NFL Draft Report Dream Team: Nix

Photos by Matt Cashore - USA TODAY

The best nose tackle in the draft is Notre Dame's slimmed-down Louis Nix, who is surprisingly quick for his 331-pound frame. NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas breaks down Nix's game in 13 phases, plus offers a professional comparison, in the most detailed report available anywhere.

After seriously considering leaving Notre Dame after his junior season, Louis Nix III decided to return to school for the 2013 campaign. He hoped to erase the bitter taste from the drubbing that Alabama handed the less-than-Fighting Irish in the 2013 BCS title game.

However, things did not go as planned for the massive nose guard.

Nix reported back for fall camp out of shape, with whispers that his weight reached well past 360 pounds when he finally stepped on the scale. The added bulk also caused wear and tear on his legs and a knee injury in the second half of the schedule would end his college career prematurely, missing five of the team's final six games.

An imposing figure in the middle of the Irish defensive front wall, Nix became the "face" of this proud program. Many scouts and opposing offensive coordinators might sound like a chorus, as all agree that he was the spark that ignited the team on the defensive side of the ball, but was sorely missed when he sat out most of the second half of the 2013 season after undergoing left knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. His loss, coupled with injury problems for fellow defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt saw Notre Dame los two out of their last four games and literally limp home with a 9-4 record.

When Nix was on the field for the first eight games of the 2013 schedule, the Irish allowed an average of 107.88 yards per game on the ground and allowed just four touchdowns, while only one opponent gained 200 yards in a contest. In the five games without him, the team gave up nine rushing touchdowns and an average of 248.2 yards per game to ball-carriers, as they yielded over 200 yards in four of those contests, including 331 vs. Navy.

Most talent evaluators feel that Nix is the one of the most dominating two-gap, zero-technique performers in the game of college football. Often compared to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp for his incredible explosive burst off the snap and combative nature, others liken him to the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork and former Pittsburgh Steelers great, Casey Hampton, for the way he easily occupies multiple blockers, feeling his quickness would be ideal to play three-technique in a 4-3 defensive alignment.

Those evaluators cite his aggressive, "take no prisoners" approach to the game of football that reminds them of former Minnesota Vikings fireplug Pat Williams. Even opposing coaches recognize that Nix is the "heart and soul" of the Irish defense. They are amazed at the quickness displayed by the redshirt junior, as his lateral movements are very fluid, which is demonstrated regularly by his crisp and sudden change-of-direction agility working down the line.

Nix will never be a "poster child" for Slim Fast, but he did get "down" to 331 pounds by the time he attended the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in late February. He also maintained that weight when teams came to Notre Dame's Pro Day on March 20. He impressed all in the weight room on campus, as he recorded 24 lifts during the 225-pound bench press, as he could not perform in that event at the Combine due to a left pectoral strain. He was timed at 5.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, reducing that figure to 5.38 during Pro Day exercises.

Nix is the first to admit that he is the type that is quite the character, as he controls the press room, commands respect in the locker room, can be a "pain in the butt" trash talking in the trenches and loves to have fun. But, when the whistle blows and the game begins, all hell breaks loose over the head of an opposing center. Yes, he has a motor mouth, but much like Warren Sapp, he backs it up with a relentless motor. He is just the type that a young team needs for when searching for leadership, as he always "owns up" to his mistakes and despite a reputation for being rigid, even his head coach (Brian Kelly) looks at his player with great affection.

Louis Nix III

University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish

6:02.3-331

Body Structure

Nix has a squat, yet athletically proportioned build with very good upper body and lower torso muscle definition (fireplug type). He catches your attention with his impressive blend of power and quickness, as he shows good bulk throughout his frame, especially in his wide hips and bubble. He has very good thigh and calf thickness and a defined chest with broad shoulders. He packs good guns (33-inch arm length) and, despite his wide frame, he does not have a "sloppy" body but is rather big-boned. Simply put, outside of a lack of ideal height, he is typically built to play the "two gap/zero technique" with good muscle mass. Last season, his weight issues did get out of control and led to knee and stamina issues, but he has recently embraced a drastic nutritional program and has kept his weight in check at the 330-pound region.

