The Houston Texans need a nose tackle; what else is new? You could make the case that they have needed a true nose tackle since their inception, which is rather sad because they ran a 3-4 defense for the first four seasons. Now they’re at it again with newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and nose tackle is a priority, but this time there is a decent chance it might be a real priority.
Much has been made of what type of nose tackle will fill the bill. There is the obvious, short and squatty space-eater of a nose tackle. The Steelers’ Casey Hampton is the best example of this type. The purpose of this type is to take on double teams and is better against the run than rushing the passer. Wade Phillips has certainly used this type of player in Buffalo and Denver
Then there is the other option that Wade Phillips has most recently worked with--the smaller, penetrating nose tackle. This nose tackle is more like a three technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 system. He’s supposed to split double teams and get into the back field. While this puts more run stopping responsibility on linebackers, this type of nose tackle creates matchup nightmares for offensive lines. As readers of this blog know, a good example of this type of tackle is the Cowboys’ Jay Ratliff.
The fact that Wade Phillips can make either type of tackle work is one thing I really like about him as a defensive coordinator. That attribute shows the ingenuity and imagination that the Texans have never had from defensive leadership. Which type of NT will be better for Wade this time around? There could be a player that fulfills both types in this year’s draft. I make my case for Marcell Dareus after the jump.
I initially was not a huge Dareus fan, or at least a fan of the Texans drafting the former Alabama defensive lineman. As I initially began studying for the draft, I saw Dareus for what he was in college--a five technique defensive end who had amazing production two years ago when playing next to Terrence Cody but had pedestrian numbers last season. He can split double teams and set the edge as a defensive end in a three man front, but by many accounts is not athletic enough to get around the edge like another five technique, such as Cameron Jordan. I didn’t originally see the benefit in taking him over an outside linebacker or cornerback that may be there at eleven, or even another five technique like the previously mentioned Jordan.
I believe I was thinking of him in the wrong light, though. On Saturday at the Combine, Dareus weighed in at 319 pounds and measured 6’3". That’s a full inch taller and fifteen pounds heavier than what he was listed at this season at Alabama. Now obviously, weight alone does not make a nose tackle, but it made me think about looking into him more for that specific role.
First of all, his arm length measures 33 and 3/8 inches. The classic nose tackle type requires long arms in order to perform his duties of engaging multiple blockers. Phil Taylor, who is considered by many as the best classic 3-4 NT in this year’s draft class, has 34 inch arms. You also would like a short squatty body for this player because it allows him to anchor against the run. This is also something that Dareus possesses. Measureables don’t make the player, but Dareus passes the eye test for physical attributes to play in the middle.
Dareus has been considered a better fit for a 4-3 system because of his ability to split blocks and get into the backfield. Even if he was drafted by a 3-4 team, it is assumed that he would play the five technique position that he played in college, although he did play nose tackle on a limited basis. I doubt that I’m the first person to determine that Dareus could anchor a 3-4 defense at the nose if absolutely necessary, but most people probably assume that his strengths would be wasted at nose tackle. All that changes in Wade’s system.
Listen to the analysis of Dareus by Rob Rang of CBS sports, and think about what would be asked of a penetrating nose tackle in Phillips’ 3-4:
Pass rush: Good initial quickness off the snap. Doesn't possess the burst upfield to cross the tackle's face and turn the corner. Quick enough, however, to split the gap and collapse the pocket from the interior. Explosive hands to disengage from blocks. Needs a clear lane to close, but shows a late burst toward the ball when he has it. Flashes some legitimate pass-rush technique, including a swim move and good inside rip. Possesses surprising lateral agility and balance to track down elusive quarterbacks.
Run defense: Stout at the point of attack. Plays with good leverage and can anchor to create a pile. Cognizant defender who works hard to keep containment. Good lateral agility and balance to slide while fighting blockers. Long arms and good strength to lock-out. Explosive hands to disengage. Won't shed the block until he reads where the ballcarrier is going. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Surprising speed for a man his size.
Explosion: Can provide an explosive initial punch to jar the offensive lineman back onto his heels. Powerful and quick hands to shed blocks. Flashes some explosiveness as a hitter, needing little momentum to rock the ballcarrier.
Strength: Thick lower body, which helps him anchor well against the run. Powerful bull rusher with good hand strength to disengage quickly. Good upper-body strength to pull down ballcarriers while occupied with a blocker.
Dareus possesses a rare blend of size, strength and speed that could make him ideal for the Texans’ nose tackle vacancy. According to Mike Mayock, Dareus had ankle issues all last season, yet he never complained or took time off. I think Wade Phillips could make Dareus a star, but it may be a moot point as Dareus may not make it to eleven. There are other options for the unique type of nose that Wade might choose, like Stephen Paea or Marvin Austin, and there are the typical noses like Phil Taylor or Kenrick Ellis. I think Dareus is far above all of them. I would place only Patrick Peterson and Von Miller ahead of him. What about you? Who is your favorite potential nose tackle in the draft?