Louis Nix III came into the 2013 season with a great deal of expectations coming off of a huge season and looking to move onward and upward. The problem for Nix is he was battling knee tendonitis during the season before ultimately tearing his meniscus, trying to play through it and being shut down for the year for surgery. Nix also put on extra weight which looked problematic and needs to be dropped when healthy.
Nix was not the same player he was as a sophomore but he brought the same effort level and flashed the ability that made him such an attractive prospect coming into the season. Teams are ultimately going to have to decide how much they believe about this year, but the sheer effort level was tough to deny this past year.
For the NFL, Nix has shown he can be a good, clogging defensive linemen that is able to hold up at the point of attack as a 2-gap player, but he offers far more. Nix is remarkably light on his feet, showing the ability to work down the line of scrimmage with good range. He has also shown he is able to contribute as a pass rusher. It is not likely that he will be featured in obvious passing situations, but on run plays, he can be an asset and get some pressure and hits on the quarterback. The medical at the combine is key as are individual workouts to see Nix get back to his own self, but as long as he is able to do that, he warrants a first round pick and could end up going in the first half of the first round.
Vitals & Build
Nix is listed at 6’3” 340lbs and coming into this year, he moved as well as anyone carrying 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 that plays hard and does not give up on many plays. Nix has the potential to continue adding strength, but needs to try to drop the added weight he was carrying this past season. Presumably, a healthy Nix should drop it rather easily. Conceivably, he could ultimately opt to try to get skinnier than that, but given how well he moves, that decision could be scheme specific.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 orChicago could have him be an impact player and an overwhelming force.
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.
Louis Nix had a tough year between knee issues and added weight that resulted from it, but his effort level never changed and still flashed the ability to be a game changer while fighting through the pain for the Irish. He needs to get healthy and drop the added weight from this past season, but Nix still is a great option as a run stopper who has more range and pass rushing ability than people might expect by just looking at him. As a result, with a less than stellar defensive tackle class, Nix warrants a first round pick and could go earlier than maybe he would in other years, so he could go in the top 15 picks.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com