FanPost

So where do NT's come from anyways?

Where do Nose Tackles come from anyways?

It’s been a topic of popular debate here on BtB as of late, and a subject of much consternation for me for several seasons now… and that is finding a true NT and moving Ratliff to his more natural position of DE. With Rat being one of our more active and high motor players, I’ve long time felt that he’d be more beneficial to the Cowboys as a DE. Lining up as an undersized NT takes a toll on his frame with all of the double teams he faces. It also takes its toll on the ILB’s behind him because his size predicates that he play a one gap scheme and they have to backfill what would be his other gap. The chain reaction of all of this is that the ILB’s have to have more size and strength to take on the OG’s that protect the gap they are assigned to; added size leads to a less athletic ILB with a reduction in speed, which now impacts coverage. A second chain reaction that comes from Rat at NT, is that he’s wearing himself down facing the double teams and by the 4th quarter he’s gassed… It’s further noticed in the end of the season when we start to drop all of those December must wins. If he were to move out to his originally drafted position of DE, (Parcells started him out there and moved him to NT when Jason Ferguson went down), then he would see more one on one blocks facing the Tackle instead. His quickness, athleticism, and power would be perfectly suited to the DE position. With the position move, I believe we’d see more game ending 4th quarter big plays even late into the season.

OK, easy enough right? I mean it should be easy to just find a big NT and make a large step towards improving our defense; and many on here have already started pointing out step one of what would need to be done to facilitate Ratliff’s position change… and that being identifying who our new NT should be. One of the blessings of BtB is that it’s a homepage to so many knowledgeable fans that bring a lot of thought and insight to their comments and post; and several have had respectful debates about whom would best qualify at our new NT… with most in the Dontarius Poe camp. It’s understandable; he has the size needed first, as well as far sufficient athleticism. But I was one of those in the opposition camp regarding Poe, mostly due to feeling that his game was more of a 4-3 DT like Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Rogers, and the Williams brothers; as opposed to a 3-4 NT like Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton, and Paul Soliai. In fairness, I didn’t just want to knock on Poe and not offer up an alternative; and that led me to asking the primary question of where do NT’s come from anyways?

A really big stork was my first default smart ass answer to the question I posed. And as often happens, there’s some truth to the answer… the types that man the nose can’t be created, they have to be born to become large. They also have to be born to be athletic for their size… if not they get shoved over to G well before they ever get to the NFL. But perhaps less acknowledged, perhaps due to it being subtle, is that while they have to be aggressive and disruptive, they also have to be humble and selfless for the betterment of those around them. And whether they are born that way, or develop it later, is a nature vs nuture argument not to be had here; never the less, that trait is often crucial to how well a NT develops and performs in a 3-4. It’s also this last trait that is difficult to find, hard to identify w/o interviewing not only the player, but those most familiar with him, and it possesses no “measurable” that I’m familiar with. I feel that as young players either in the high school ranks, or later when they arrive on college campus’s, that the last mentioned trait often gets them moved over to play OL where there is little acclaim or personal glory outside of the locker room.

To get to the root of who needed to become our new NT I first went and looked at the NT’s already existing in the league; both on the current 3-4 defenses, as well as on the former 3-4’s and hybrid 3-4/4-3’s. I figured it would be helpful to see how they came to be, where they came from, and most importantly… where they were acquired for their teams. Along the way I encountered a couple of surprises as well; the first of which is that a player I’d pegged as being the epitamy of a NT, Haloti Ngata, isn’t played there very much at all… he instead played more of a 3t with Kelly Gregg manning the 1t NT, or even more recently out as a 5t DE with Mt. Cody playing the 0t nose. I think it’s more of the Ravens utilizing his athleticism, than him being too diva to do the grunt work of a true NT. I will include him here as a NT due to him being of the NT variety, but much like BJ Raji, his snap count at the position and style of play would almost exclude him from the title of a “true” NT. Of all the current NT’s not named Ngata or Raji, only three 3-4 NT’s were 1st rd guys, and with only Casey Hampton and Vince Wilfork so far playing up to their 1st rd grade… both of them drafted around 10 years ago at that. The lack of attention in the 1st shocked me considering how many 3-4 teams there are now, I assumed that increased pressure for a very few players would have stepped up their value come draft day.

Here’s my handy little excel sheet I made up listing the players, their size, and where they were drafted. Afterwards, I’ll scattershot on what I’ve found.

