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Top 5 inside D-tackle prospects
Notre Dame should be scary up front in 2013
Originally Published: May 17, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Louis Nix IIIJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLouis Nix III is an imposing force inside for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Debating the playing weight for defensive tackles is sort of like debating the horsepower in a car. What the manual claims doesn't really matter as much as performance. The number is almost secondary.
At 350, can it maneuver like a smaller car?
At 300, can it still drive through a brick wall?
Louis Nix III has always been a big guy who could move like a smaller one. As a high school recruit, his evaluation noted that he (even at a listed 318 pounds), "Displays solid speed for a big guy and adequate short-area, change-of-direction skills." And brick walls? Sure. It's hard to ever trust an "official" weight until it's the one we get from the NFL combine, but I've heard Nix is going to play at more than 340 pounds this fall, which certainly will have us keeping a close eye on his burst off the snap and his ability to shed blocks.
But from all indications -- and certainly by his brief time at QB -- he still looks like a big guy who can really move. He starts the summer as my top-rated defensive tackle for the 2014 NFL draft class.
1. Louis Nix III, junior, Notre Dame
Nix is that rare defensive tackle with the size to operate as a two-gap, zero-tech nose tackle in a 3-4, but the quickness to be a 3-technique penetrator in a 4-3. He has a great first step off the snap for any D-tackle, much less one at his size, and if he gets his arm through he can clear blocks quickly and get after the quarterback. That said, when blockers get their hands on him (and he will soak up double teams) he could use his hands better and not simply be content to push the blocker into the backfield.
But that's not an awful downside. Nix is probably better when he's certain it's a pass; he just gets more of a burst. Against the run, he's good but could be more disruptive. A good player now, he has a chance to be a great one.
2. Timmy Jernigan, junior, Florida St.
At a hair under 300 pounds, Jernigan now carries the size of a 4-3 3-tech defensive tackle, but he still has the quickness you'd associate with a defensive end. He can penetrate and not merely disrupt plays, but actually chase down runners and quarterbacks in pursuit.
Like a lot of more athletic D-tackles, Jernigan has to avoid playing too high, or blockers will just get under his pads and lock him up. But he could have a huge season, his first full one as a starter.
3. Anthony Johnson, junior, LSU
A freaky athlete, Johnson is one of those defensive tackles who probably will show up at the combine in the next two years and run in the 4.8 to 4.9 range at about 310 pounds. His signature skill is an ability to seemingly jump the A-gap before the center gets the ball in the quarterback's hands. He's got elite quickness, and thus doesn't occupy blocks in the traditional sense; he causes problems with your ability to run an offense.
Where Johnson needs to develop is how he reacts when quickness isn't enough. The LSU defense has been loaded, and Johnson wasn't a primary focus, because he was playing in rotation. He should now expect double teams regardless of the gap he's attacking, and he will need leverage, violent hands and the ability to shed and move laterally to succeed against added attention. But the talent is there. This is a big year for him.
4. Daniel McCullers, senior, Tennessee
Well, you can't teach size, and McCullers is a load at 6-foot-8 and 370-plus pounds. He's not a great athlete, but is surprisingly mobile, and if the play gets to the edge, you'll see him chase plays in pursuit, getting there to help clean up. McCullers can create a push on pure size -- he can bend back a single blocker.
Where he needs to get better is with pad level. If you get under him or cut his thighs, he's basically stuck, and too often one good blocker can neutralize him. He doesn't get a great burst, so he needs to get a little more bend and uproot blockers.
5. Deandre Coleman, senior, Cal
Quick off the ball for a 6-5, 320-pound player, Coleman can really chop his feet, and he has a little shake in him to get a blocker off balance to shove aside. He's best-suited to be either a 3-4 defensive end or a penetrating 3-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3.
Last season he had 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. A fellow Pac-12 D-tackle (see below) was more productive, but I like Coleman's versatility.
Will Sutton, senior, Arizona St.
A nightmare to block, Sutton piled up 13.0 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss. He could have factored into first-round talk in the 2013 draft.
Chucky Hunter, junior, TCU
The movement science major could study himself, because he can really move at more than 300 pounds. A potential breakout year awaits.
Travis Raciti, junior, San Jose St.
One of the top defenders in the WAC, Raciti is an athlete and will pile up tackles for loss in 2013.
Ra'Shede Hageman, senior, Minnesota
Recruited as a tight end, Hageman is now 310-plus pounds, but maintains some of that quickness you'd associate with a much smaller player.
Calvin Barnett, senior, Oklahoma St.
One of the top D-linemen in the Big 12 last season, Barnett should have a big year now that he's fully adjusted to the level of play after spending his first two years in JC.