so it’s far from out of the question. I suppose it’s nice that Nix already has experience as a two gapper, but he legitimately can play any scheme. Joseph has a little bit more stamina, but that can be attributed to being at least 15lbs lighter. If Nix lost that weight, the only physical difference would be Joseph’s tremendous height and length. Nix is definitely coming into the NFL with better fundamentals.
Grade: 88 (worthy of an early second round pick)
Projection: 93 (will be a top 25 pick)