2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Louis Nix III, DT Notre Dame

Oct. 13, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish nose guard Louis Nix (9) pressures Stanford Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes (6) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the overwhelming attention that Notre Dame gets every year, it is difficult to hide talent, especially when that talent is as big as their nose tackle Louis Nix III.  The massive nose tackle had a breakout season for the Irish and was a disruptive force, creating opportunities for teammates to make plays.  Nix has remarkable athleticism for a player his size and is able to wreak havoc for opponents in the middle of the defensive line, both as a clogging run defender but also one that can collapse the pocket and rush the passer.  Nix has some small issues to work on such as being consistent with his leverage and breaking down when he gets into the backfield, but his athletic ability and potential are through the roof and he has the chance to not only be a first round pick but has a chance to work himself into the top half of round one with another leap like the one he had this past year.

Vitals & Build

Nix is listed at 6’3” 326lbs and moves as well as anyone out there with a spare tire.  He is explosive and has remarkable athleticism and quickness for someone his size and at his position with surprising range and a pretty impressive motor who plays hard and does not give up on many plays.  Nix has the potential to continue adding strength and may want to try to drop a little bit of the extra weight he is carrying as he is able to replace it with muscle, but his ideal weight at the next level will largely depend on what scheme he is drafted to play.

Snap Anticipation & First Step

Part of the reason Nix looks so quick and athletic is because he anticipates the snap well and consistently.  Often times, he is the first member of the Irish defensive line that gets off the ball and it works to give him a huge advantage against opposing offensive linemen who have enough trouble blocking him straight up, but with an advantage, it is a bigger problem.

Nix’s first step ranges from solid to excellent.  He always has a decent first step and does a good job making his anticipation of the snap pay off, but there are times when the motor is really running and Nix is looking to make a big and will step it up and can flash an excellent first step.  It is not just limited to situations when he is shooting a gap; there are times when he will be positioned head up over a guard or the center and just blow them off the ball.  For the most part, he does a good job of staying low and firing out with the first step and hitting opponents with a rising blow.

Block Shedding

Nix is able to stack and shed blockers with effective hand usage that ranges from bench pressing them and turning them off balance before simply tossing them aside to using a quick swim move that can get him into the backfield quickly and efficiently when it works.  He has had a good amount of success in college but needs to continue refining his technique to continue to succeed in the NFL.  He is more than capable of occupying space and holding his ground but when he needs to take on and beat a block, he is still a work in progress and another year of learning how to use his hands could really benefit him.

Run Stopping

Nix can be extremely disruptive both as a tackler but also as a player who can collapse the pocket and create opportunities for teammates.  The only thing that ever seems to stop Nix is Nix when he stops moving his feet, forcing to take a blow from offensive linemen, readjust his angle and then start moving his feet again.  When his feet keep moving, he is virtually unstoppable and the line’s best hope is to turn him and run him beyond the play, letting his momentum take him out of the play.  Perhaps an issue of motor but also of balance, there are times when Nix will stop his feet himself, but when opponents are able to knock him off balance, he adjusts himself to regain his balance and will either stop moving his feet or move backwards slightly to avoid going down.  This is a mixed blessing as having a defensive lineman able to stay on his feet is a good thing but there are times when he should go down and create a pile as a road block to clog the hole and make it impossible for opponents to dig him out.  It could help not only his motor and stamina but also his balance if he lost a little bit of the extra weight he is carrying.

The other issue that can hurt Nix is occasionally he will allow himself to play too high and when he gets high, he is off balance and gives up leverage making it easier for offensive linemen, particularly double teams to move him off the ball.  To Nix’s credit, he is typically able to adjust, reanchor himself and hold his ground but he would avoid having to do this if he could start and stay lower.  Nixs’s lateral quickness, agility, and speed allow him move down the line and make plays with relative ease and Nix will chase down plays from behind if he has the opportunity.

Especially against the run, but it certainly applies to the pass too is the fact that Nix needs to do a better job of breaking down when he gets into the backfield.  Nix is able to get into the backfield quite a bit in each game but rather than breaking down and finding the football and making a play, he keeps his head of steam going and ends up running by the play far too often.  When he ends up in position where the hole is going to be or he is right near the hole, he can blow up the play for a big play and a huge loss, but there are countless examples where Nix gets into the backfield like a bull and ends up going past the play and taking himself out of it.  If he breaks down when he breaks through, he will be able to read and react to where the ball carrier is going or chase them down more but he should at least be disruptive and force the running back to navigate around him.

Pass Rushing

Nix offers a great deal of ability as a pass rusher from the nose tackle position.  He has plenty of speed and athleticism to get into the backfield and the strength to bulrush opponents into the backfield or until he is able to simply throw them out of the way on the way to the quarterback.  His swim move enables him to get into the backfield quickly when it works, but he really could use a counter move or another go-to move.  Against college linemen, he can do a lot of damage with his power and ability to walk opponents back into the quarterback along with being able to keep them guessing with his swim move, but in the NFL, he is going to need to come up with more as linemen will adjust quickly and attack his ribs when he swims or simply hold up against his bull rush.

