A bum knee and a few extra pounds can really make a nose tackle look average.
In 2012, Louis Nix III looked the part of a top 10 pick. He was a massive, plugging nose tackle with quick enough feet to create havoc in the backfield. His presence in the middle of Notre Dame's defensive line Nix didn't lose his talent in 2013, he just had a lot of things working against him, most notably a knee injury. Nix was also a bit overweight.
Well, fear not, because Nix is back in shape. At the 2014 NFL Draft, Nix said he was feeling "sexy" again. He also said his knee feels fine. Now the question is, how will teams weigh his stellar 2012 season against his mostly average 2013 season? Even if Nix is considered an elite nose tackle, where will that get him drafted?
We know Louis Nix is the best Twitter personality in the draft, but how does he grade out on the field?
Pass rush: At his best, Nix can create penetration from the interior of the defensive line with his quick first step and burst off the line of scrimmage. During his career at Notre Dame, he showed off a few pass rush moves and more importantly the foot quickness to slip blockers and get after the quarterback. For such a big guy, Nix closes on the quarterback well and doesn't move around like a 340-pound player.
The downside to Nix as a pass rusher is his inability to make things happen after his initial rush is stalled. His arm over and swim moves are both effective when he gets off the snap quickly and beats his blocker. But too often in 2013 Nix was lacking that explosion off the snap. That probably had something to do with his added weight and knee injury, but it exposed his lack of counter moves as a pass rusher.
Pursuit/quickness: Usually nose tackles don't come barreling toward the sideline on running plays, but Nix has a motor that is running non-stop. He showed off his athleticism for the Irish whenever he chased down ball carriers in pursuit. Granted, his not the fastest player and didn't have a high percentage of tackles in pursuit, but the effort was consistently there. And don't think that because Nix is a plugger at nose tackle that he isn't quick. Nix carries his weight extremely well and is light on his feet.
Run defense: As you might imagine, Nix isn't easy to move in the middle of the defense. He holds the point of attack very well and had the responsibility of taking on double teams often at Notre Dame. He didn't always beat the double teams, but he wasn't usually swallowed up by them either. Regardless, Nix does a fine job of locating the football in the backfield and getting off blocks to make plays. Many project Nix as a nose tackle because of his ability to stay disciplined in his gap and eat up blocks. But he's also shown the ability to use his quickness to get into the backfield. He's not just a one dimensional player.
Strength/tackling: To this point, I've mostly highlighted Nix's quickness, but you didn't think a 340-pounder was all finesse did you? Nix can certainly toss people around up front, and he might be one of the strongest players in this draft. He's more than just a big body inside.
Technique: There are definitely a few technical issues that could be ironed out in Nix's game. He gets too upright at times, which limits his ability to use his strength and create leverage at the point of attack. As mentioned above, Nix also need to develop counter moves when pass rushing once he gets to the next level.
Final Word: Nix was a disappointment in 2013. Not many people will argue that. What can be argued, however, is that Nix is much better than what he was able to put on tape this season. When fully healthy and in shape, Nix's talent is obvious. Add in his non-stop motor and passion for the game, and Nix should be a productive starter in the NFL for a long time, provided he's able to stay healthy. While we grade Nix as a top 15 player, there's no guarantee he'll come off the board that early. The demand for nose tackles isn't always that high, so Nix could be a player that slides a bit.