Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN.com released updated versions of their 2014 NFL Mock Drafts earlier this week. Although Kiper, Jr. and McShay disagree on plenty of draft-related topics, both analysts seem to believe that the Steelers will select Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix with their first round pick. McShay said the following about Nix and why he would be a great fit with Pittsburgh:
Nix performed better in 2012 than he did in 2013, and he’ll be coming off a knee injury, but you simply don’t find many players with his enormous size who can move like he does. Nix has the potential to develop into the Steelers’ next Casey Hampton and serve as the centerpiece of their 3-4 defensive scheme. He wouldn’t be Pittsburgh’s only option in this scenario, however; Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert, Notre Dame OT Zack Martin and Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio would all be good fits. The Steelers might be able to get a bigger WR like Fresno State’s Davante Adams or Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin on Day 2.
Although I agree that there will be plenty of wide receivers who can be found on the second and third days of the draft, I and many others would be irate if the Steelers passed on player like Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert for a nose tackle in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Steelers have gaping holes on both sides of the ball,and I for one would not discount Steve McLendon or his backup Al Woods (assuming he is re-signed) as the team’s top two nose tackles heading into this season. One has to remember that McLendon saw extended regular season action for the first time in his then-four-year career last fall. In fact, both him and Woods spent most of the previous two years riding the pine behind Casey Hampton and the other veterans along the defensive line.
Call me crazy, but I am not sold on Nix being the long-term answer at nose tackle for the Steelers. While he looked fantastic at times during his redshirt sophomore campaign in 2012 (50 tackles, 7.5 tfls, 2.0 sacks), his 2013 season was marred by knee issues and inconsistent play (27 tackles, 2.0 tfls, 0 sacks). I question whether the large nose tackle can keep his weight in check, and one has to wonder how high of a motor he will have at the next level if he is unable to do so.
Nix played with poor technique, was inconsistent with his pad level and was pushed around by inferior competition last season. Thus, a team has to wonder which version, 2012 or 2013, of Nix they will ultimately get if they make him their selection.
If Nix offered more in the pass-rushing department, then maybe I could see him being an option at number 15. However, what sense does it make for the Steelers to select a two-down nose tackle who can be immediately neutralized when teams employ spread formations and force Pittsburgh’s defense into their sub-packages?
Of course, my biggest question regarding Nix or any defensive player drafted by the Steelers will always be the following:
How much playing time will he receive at the beginning of his career?
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has seemed to only allow rookie defenders on the field when injuries or a complete and lack of personnel exist at a particular position. Thus, would Pittsburgh be willing to pass up instant contributors, especially on the offensive side of the ball, for a nose tackle who might see less than 100 snaps during his first professional season?
If the Steelers’ brass make Nix their first round pick this May, then more power to them. I just hope that the Casey Hampton comparisons are actually apt, because I failed to see Nix live up to any of that sort of hype with his play last season.