Summary: There aren't that many nose tackles who prove to be worthy of a first-round pick, but Nix has bucked the trend with how he performed over his career at Notre Dame. Nix was a rock in the middle of the Fighting Irish defense and played a big role in leading that unit during the 2012 season when the Notre Dame defense carried the team to the National Championship game.
Nix had a strong 2011 season for Notre Dame, too. The sophomore was a tough run-plugger at the point of attack and did a good job of occupying blockers. Nix totaled 45 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, .5 sacks and a pass batted.
After head coach Brian Kelly briefly removed him from the starting lineup in 2012, Nix had his best season. It looked like a motivational ploy by Kelly that paid off. Nix was an animal for Notre Dame in 2012. He was a disruptive force who caused a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage. The chaos Nix caused helped his teammates like Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te'o to have massive seasons. Nix totaled 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, five passes batted and one forced fumble for the year.
In 2013, Nix's numbers fell back. Teams concentrated their blocking on him and Tuitt as both players saw their production dip. Nix recorded 27 tackles with two tackles for a loss. His season ended in early November after going in for season-ending knee surgery. He had been playing with a torn meniscus and went to Dr. James Andrews for the repair. Nix was healthy enough to participate at the Combine and had a decent performance.
There is a lot to like about Nix. He looks like a plug-and-play nose tackle in the NFL. He is a heavy load at the point of attack. Nix has the strength and burst to cause a lot of disruption by rocking the center back after the snap. He is a tough run-defender who holds his ground and shows nice quickness in pursuit for such a big tackle.
Nix will never produce big sack numbers, but that isn't his role. In the pass rush, he gets push down the pocket with a powerful bull rush. Nix helps take away quarterbacks' ability to step up in the pocket and that helps his edge rushers rack up sacks. Nix won't record sacks, but he can contribute to a good team rush in the NFL.
Nix's best fit would come in the middle of a 3-4 defense, but he could also be a nose tackle in 4-3. Nix looks most likely to be selected in the back half of the first round. Sources at playoff teams that could use help on the defensive line have said they will pass on Nix and think better talents will be available. At one time, he was projected to be a top-10 pick, but now he looks like a late first-rounder.
Player Comparison: Casey Hampton. Hampton had a great career with the Steelers after being the 19th-overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Texas. Hampton (6-1, 325) was a run-stuffer and disruptor in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. Nix is very similar with the exception of being a little bigger. Hampton was a five-time Pro Bowler who won two Super Bowls with the Steelers. Nix could be a similar player in the NFL and end up being one of the top nose tackles in the league.
NFL Matches: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Miami, Green Bay, Philadelphia, New England, San Francisco
There are a few teams that could consider Nix in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers would be a natural fit for him as their long-term replacement for Hampton. Nix would be the tone-setter in the middle of Pittsburgh defense. Considering the Steelers don't have a third-round pick, I could see them trying to trade down with Nix as one of their potential targets.
The Bears could be a potential landing spot for Nix as they need a lot of help at defensive tackle. Chicago may not re-sign Henry Melton, which would leave a big hole in the team's defense.
Miami also has free agents at defensive tackle and could target Nix as a replacement. Green Bay may not re-sign B.J. Raji, and Nix would be a nice fit as a nose tackle in the Packers' defense.
The Eagles aren't often discussed as a destination for Nix, but it seems feasible. Philadelphia has a very undersized nose tackle in Bennie Logan while ends Cedric Thornton and Clifton Geathers are old. Last year, the Eagles came close to drafting Star Lotulelei, so they could look to grab Nix to be their long-term nose and move Logan to end.
New England could use some size for the interior of its defensive line, and Nix would be a good understudy to Vince Wilfork.
The 49ers have a lot of extra picks to address their needs and could consider a nose tackle. San Francisco would probably prefer to draft another position.