Athletic Ability

For a player of his size, Nix shows an incredible burst and quickness off the snap. Not only is he sudden in his movements, but he is also fluid. He displays excellent balance and body control working down the line and is a constant disruptive force with the suddenness he generates getting off the ball to penetrate. His speed allows him to make lots of tackles on the move, but he is really misused in the Notre Dame system, as they rely upon him more to use his strength to overpower and take on double teams often rather than utilize his explosive initial step to pressure the pocket and impact the action in the backfield (see 2012 Navy, Purdue and Alabama games; and 2013 Michigan and Michigan State contests for his ability to dominate behind the line of scrimmage when allowed to attack rather than wait for action to come to him). He has good acceleration in his short area burst and you would like to see the coaches "take off the chains" and unleash him more into the backfield. I do not think there is a "zero technique" type in the college game with Nix's athletic ability. With his burst, he can be dangerous attacking the two-gap and even with those squat legs, he runs like a sprinter in the short area, demonstrating very good feet, change-of-direction and body control in space (even though much bigger, he has Geno Atkins [Cincinnati] like quickness closing on the ball). He plays with a high motor and has made marked improvement with his hand quickness since the first half of his freshman season.

Football Sense

Nix is slightly undersized to play in a one-gap system, but has the strength, low center of gravity, long arms and redirection ability to be very effective if asked to play in a classic 4-3 alignment, but is more ideally suited as a two-gap, nose guard performer. He no longer struggles to locate the ball due to height issues, as he is a highly instinctive player who shows good urgency in pursuit when he escapes trash. You would like to see him develop better swim and cross-over arm moves, but he is a classic bull rusher who can stack and control when he keeps his hands active and inside his frame. He has made considerable progress in recognizing blocking schemes during his sophomore season (see 2012 Navy, Michigan, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh games; 2013 Michigan State and Oklahoma contests) and has no problems retaining plays. He is the type that simply loves football and has made it his goal to understand not only his assignments, but to take every advantage he can to learn from a very technical coaching staff. He is an good student who scored well on his Wonderlic test and plays with tremendous confidence and bravado, as he is (not Manti Te'o) the major reason for the success of the defensive unit during the 2012 regular season, as the "troops" really rallied around him and fed off his enthusiasm. Unlike 2011 (see 2011 Pittsburgh game), he plays with much better patience and won't be fooled by misdirection or play action.

Competitiveness

Off the field, he has a colorful and fun nature, but on the field, Nix is relentless. He is highly competitive and never backs down from anything on the field. He loves the game so much, he will sacrifice himself in a second and lay it on the line every snap (see 2012 USC and Alabama games, how the team struggled without him in the lineup due to injuries, but he provided an instant spark upon returning to those contests). He plays with a high motor and goes "all out" when battling in the trenches, which he consistently does until the whistle. There is just no complacency in his game, as he feels he has to work harder than the rest in order to make up for a lack of experience. He gives his best on every play and I challenge anyone to show me where he has ever "backed down" vs. any opponent.

Use of Hands

In the past, Nix used his hands with force to keep the blocker off him, but would take wild, wide swipes, leaving his chest plate exposed (see 2011 Michigan, Pittsburgh and Purdue games). But, in his final two seasons, he showed excellent flexibility to bend and protect his legs. He has started to develop very good technique at the X's, but must continue to work on keeping his hands inside the frame in order to prevent the blocker from getting into his body. His reach is adequate, as he needs to do a better job of fending off the long-limbed blockers better, but even when he short arms, he has enough strength to stack and control.

