NFL Prospect Focus: Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt

Back in September I wrote up these two players, but I didn’t go in depth because there was a chance that they would be back in 2014. That’s not the case, as both have declared for the draft. Both are interesting players, but it may come as a surprise who I have rated higher.

Louis Nix – Nose Tackle

Nix is a fourth-year junior and a three-year starter on the defensive line. He graduated in December, and with that, decided he was done with college football.

Nix red-shirted as a freshman. He was overweight and not in good enough shape to be a factor. That year did him well, as he matured and learned what it takes to be a top college football player. As a red shirt freshman in 2011, he started at nose tackle and has held that position since. In the 2012 National Championship game, he injured his knee, but rather than go through surgery, he just rehabbed and prepared for the 2013 season. This year, he played with pain in the knee, and finally, after the Pitt game, he underwent surgery to have a torn meniscus repaired and missed the last three games of the season.

Nix has a prototypical nose tackle body. He has good height at about 6020 and played this year at close to 350 pounds. He is a wide body with good arm length. Nix is a very good athlete for a man his size. He is light on his feet and shows a good short area burst. He won’t set any records in the 40 but his 10 time will match many guys 30 and 40 pounds less in weight. I would estimate he will run the 40 in about 5.35. Nix has very good initial quickness, often being the first man off the ball. While he had a tendency to play tall in 2012, that wasn’t the case in 2013. He comes off the ball low and is very explosive. He has quick hands and does a good job not letting offensive blockers control him. He plays with bend and anchors. As a nose, he consistently has to take on two blockers, yet he never gets knocked off the line of scrimmage. When going against a single blocker, he can shed quickly, get penetration, and be quite disruptive. Nose tackles are asked to occupy blockers and don’t usually make a lot of plays. That is not the case with Nix. With his quickness, strength, and power, he gets a lot of tackles. While he doesn’t have great speed, he still plays with a high level of competitiveness and does an excellent job in pursuit.

Most nose tackles aren’t very good pass rushers. Nix, again, is the exception. He can collapse the pocket as a bull rusher and has some counter moves to redirect. While he might not get many sacks, he does get pressures and also does a good job getting his hands up to knock down passes.

Overall, Nix's best fit is as a 3-4 NT. He should be able to come in and start as a rookie for most clubs. Because of his athleticism, it’s not out of the question for some 4-3 teams to be interested. He can easily play a one-tech in those schemes.

Since declaring for the draft, Nix has been working out, preparing for the Combine and is reportedly down to around 330. I can easily see him being the first nose tackle drafted this year and will probably go somewhere in the middle of the first round.

Stephon Tuitt – Defensive Tackle

Tuitt is a third-year junior and a two-year starter. He played as a backup his true freshman year. He usually plays as the five-technique in Notre Dame’s 3-4 scheme. When they go to a four-man front on passing downs he lines up both inside and outside.

Tuitt has excellent five-technique size at about 6060, 323 pounds with very long arms. In 2012, he played at closer to 312 and looked quicker and more athletic than he did this year. Following the 2012 season, Tuitt had surgery to repair a sports hernia, and because of that, he entered the 2013 season a bit overweight and out of shape. That showed in his play during the early part of the season. There are some close to the Notre Dame program that will tell you that Tuitt was not the best when it came to attacking rehab.

Despite his size, Tuitt has very good straight line quickness and speed. It would not shock me to see him run in the 4.78 – 4.80 range at the Combine. I'm concerned that despite having speed and quickness, he is also tight in his knees and hips. His body control and change of direction are average compared to his speed. Tuitt plays tall and can have some trouble clearing piles when moving laterally in traffic. It’s surprising how many times you see him lose his balance and end up on the ground during the course of a game. Still, he flashes big play ability. In 2012, he had an 80+ yard interception return for a TD, and this year, had a diving interception for a TD vs Michigan. He can come up with some "wow" plays every game. The problem is, for every top play, there are too many where he does nothing. Tuitt is not what I would call an "every down" competitor.

Against the run, Tuitt can be stout. Though he can play tall, he is very strong and can hold the point. He flashes quick shed ability and shows he can make plays for loss or at the line of scrimmage. If he has the angle, he can make some pursuit plays. You just don’t see enough of them. As a pass rusher he, again, flashes. Tuitt almost always takes an outside charge or bull rush. If he can beat his opponent with his first step, he has a good outside charge. Because he lacks top bend, you don’t see him show the ability to lower his shoulder and get under his opponent. The other thing you don’t see is counter moves. I have rarely seen him redirect and try to come back across his opponents face. He is very good as a bull rusher because of his power and shows he can walk a tackle back to the QB.

Tuitt has some athletic limitations, but he is still very talented. He would be best as a five-technique at the next level but, he may also be a capable 4-3 tackle. He may even be able to play left end in some 4-3 schemes. What Tuitt has to do is develop down-after-down consistency and learn to play with bend. After the 2012 season, I would have bet that he was going to be a top pick when he came out, but the 2013 season was a disappointment to me. He did not play up to his ability. Still, at the defensive tackle position, many teams look at the talent and not the consistency. For that reason, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him taken as high as 20 or as low as 40. He will be an interesting guy to track as a pro.

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