How does one begin to assign value to the plethora of players hoping to hear their name called at the end of this month?
This is the task NFL personnel face. With the state of free agency up-in-the-air until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached, the draft assumes even greater importance to the immediate improvement of NFL teams.
In order to define a team’s draft-day(s) needs, it must define what positions need to be upgraded, evaluate players at those positions based on how they fit a team’s scheme and analyze how a player’s attitude contributes to a winning mentality by improving team chemistry.
While Ron Edwards has outperformed the expectations of most, it is widely known that Kansas City still lacks a true nose tackle and the defense suffers because of it.
With outside linebacker Mike Vrabel aging, many pundits believe Kansas City’s top priority is a pass-rushing outside linebacker to compliment Tamba Hali. However, improvement at the nose tackle position immediately improves the pass rush as well.
When a player demands the attention of two blockers it opens up blitz lanes for inside linebackers. It also allows linebackers not to have to take a blocker on when stopping the run and truly just fill the holes and make a tackle.
Derrick Johnson underwent the change from outside to inside linebacker with the transition to a 3-4 defense. Johnson, A speedy athlete who does well in coverage, but has been knocked for lack of physical play, is who most stands to benefit from the drafting of an effective nose tackle.
Johnson may not do well taking on squat guards to rush the quarterback, but if given the opportunity to utilize his speed and athleticism to work the inside blitz lanes, Johnson becomes an immediate threat to earn eight or more sacks on the year. With the threat of his blitzing established, the 3-4 scheme further capitalizes on the confusion it causes opposing quarterbacks.
Will Johnson blitz, or will he be in coverage? Where in coverage? What if he fakes the blitz and falls into a zone on underneath routes? The ability to rush the passer opens up opportunities for more interceptions in coverage, Johnson’s strong suit the past two years.
So, who’s available at nose tackle?
Debates rage about whether or not players deserve to be first round picks. With more NFL teams using the 3-4 defense, paired with a scarcity of players physically built to play the position, nose tackles of varying quality deserve first round consideration. Here’s who the Kansas City Chiefs will give a hard look on draft day.
Early Round Options:
Phil Taylor – Baylor - 6’3 334
Taylor, perhaps more than any other player in the draft, can help the Chiefs improve the most right now. Taylor clearly meets the first criteria of being a larger defensive tackle at well over 300 pounds, but despite his size, shows great feet and shows the ever-important, quick-twitch, explosive burst off the ball.
Taylor has lingering question marks regarding his attitude. Kansas City invited him for both a private workout and a team visit, so clearly they are feeling out if Taylor meets the criteria of improving team chemistry.
While Taylor may prove a cornerstone of this 3-4 defense, if he’s not committed to football, simply playing for a paycheck, he can turn into another Ryan Sims type bust.
Many felt Taylor would fall into round two, but his stock has risen and he is looked at by teams that pick somewhere in the middle or toward the end of the first round.
Stephen Paea – Oregon St. – 6’1 295
Paea, one of the combine’s workout warriors set a combine record with 49 bench press reps. The next best defensive lineman put the bar up 38 times. Even more important is that Paea’s strength is said to translate well to the football field.
That said, Paea’s height is questioned (people don’t believe he’s 6’1) and he lacks ideal weight for a nose tackle. As a result he can be somewhat marginalized by double teams. However, he makes plays with explosion off the ball and once he gets his feet planted will establish a pile to form to stop the run game.
Paea received peak interest from teams coming out of the combine. Many pundits predict him going at the top of the second round. Some of the fervor may subside surrounding Paea and depending on what positions are taken could drop to the third round.
Jerrell Powe – Mississippi – 6’2 331
Denied academic eligibility on three occasions by the NCAA, at first glance, Powe does not appear to fit the Pioli mold. However, Powe was helped by a tutoring program when he was diagnosed with dyslexia.
The Chief’s personnel will need to gauge whether Powe is a student who meant well and can thrive in the right situation, or if he is someone who didn’t care enough to put forth the effort.
Powe shows great explosion off the ball and strikes with impressive punch that pushes the pocket in the middle. He creates opportunities for the linebackers to make tackles in the run game by requiring two blockers and following the development of the play by moving well parallel to the line of scrimmage.
Powe has only played since 2008, and played limited snaps at that. He is inconsistent and a bit of a project. Powe will likely be on the board through round three.
Chris Neild – West Virginia – 6’2 319
This guy is the Pioli mold. Neild was a Big East Academic All-Star and a first-team all-conference selection as a senior. One of the few prospects in the draft to have played nose tackle in college, the three-year starter never accumulated more than 45 tackles in a season, but was recognized by Big East coaches as Neild earned his all-conference selection with just 35 tackles.
A true, team-minded player who plays well against double teams and keeps his hands active when blocked one-on-one, Neild will help a team thrive against the run.
The unsung hero of a Mountaineers defense that ranked third in the nation, Neild is not a freakish athlete, but an intense competitor of sound technique who will be superb in some 3-4 teams’ defensive line rotation. Neild is under-valued and will be a late round steal by some savvy team.