Finny's 2012 Thumbnail Guide to the Draft

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Finnegans Wake:
Finny’s 2012 Thumbnail Guide to the Draft:  Nose Tackle

Background, from Finny’s 2011 NT Draft Guide (maliciously deleted by that fucker Penso):

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The Steelers will stick with the 3-4, or a hybrid thereof, at least as long as Dick LeBeau remains the DC, and possibly beyond.  Creating pressure from a front seven with a rabid swarm of shifting linebackers starts with the thirty front, the grunts on the line, the unsung big men.  And the pivot man in the middle, the zero technique, is the keystone.  The nose eats double teams, creating mismatches the rest of the front seven exploits.  A great front seven can even mask the shortcomings of the secondary – to a point.

The transition from college schemes to the pro 3-4 NT can make evaluation difficult.  A 4-3 DT can have mundane stats but can become an outstanding NT because he’s being asked to do a different set of tasks: instead of splitting the IOL to pressure the QB, his 3-4 assignment has more to do with occupying double-teams, collapsing the pocket, and shedding blocks to stop runners in the A and B gaps.

I look for three traits in NT prospects:  frame, run-stopping, and pure strength.  You can play NT or UT in the 4-3 and be under 325-330#, but that doesn’t work as well in the 3-4.  Assuming prospects can add through strength, conditioning, and pigging out, I still want to see a NT who weighs 315# or more.  Height can be anywhere from a 6’0” plugger to a 6’5” tall-boy, but the taller NTs can lose the battle of leverage, and might not carry their weight as well.  If a guy struggles versus the run, he’s not a NT, period.  And if he’s not strong, as in putting the bar up 30 times or more, he won’t be successful against double teams.  30 is my arbitrary minimum, 35 is optimal.  

There are typically few true 3-4 NTs in a draft class, and the best go in the first two rounds.  There are usually a bunch of guys who go much later in draft as developmental NTs.

Despite Casey Hampton’s partial ACL tear in the playoff loss to Denver, it looks like he’s going to be counted on to play some role this year.  Big Snack is 34, and will be 35 when the season starts, and there have to be serious concerns about his conditioning when he does make it back.  But Hampton avoided the ax, unlike fellow stalwarts Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior, quite possibly out of desperate need.  With Chris Hoke’s unexpected retirement, the Steelers are left with Steve McClendon as the sole healthy NT.  McClendon, listed on the Steelers website at 280# but likely playing closer to 300#, played well filling in but does not appear to be a long-term solution.  And before anyone suggests Ziggy Hood as a 3-4 NT, please, just stop.  It’s not a good fit.

It’s worth noting that Ziggy’s size (6’3”, 300#) and quickness (4.83 40) always struck me as falling outside the prototypical range for 3-4 DEs:  Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel both played around 6’5” and a shade under 300#.  In fact, Ziggy seems to be the prototypical 4-3 under tackle, not the guy taking double teams in the middle, but the guy with a bit more speed upfield playing beside him.  True, a 4-3 still needs a player who is the NT, but the 4-3 NT does not need to be as massive and strong as a Casey Hampton, a Haloti Ngata, or a Vince Wilfork.  In other words, Steve McClendon could probably play the 4-3 NT more capably than the 3-4, with thoughts of upgrading not necessary for a year.  That would allow Keisel and Cameron Heyward to start at end, meaning that one of the Steelers three most talented DL players (Keisel, Hood, Heyward) would not be relegated to backup duties.

Another consequence of a shift to the 4-3 as base is that when you add a DL, you lose an ILB.  And since the Steelers have lost ILB James Farrior, there would be no need to draft a replacement for him.  In short, moving from the 3-4 to the 4-3 as a base defense would eliminate high-level need to draft an ILB and a NT, and replace it with a more modest need to find a better long-term 4-3 NT and perhaps look again at the ILB depth if Stevenson Sylvester is not considered adequate.

All this noted, I would still put the chances of the Steelers moving away from the 3-4 as slim to none.  And so I move ahead with the assumption that NT will be a high priority.  

Speaking of slim to none, let’s move on to what’s available in the draft.  

After killing it at the combine, Memphis’s Dontari Poe[/u], 6’4”, 346#, 44 reps, likely played himself into top-15 consideration, and possibly even top-10.  NFLDS ranks him 12th overall (3/22/12).  While there are some questions about his consistency and LOC, there’s no doubt Poe has the physical attributes that could see him become a monstrous 3-4 NT or a kick-ass addition in the middle of a 4-3.  In any event, it’s unlikely that Poe is on the board at 1.24 or even within reasonable trade-up range. If for some reason he were to be available at 1.24, he would have to be at the top of the Steelers list.

