One of the premier nose tackle prospects in this year’s draft class, Louis Nix III combines tremendous size with a rare athleticism all in one 340-pound frame. And despite an injury plagued season at Notre Dame, Nix is almost sure to be a first-round pick come May.
When healthy in South Bend, Nix was a force against both on the run and the pass, as he’s able to shed blockers quickly and eat up space, as well as put pressure on the quarterback simultaneously. Despite his size, he’s able to change direction well and shows good closing speed. Some scouts liken him to New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
Nix’s breakout campaign was the result of his decision to get in shape. Starting as a red-shirt freshman in 2011, Nix was overweight and a non-factor. But in 2012 — Notre Dame’s near-perfect season — Nix bounced back in a major way, leading the Fighting Irish with 50 tackles in addition to 7.5 for a loss and a pair of sacks en route to All-American honors.
In the National Championship game against Alabama, however, Nix suffered a knee injury that prevented him from preparing for the past season. Opting not to undergo surgery, Nix played through the pain until he was no longer able to remain on the field. In November Nix decided to have surgery to repair his torn meniscus.
Nix’s injury has not hurt his draft stock. He’s the No. 10-ranked prospect, according to Rotoworld, and No. 17 and No. 22 by ESPN and Mel Kiper Jr., respectively. He is the consensus No. 2 defensive tackle in this class.
Most mock drafts have Nix going as early as No. 15 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will all but certainly be looking to rebuild their defensive line. Longtime nose tackle Casey Hampton, 36, is a free agent this spring and reports indicate the Steelers are leaning against bringing the veteran back. Nix could be his replacement.
The Green Bay Packers need to beef up their defense, and nabbing Nix at No. 21 could be the first step. Ryan Pickett, 34, is a free agent, so the team will need a new nose tackle to anchor its defensive line.
Should Nix slip past those two nose tackle-needy teams, he could find a home with the San Francisco 49ers at No. 30. The Niners have Justin Smith manning the middle, but Smith is 34 and will play at 35 for most of the 2014 season. Nix could learn behind Smith and eventually succeed him.