The jury is still much divided on the performance of Steve McLendon in his first full year at the nose tackle position. Therefore, there is much speculation that the Steelers may look for a more natural nose tackle in the NFL Draft in May.
I say “natural” because McLendon is 6′ 4″ tall and has very good length. This is not the prototypical nose tackle that Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau likes to deploy.
In the 3-4 system, guys like Casey Hampton and Joel Steed have not been taller than 6′ 2″ and have weighed in at well over 300 lbs.
The speculation that surrounds a nose tackle being selected at #15 is centered on Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III. At 6′ 3″, Nix is just slightly shorter than McLendon but at 357 lbs, Nix has a good 50 lbs on McLendon.
In terms of fitting the role, Nix does this perfectly but I have one huge reservation with taking him or any other nose tackle in the first round.
Why draft a guy who will be on the field far less than half of the snaps the defense plays? Two and three years ago, the Steelers’ defense spent roughly 55% of the time out of their base 3-4 defense. In 2013, that numbered clearly increased as LeBeau moved to more nickel and dime packages to combat more passing offenses.
The Steelers’ Troy Polamalu played significant snaps at linebacker in a year where Larry Foote went down in the first game forcing rookie Vince Williams into action.
Nix may well be the run-stuffing nose tackle the Steelers need but should they or any team invest a number one draft pick in a guy who will not be a three-down player?
I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about his overall ability too. Granted Alabama’s offensive line in the 2013 BCS Title game was almost professional but they had their way with Nix over and over. He also showed some inconsistency against other teams that were run heavy as well.
I’m not to the point in the process where I’m advocating one player or position over another but I definitely want a first rounder to be a guy who does more than just contribute. I want to see a guy makes plays on first, second and third downs and not just on a limited basis.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 730pm ET talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.