Nix can do quite a bit of damage to a quarterback when he is able to track them down but he needs to break down when is in the backfield to avoid being matadored, whiffing on the sack and taking himself out of the play.  When the quarterback is directly in his path, fine, go with the straight line speed and steamroll through but he could get far more sacks and hits on the quarterback if he breaks down once he breaks through, locates the ball and tracks it down.  Even coming from the nose position, Nix has the ability to create a lot of problems for the opponent, continue to draw double teams and open up opportunities for his teammates while he still has the chance to get the sack himself.  With some small adjustments, he could end up being a guy who gets half a dozen sacks per year starting this coming year and going into the NFL.  Nix also does a good job of getting his arms up into passing lanes when he is not able to get to the quarterback and has had success deflecting passes.

System Fit

The obvious fit that jumps out is that Nix can play in a 2-gap odd front as a nose tackle, but he is a better fit as a 4-3 nose guard or even a 5-tech defensive end in an odd front because of his incredible burst and athleticism.  There is no question he can operate as a clogger in the middle of the line, but he can also add quite a bit in terms of a pass rushing element, so a 4-3 would allow him to take more advantage of his quickness in athleticism.  As an end in the 3-4, he can do everything a nose does but add an element of athleticism that essentially would enable a team to have two nose tackles much like what the Baltimore Ravens do with Haloti Ngata.  There is no question he can play their nose, but his athleticism is such a weapon and advantage that they move outside and put in another big body in the middle.  The other option that could be a good fit for Nix is in a double 2-tech lineup.  In that situation, he would be more unpredictable in what and where he is going to attack and if he is lined up next to someone of similar ability, they could wreak havoc.  But again, 4-3 nose might be his best fit in putting him on a defensive line like Tampa, Minnesota, Carolina or Chicago could have him be an impact player and an overwhelming force.

Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31 vs. Temple
Sat, Sept. 7 at Michigan
Sat, Sept. 14 at Purdue
Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. USC
Sat, Oct. 26 at Air Force
Sat, Nov. 2 vs. Navy
Sat, Nov. 9 at Pittsburgh
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. BYU
Sat, Nov. 30 at Stanford

Notable Games

With an added level of intensity as the Irish bail on one of the better rivalries in college football, the Michigan game could be a good matchup for Nix as the Wolverines have a good tradition along the offensive line and are working to get to a more pro-style offense which would attack more in the middle of the field.  The game for perhaps the worst trophy in college sports, Michigan State is a typically a power football team that lines up with a fullback and tight end and dare teams to stop them, which would be aimed right at Nix and have to come up with creative ways to beat him.  Assuming he is back and healthy, the matchup between Nix and Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard could be a great one.  The matchup against Navy is intriguing as it relates to how Nix adjusts to how the Midshipmen work to block him and his ability to locate the football and adjust to make plays.  On size, strength, and athleticism, Ikard should dominate but the nuances of that triple option offense can be tricky.  Lastly, the game against Stanford will be one to watch as they continue to just bring in and develop impressive offensive linemen who are not afraid to take on a guy like Nix. Last year, Nix and the Cardinal had a battle that kept going back and forth with David Yankey taking a lot of the pressure from Nix, but he has moved out to tackle, so it will be interesting to see who steps up and how they do.  And aside from a bowl game, it is the last game of the year, so could have some added meaning to both sides.

NFL Comparison

Although he is not the same size, Nix’s game is similar to that of Shaun Rogers, who has become an NFL journeyman after some extremely successful seasons with the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.  Rogers, the former Texas Longhorn was supremely athletic for a man standing 6’4”, around 340lbs at times and could dunk from a standstill position.  He was simply a freakish athlete who could be a disruptive force when he wanted.  As with Nix, Rogers could steamroll opponents and drive offensive linemen into the backfield but he also used a quick swim move to quickly get into the backfield, which was great when he was right and absolutely wrecked the play before it started, but because he did not break down when he got into the backfield, he would overrun too many plays and miss a ton of opportunities, which was more problematic when he was playing a 2-gap nose and the result was the inside linebackers having to try to make a play with two guards coming at them unblocked.  Nix may not be the same size as Rogers, but he might be a little quicker and has the potential to be that type of player but more consistent with incredible quickness and athleticism for the position with the ability to get after the quarterback.  For the first 10 years of Rogers’ career, Rogers averaged 3.75 sacks per season with 7 in his final year in Detroit.

Draft Projection

Nix could have been a reasonably high draft pick this past year had he declared out, but with added strength and continued improvement and perhaps losing a little weight, he has the chance to be the top nose in this year’s draft and be an impact player in the NFL.  It is difficult to imagine how he would get out of the top 50 picks if the draft were held today, but he really has the chance to improve on what he already does well and add to it, which could get him drafted in the top half of the first round along the lines of Star Lotulelei this past year.

Topics: 2014 Mock Draft, 2014 NFL Draft, Defensive Tackles, Louis Nix III, Nose Tackles, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

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