NFL Nose Tackles

Team Name

Players Name

Heigth

Weight

Round Drafted

Pick #

Year Drafted

Projected Draft Rd

Bal

Haloti Ngata

6'4

330

1st

12

2006

early 1st

Terrence Cody

6'4

349

2nd

57

2010

late 2nd

Mia

Paul Soliai

6'4

355

4th

108

2007

4th

Pit

Casey Hampton

6'1

325

1st

119

2001

early 2nd

NE

Vince Wilfork

6'2

323

1st

21

2004

mid 1st

SD

Antonio Garay

6'4

320

6th

195

2003

6th - DE

Cam Thomas

6'4

335

5th

146

2010

3rd

SF

Isaac Sopoaga

6'2

330

4th

104

2004

3rd

Ian Williams

6'2

319

UDFA

2011

6th

NYJ

Sione Pouha

6'3

325

3rd

88

2005

7th

Kendrick Ellis

6'5

346

3rd

94

2011

3rd

Hou

Shaun Cody*

6'4

301

2nd

37

2005

early 2nd

Earl Mitchell*

6'3

289

3rd

81

2010

4th

KC

Kelly Gregg

6'0

320

6th

173

1999

4th

Jerrell Powe

6'2

331

6th

199

2011

7th

Was

Barry Cofield*

6'4

306

4th

125

2006

4th - DE

GB

BJ Raji

6'2

337

1st

9

2009

early 1st

Arz

Dan Williams

6'2

327

1st

26

2010

late 1st

Buf*

Kyle Williams*

6'1

301

5th

134

2006

4th

Torell Troup

6'3

328

2nd

41

2010

3rd

Cle*

Phil Taylor

6'4

335

1st

21

2011

3rd

Ahtyba Rubin

6'2

315

6th

190

2008

3rd

*former 3-4 teams

*Stop gap NT's forced to fill in

data gathered from Wikipedia

per PFW draft preview



First off, after eliminating the Stop gap guys, I wanted to see where the majority of the NT’s were drafted. Here’s the breakdown per round.

Breakdown per Round:
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th UDFA
6* 2 2 2 1 4 0 1
*1 is Ngata whom is more DE, 1 is Taylor in a 4-3, and 1 is Raji who plays a lot of DE

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that, outside of the few sure things in the 1st rd, teams sporadically pick up prospects until the 6th rd where several players get picked up. The later statement jibes well with my belief that since NT’s need to be humble team players, it’s best to select them later and develop them into starters. Since so few college teams play a 3-4, it’s up to pro 3-4 teams to create them… and a good way to do so is to find an oversized DT towards the back half of the draft and coach him up.

I know we are all looking for a starter this year, but the scary news is that he will probably have to come off of our existing roster. Looking back at some of the NT’s drafted, the trend of taking time to develop into a starter becomes a little alarming. Take 2nd rd Terrence Cody; he played NT in college for Alabama so his learning curve should’ve been short… yet he didn’t contribute until his 2nd season and he was a relatively early draft pick. Paul Soliai, the most sought after NT prior to Free Agency only had 3 tackles in each of his 1st two years in the league before making a step up in ’09. Dan Williams has left the Cardinals still waiting for more, having only started his 2nd year… he’s still waiting for his 1st sack though. The Jets have Sione Pouha starting with last years rookie Kendrick Ellis, both of which were 3rd rd picks. Pouha didn’t get much time until his 3rd season, and Ellis didn’t get much time with Pouha infront of him. Even BJ Raji only logged 1 start his rookie year, and it was week 16 at that. Buffalo picked up Torell Troup due to having an undersized Kyle Williams at NT, but he hasn’t seen the field much in 2 years… and now that they have switched to a 4-3, with Darreus and Williams at DT then it doesn’t look much like Troup will anytime soon either. I bet Buffalo wishes they had that 2nd rounder back.

What’s all this mean? After looking it over, I’d say that there’s not really such a thing as instant coffee when it comes to playing NT. An early draft pick such as Poe would cripple our roster in other areas, all while getting little return from him this season. Even the thought of taking Ta’mau in the 2nd doesn’t sound that appealing anymore considering all of the G/C’s, DE/OLB’s, and CB/S’s we’d be passing up. I still see NT as one of our biggest needs, but that’s only because under Wade we’ve ignored it. Even drafting FB Shaun Chappas instead of either DE Lawrence Guy or NT Ian Williams has hamstrung us coming into this year. I feel the best we can hope for would be a player to fall lose from another team that could play the nose, (strange things happen), or that the late round guy we’ve been grooming, Brent, can step up this year. I’d even kick the tires on what Buffalo would want to take Troup off their hands, perhaps a 7th rd pick for a backup wouldn’t hurt my feelings. That said, I’d say it’s time to start dusting off the reports on those late round NT sleepers, and cross our fingers that in a few years he’s ready to step up.

Glad you made it this far into my 2nd post ever, and 1st that hopefully bigham won’t flag. Let me know what yall think.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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