The NFL draft this year is loaded with talented defensive lineman. While Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are hopefully becoming staples at defensive end, the Chargers have questions at the all-important nose tackle position. Cam Thomas is expected to become an unrestricted free agent in March. The Chargers ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in 2013 in both sacks and forced fumbles. Playing a base 3-4 defense, nose tackle may be the most important position. When the Chargers defense was dominant in the past ten years, it was mostly due to Jamal Williams. Williams was 6’3’’ 350 pounds and ate up blockers for a living. Williams dominance of the offensive line opened things up for the linebackers, and virtually shut down the existence of an opposing run game. In 2013, the Chargers rolled with Cam Thomas as the anchor of their defense. Thomas was solid, but finding a nose tackle in the draft that could be a difference maker for 10 years would be ideal. When Bolts fans think back to their dominance of the AFC West, they will always remember a defense that started with Williams. The Bolts have plenty of options to pick from in the 2014 NFL Draft so let’s take a look at some of the available players.
When it comes to playing nose tackle, size matters. Louis Nix III of Notre Dame has size. This guy is an absolute behemoth. Nix weighs in at a stout 345 pounds standing at 6’2”, perfect for creating leverage. Nix has the potential to be exactly the type of player that the Chargers need in the middle. He was one of the key parts of the Fighting Irish’s push to the National Championship. In 2012, Nix recorded 50 total tackles (7.5 for losses) mixing in two sacks, five deflected passes and once forced fumble. In 2013, Nix was hampered by an injured knee and he appeared to be slightly overweight as his production on the field dramatically dropped. I feel that Nix would be best served playing at a weight of 325-330 pounds rather than his listed 345. He has quick feet and carrying around 15 to 20 less pounds will only make him quicker and he would maintain optimal size for the position. People have been critical of Nix’s ability to get to the quarterback. Personally, I feel that Nix, at the right weight, could develop the ability to become a three-down defensive tackle. Don Johnson, the Chargers defensive line coach, has developed plenty of standout defensive tackles in his day. Johnson was vital in the development of Antonio Garay when he was Pro Bowler for the Chargers in 2010. He also was key in the development of Tommy Harris in Chicago when the Bears defense was Super Bowl caliber. Nix would be a perfect fit for Johnson and I am confident he could turn him into premiere nose tackle. As of now, it appears Nix would need to slip to the Chargers at 25 and if he is there, he would be a steal for in San Diego.
Will Sutton of Arizona State University should be a player the Chargers have their eyes on. Sutton is flying up big boards after an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. Sutton would have to stay above 300 pounds in order to be effective as an interior defensive lineman. Sutton is a dynamic pass rusher as an interior defensive lineman. He may be better suited for a 4-3, but could still develop into a premier 3-4 nose tackle. Sutton weighs in at 315 lbs. and stands at 6’1”. He was listed at 261 pounds for the past 2 seasons at Arizona St. The Combine will be telling as to what Sutton is exactly. What the Chargers would be getting is an athlete that could play both inside and outside on the line. Sutton was an All-American in 2012 where he put up freakish numbers. He recorded 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He dropped off significantly in 2013 only recording 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. This could be the result of a changed role in which Sutton took on more double teams. If the Chargers have the choice between Nix and Sutton, I would prefer Nix, but Sutton would be another player to be excited about if he were to land in San Diego.