The value of 3-4 NTs becomes evident once you get past Poe.  Every other prospect has question marks.

Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu[/u], 6’3”, 348#, 35 reps, is probably the safest bet.  He’s widely slotted in the R2-R3 range, and NFLDS even ranks him 98th overall, closer to the Steelers 3.88 selection.  I don’t think he’ll last that long, simply based on supply and demand.  He’s got the frame and the strength, but what little I was able to see of him showed me a player who got no push against the Utah OL, and who didn’t seem to know whether he played in a 3-4 or a 4-3 in interviews.  In short, he doesn’t excite me. On paper, he’s a fit; in real life, I think he’s best suited as a 4-3 NT. Maybe he’s a guy you can develop, but he doesn’t present himself as the heir to Casey.  

Alabama’s Josh Chapman[/u], 6’1”, 316”, 29 reps, is the antithesis of Ta’amu.  He’s a little on the smaller size.  His 29 reps are borderline at best.  And he’s coming off of post-season ACL surgery.  He may not be ready any sooner than Casey is, this year.  Chapman, ranked 88th overall by NFLDS, but more widely seen as anything from a R2-R4 prospect due to the injuries, passes the eye test in ways Ta’amu does not.  Against LSU Chapman was disruptive and able to get great push and penetration.  I think he works harder and just plain plays stronger and nastier than Ta’amu.  He played through the ACL injury (and a meniscus injury), missing only one game, even if it would ultimately hurt his pro draft stock.  And any time 3-4 LBs flourish, you have to look at who’s getting the push up front.  Some of Upshaw and Hightower’s success comes back to Chapman.  I like Chapman, but with the injury concerns I would have to say he’s more of a R3 value.

There have been some rumors that the Steelers really like Michigan’s Mike Martin[/u], 6’1”, 306#, 36 reps, ranked 79th overall by NFLDS.  Martin’s got moxie, decent strength, and play 3-4 NT for the Wolverines.  That said, he’s just too damned small to be a functional 3-4 NT, much less a dominant one.  Pass.

BYU’s Hebron Fangupo[/u], 6’1”, 323#, 36 reps, is an interesting prospect.  He transferred from USC to provide his wife a more stable environment, and is an intelligent, well-spoken guy.  He’s got decent size and strength, and played both DE and NT in BYU’s 3-4 front.  That would all lend itself to a possible R3 projection.  But Fangupo also started getting neutralized later in the season, and is already 27, meaning he’d be crossing the Rubicon of age 30 after only playing out his rookie deal.  That slides a very likeable guy down to R5 or later.

Akiem Nicks [/u] is a name that draft guru wiseapples will bandy about as a “sleeper” 3-4 NT prospect.  Nicks, 6’4”, 318#, 26 reps, transferred from LSU to Regina U. (wha?) in Canada, due to some nebulous “recruiting issue.”  Watching Nicks play collegiate ball is like watching high school tape.  Seriously.  He’s got some nice mobility, but LOC and lack of reps mean he’s a DND as a 3-4 NT.

The miscellany:

Baylor’s Jean-Baptiste Nicholas[/u], 6’1”, 335#, isn’t as cool as his name suggests.  No rep info available on JBN, but Baylor didn’t exactly put the clamps on opponents’ running games, and JBN looks like a big tub of goo.  There may be some potential there, but it will take a lot to coax it out of him, which makes him a free agent possibility.

William Penn (Iowa) yields up my sleeper candidate for NT this year, Damon Harrison, [/u] 6’2”, 347#, no rep info available.  Scarce info from all the usual outlets, but it looks like this guy could be a real diamond in the shit, so to speak. Probably a priority free agent, but if the Steelers have two R7 comps I’d consider using one of them here.

The short list:

R1 – Dontari Poe, Memphis
R3 – Josh Chapman, Alabama
R5-7 – Hebron Fangupo, BYU
R7 – Damon Harrison, William Penn (Iowa)
FA – Jean-Baptiste Nicholas

TwistedLemon:
In browsing arond looking at nothings, I see several "mocks" that have one or more of the following available in round 1. 
1.  Devon Still, Penn St, 6-4   310
2.  Michael Brockers, LSU, 6-5   306 (I see him as a DE for us so perhaps not)
3.  Jerel Worthy, Mich St, 6-3, 310.  I like this guy....what am I missing?