Explosion/Pursuit

Nix has that outstanding initial step that will consistently surprise a lethargic offensive lineman (see 2012 Navy, Purdue, Michigan, BYU and USC games). He uses a perfect blend of quickness and power to gain advantage in his attempts to get into the gaps, thanks to his hand punch and fluid foot movement. When he keeps his pads low, he is almost impossible to single block. He just needs to get more chances by the coaches to attack the backfield, rather than be used at the line to occupy multiple blockers. He has become very alert to reading blocking schemes and unlike the first part of his freshman season, he can no longer be caught up in trash. He uses his burst to split combo blocks and you can see on film that he has the ability to flatten down the line of scrimmage and then suddenly explode through the gaps in pursuit. He has developed good consistency using his burst to get an edge on the blocker, and once he gains advantage, he has the balance and power to keep it. With his quickness to slip blocks, he is very difficult to block, even vs. double teams, especially when he keeps his hands active and inside his frame. You can see on film that despite his size, he plays with quick feet and demonstrates above average athleticism on the move. For his position, he has the best body control for any "zero tech" type in college football. More than one opposing blocker can testify to the fact that if they allow Nix to gain advantage, he is almost certain to keep it.

Strength at Point

Few interior linemen possesses the strength and power that Nix has. He needs to use his hands better to play with leverage, but he has had good success using his brute strength to neutralize. When he keeps his pads low, this allows him to generate great lower body strength at the point of attack. He has good arm length and even though he lacks the great height you look for in a "one-gap" player at his position, he plays with a low center of gravity and a very strong base. There are times where he might rely a bit too much on his raw power and will get into a rhythm where he gets his hands outside his frame, sort of like swinging them like a big bat, but he is quick to recoil and reset to get instant placement to stun and jolt the blockers. In all the films I watched on him in 2012, I have yet to see him get washed out, but the added bulk in 2013 did see him run into leg issues that would eventually end his season prematurely. He demands double team coverage from the opponent and even then, he is hard to move out. When he settles into position, he will use his quick hands to work across the blocker's face. He seems to relish his responsibility in splitting and redirecting with leverage. He is just the type that opposing offensive coordinators need to double-team often, as he comes to the game ready to settle in the middle of field and deliver a ferocious battle for those centers and guards in front of him.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort

Nix plays with a high motor and always keeps his feet moving through the trash. He has an excellent closing burst and runs well in the open (see his penetration quickness in the 2011 Stanford; 2012 Navy, Purdue, Michigan, BYU, USC and Alabama; and 2013 Michigan and Oklahoma games). He has better lateral quickness in the short area than any other collegiate nose guard, but he is also very capable of running down plays in long pursuit (see 2012 Purdue, Stanford and Oklahoma games). The thing you see on film is his ability to get off blocks, showing tremendous effort, along with the speed to make plays down the line or outside the tackle box. With his non-stop motor, Nix is very active in pursuit, demonstrating the urgency and strong desire, effort, toughness, aggressiveness and intent to punish ball-carriers and impede their forward progress. Even with his squat frame, you have to be amazed with his ability to get over most trash and his coaches never have to worry about him pulling up before the whistle.

Tackling Ability

Nix shows excellent pop on contact to rock the lineman back on his heels. He displays above average change-of-direction agility to make tackles in the backfield (see 2012 Navy, Purdue and Alabama; 2013 Michigan State games) and in the open field (see 2012 Purdue, Stanford and USC contests). His sudden burst off the ball allows him to generate the up field quickness needed to penetrate and make impact tackles in the backfield, but you wish the Irish coaches would let him do that more often. He generally delivers a punishing blow in tight quarters, with no leakage working inside. Earlier in his career, he would get a little out of control and miss tackles in space, but he has rectified that problem by playing with better discipline. He can flatten and go, making him the type that always needs to be accounted for in the backfield. When he locks up the ball-carrier, they are not going anywhere, as he is a hard wrap-up tackler.

Run Defense

His low center of gravity is evident when Nix consistently stacks at the point of attack. He is a physical inside run defender who can make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. He also possesses the speed to generate the long chase (see 2012 Purdue, Michigan and Stanford games). His strength comes into play as he gains leverage. The thing I like about him is that he will usually keep his feet free, using his hands well to stave off low blocks. Even though he is shorter than ideal, he has very good gap potential. He shows good mobility working down the line and is able to locate the ball quickly. His problems occur when he runs underneath blockers, as it causes him to have a bad angle and he then has to chase down the ball-carrier from behind. As a sophomore, he showed marked improvement using his hands to fend off blocks, doing a nice job of adjusting and reacting to double team action. When he keeps his hands inside his frame, he easily dominates and has good success working across the face of the blockers.