Finnegans Wake:
Quote from: TwistedLemon on Mar 24, 2012 at 09:52

In browsing arond looking at nothings, I see several "mocks" that have one or more of the following available in round 1. 
1.  Devon Still, Penn St, 6-4   310
2.  Michael Brockers, LSU, 6-5   306 (I see him as a DE for us so perhaps not)
3.  Jerel Worthy, Mich St, 6-3, 310.  I like this guy....what am I missing?


Fair enough.  I've seen a few mocks with those names coming my way, and brushed them off as uninformed: these guys don't have the weight, at those heights, to be NTs, right?  Too lanky, but could be DE... if we were going to draft a DE, which we aren't.  But was this prejudgment premature?  After all, the Tomlin-Colbert drafts have seen us take Lawrence Timmons, putatively as an OLB, when clearly he is an ILB; and Ziggy Hood, whose numbers suggested a 4-3 DT rather than the proto LeBeau 3-4 DE, right?  So couldn't these guys just eat a few thousand Larabars and pump some iron and, fucking voila!  A new Hampton is born?

Penn State's Devon Still, 6'4", 303# (weight at combine and pro day), 26 reps, is actually a cousin of Levon Kirkland, just for some fun trivia.  His frame (at either 303# or 310#) is still very light for a NT, and you have to consider that the taller prospects need to weigh out at the higher end.  E.g., a stout fireplug guy who's on the shorter end may win battles of leverage, but he still needs some bulk to be a stopper and the strength to draw the double, so say 6'0"-6'1" he should be ~315# +/-5#,  30 reps min., 35+ optimal; 6'2"-6'3" should be ~325# +/-8, 30 reps min., 35+ optimal; 6'4"-6'5" should be ~ 335# +/-15, 30 reps min., 35+ optimal.  The inability to rep 30 times is a flag; the frame is a flag.

Further, NFLDS notes the following:

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In the 2012 pool, interior players such as Dontari Poe (Memphis), Michael Brockers (LSU) and Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) seem to have surpassed him on some boards. Like some inside players, Still's best position might be as a "five technique" end in a 3-4 front, with the ability to move inside in some 4-3 looks or situational occasions. At 303 pounds, he probably isn't a candidate for 3-4 nose tackle, although a few clubs that don't use a traditional "space-eater" type player still have him as a possibility there.
  The teams that don't use a "space-eater" are more the Wade Phillips mold, IMO.  I agree that Still would best be seen as a 3-4 5-tech.

LSU's Michael Brockers, 6'6", 322#, 19 & 21 reps (combine, pro day), compounds those issues of frame at his height.  Granted, he's a 21-year-old RS soph, so he could yet add bulk, but with 1 year playing inside it's difficult to say how that would translate to a tall-framed guy would hold up at the nose, and again I would say his numbers point to 5-tech if anything.  The 16 reps is a major fail, and Brockers apparently was a very bad interview at Indy, exhibiting very poor intelligence.  Horrible match for a LeBeau defense, even if he's not being asked to multi-task the way other positions in the D are. 

Michigan State's Jerel Worthy, 6'2", 308#, 28 reps (pro day only), is marginal in all the measurables, similar to the DTs above.  He can provide solid anchor even against (NCAA) double teams, but I don't see that in the LeBeau 3-4, or even the Phillips 3-4:  he has the look of a 4-3 NT.  Add to that the following from Pro Football Weekly:

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NFL evaluator: "(Michigan State DT) Jerel Worthy is a big, underachieving defensive tackle. He's athletic, he can run, he creates penetration. When he wants to play, he shows up. Watch him against Wisconsin -- they don't knock him off the ball. He gets under blocks and works the edges. You're going to take a deep breath before you draft him, but he has first-round talent."

If there's one trait found with virtually all Colbert R1 picks, it's that they are low-risk achievers.  Even a guy like Santonio Holmes, who had some inconsistencies to his work ethic and bloodstream cleanliness, was a guy with a solid track record at OSU and looked like a guy who would be a steady contributor.  If a player makes you take a deep breath, he's going somewhere else.

Again, he's a young guy at 22, could still add to that frame, could be coached up to be more consistent, but IMO it all just fails to add up.

pensodyssey:
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Background, from Finny’s 2011 NT Draft Guide (maliciously deleted by that fucker Penso):

Your post came at me first.

Stand your ground.

Finnegans Wake:
Official order of 2012 picks announced.

Steelers have: 

1.24
2.56
3.86
4.119
5.159
6.193
7.231
7.240 (comp)
7.246 (comp)
7.248 (comp)

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