Pass Rush

Nix was totally misused in the Notre Dame system, which requires him to anchor and wait for the action to come to him. He was constantly facing double and triple-team activity and while he has the rip and swim moves to escape, the coaches insist that he parks himself at the line of scrimmage to do battle there, rather than give the QB chase. He has the up field quickness to get past the blocker's hip and is quick to get an edge, but is rarely used in this capacity. When unleashed, he creates problems when he is single blocked (see 2012 Miami, Pittsburgh and USC games), as he gets a strong push and arrives on the quarterback with intent when he breaks free. Most of the shorter-than-ideal defensive linemen have problems splitting double teams, but his strength allows him to compensate for height issues. He has the hand power to pull and jerk the blockers, yet it is his burst and raw power that I like the most, especially when he is given the "green light" to go ahead and squeeze the pocket. You can see that Nix has the ability to press through the combo pass block, destroy backs behind the line of scrimmage and get his arms up to bat down throws (see 2012 Purdue, Oklahoma, Wake Forest and USC; 2013 Southern California games).

Closing on the Quarterback

Nix is not used much to close on the quarterback, but he has the short area burst to be very effective there, if the coaches would just let him attack the pocket more often (see 2012 Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh games). Most two-gap types tend to get a little out of control, but Nix has the body control to dip and shorten the edge. This allows him to take the shortest path possible to the quarterback. For an interior lineman, he has more than enough speed needed to generate pressure than one would expect at his position, but has sort of been hand-cuffed by the Notre Dame system.

Instincts/Recognition

Nix is relentless and has great vision, evident by how quickly he can recognize the play, despitwe some height issues. He is quick to move to the ball and when he recognizes blocking schemes, he reacts with excellent urgency. He has made marked improvement showing alertness for angle blocks and traps, but there are times when he will take bad angles in run pursuit. But, when he locates the ball, he can close with speed and power. Once he gets into a defensive system that better utilizes his explosive initial step, I am confident that he will put himself in good position to make plays, much like Cincinnati's Geno Atkins. The football gods might say that he is under-sized, but who can argue with this kid's tools? He has such a good feel for reading and reacting with urgency and looks very instinctive zeroing in on the ball.

Compares To

GILBERT BROWN-ex-Green Bay: Actually, Nix is a combination of three great interior defenders. He has the sudden burst off the snap, body control and lateral agility of Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, which he combines with Casey Hampton-like size, strength and ability to firmly hold ground at the point of attack while easily handling multiple blockers.

Much like Brown, Nix is a classic fire hydrant in the middle of the field. His ability to plug the inside rush lane is one of his best traits, but with his speed and strength, I would like to see him spend more time in the backfield wreaking havoc, rather then spending the bulk of the day "taking out the trash."

Yes, he lacks ideal size for a one-gap scheme, but with that raw power, few NFL blockers will be able to contain him in one-on-one action. I say, unleash this "junkyard dog" and let's see which quarterback is still safe by the end of the day.

Nix has an outstanding motor and is the wide-bodied, squat type that has had great success playing the "zero-tech" at the NFL level. He is explosive off the snap and plays much quicker than even his good timed speed indicates. He is the type that you need to appreciate his excellent intangibles, as he plays as if he is on a "search and destroy" mission.

The Irish defender is too quick and sudden for a lethargic blocker to handle, especially when he gets an edge on his opponent. He is an instinctive type that reacts well to any blocking scheme. He is very stout at the point of attack and keeps leverage and feet free. He is the perfect defender a coach looks for when putting a player on the field and asking him to defeat the single block, as he utilizes his blend of quickness, strength and effort to get the job done.

When he keeps his weight in check, Nix excels at pushing the pocket when an opponent leaves just the center on him during the single block and even when that center gets help, few double teams or combos have had any sort of success in containing him. He is not asked much to get to the quarterback, but with his speed, balance and redirection skills, he has had good success in flushing the passer out of the pocket. His best assets are his strength, effort, intensity, ability to hold the point of attack, snap quickness and instincts — all which make him the best interior defensive lineman in the game of college football.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

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