The San Francisco 49ers are overhauling their coaching staff, and they have yet to hire a defensive coordinator or defensive line coach. The 49ers have run a 3-4 for some time now, but we don’t know what the plan is with the new coaching staff. In reality, teams rotate back and forth between a variety of fronts, and even a 3-4 team is likely to spend more time in a four-man front than a three-man front.
There is some confusion in the NFL scouting community about how to organize defensive lineman, and nose tackles are (literally and physically) right in the middle of it. A nose tackle plays in-between the guards on the line of scrimmage. His purpose is to stuff the run. He will mostly be double teamed and the ball will be run away from him. It is a frustrating and tough position.
Albert Haynesworth was a defensive tackle in Tennessee and asked to be a nose tackle in Washington. Haynesworth was no longer going to get sacks, tackles, pressures or stunts. His new job was to be double teamed every play while trying not to move and he was not fond of the position.
This list will leave out defensive tackles (in our 3-4 scheme they are called defensive ends). They are in a different category and will get their own list. A prototypical nose tackle needs to be 315+ lbs in today’s game, and show enough athleticism to move down the line as needed to stop the play. When thinking of a “prototypical” nose tackle think of Vince Wilfork.
This is not a great NT draft class so this is a list of the top 10 instead of top 5. Due to the talent level, it is more likely that NT will be addressed on day 3 so this list has more depth to reflect that.
Caleb Brantley 6’2’’ 300 LBS
Brantley is not the prototypical nose tackle. He is slightly undersized but he does have strength to his advantage. Brantley plays with quickness and flashed NFL power to drop an anchor. He is no stranger to a doubled team and can hold his own. He shows good use of his hands during pass rushes and is a better pass rusher than his sack total would indicate. The transition to a nose tackle could be difficult for Brantley and might be better suited as a 4-3 DT. He draws comps to Aaron Donald and I think that is fair. Regardless of his underwhelming size, Brantley plays with true power that will garner the attention of NFL scouts in need of a NT.
Elijah Qualls 6’1’’ 320 lbs
Qualls is the top rated “prototypical” nose tackle. He is thick with a low center of gravity. He is hard to move off the line of scrimmage even with a double team and is more athletic than his frame should allow at 6’2’’ 320 lbs. A good run stuffer with two pass rush moves, a bull rush and spin move. He is not going to be a reliable pass rusher, but is capable of a surprise sack. Qualls’ biggest concern is his conditioning/weight, which makes him a riskier pick. His primary value is in run stuffing — a highly valuable ability, but if his concerns come true then there is no other place for him on the team (as is the case for several of the players on the list).
Eddie Vanderdoes 6’3’’ 325 lbs
Vanderdoes lit up the Pac 12 as a true freshman (2014) playing in all 13 games (seven starts). In 2015, he tore his ACL and did not return for the rest of the season. In 2016 he looked slower and more out of shape. Pre-ACL Vanderdoes played with impressive athleticism at 320+ lbs. Eddie played as strong as any defensive lineman in the country. He was able to move up and down the line of scrimmage on stretch runs and overall he looked quick. After the ACL he seems slower, more out of shape, and does not posses the elite strength of his earlier self. ACLs can be a lone road to recovery and Vanderoes could simply still be on the road to 100 percent, physically and mentally. If he can get his conditioning and recovery on track he is worth a pick but which Eddie are you getting? If Pre-ACL Eddie shows up to training camp then you got a draft steal.
Dalvin Tomlinson 6’3’’ 305 lbs
Tomlinson plays with good leverage and solid technique (expected from an Alabama D-lineman). He is a run eater that refuses to be redirected. He’s on the smaller size for a true NFL nose tackle but makes up for that with decent pad level, awareness and motor. He does not struggle with his weight and shows great conditioning. He doesn’t posses ability to rush the passer, his only decent move is a bull rush that is mildly productive. His ability to plug running lanes is his true value, so he could be a day one starter if he proves his size is no factor.
Stevie Tu’ikolovatu 6’1’’ 330 lbs
Tu’ikolovatu looks the part of an NFL NT. He is thick everywhere and is not a man that moves unless he is inclined to do so ... which appears to be a rare occurrence. He has a powerful initial punch when engaging lineman. He can eat double teams and still look hungry. Tu’ikolovatu stays aware of the ball even though he is always battling in the middle of the trenches. He is not a pass rusher, so he is not going to chase down the ball carrier or corral a scrambling QB; he will stop the inside run. He will be a good day three pick, and play right in the middle of the defense.
Tu’ikolovatu is No. 90 in this video from his days at Utah.
Josh Tupou 6’3’’ 325 lbs
Tupou is a big man that has the size and strength to play as a NT. His biggest question will be how well can he move. He shows an ability to take up space and stuff running plays, but rarely gets penetration or moves down the line to make a stop. Tupou is simply not a pass rusher. He is stout and is the type of player you like to have in goal line situations. He could easily end up a starting NT, but would need a year or so of coaching up to be ready. He can stuff the inside but everything else needs work.
DJ Jones DT Mississippi 6’0’’ 320 lbs
Jones played well at Mississippi; he is a straight up run stopper. He plays with a great motor and plenty of power. He lacks a pass rushing ability, but his bull rush can collapse the pocket. At 6’0 and 320 lbs he plays with good leverage and pad level. He could end up being a draft steal. Since the niners need so much help in the interior line I’m hoping we take two run stuffers on day three of the daft, hopefully one of them works out. If that does happen, I’m betting it is DJ Jones.
Josh Augusta DT Missouri 6’4’’ 350 lbs
Augusta is an absolute mountain of a man. The lightest weight I have seen posted for him is 335 lbs, and most are at 350 lbs. Watching his game tape, I have no doubt the he has weighed a full 350 lbs. Augusta is not a pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, he is a stone cold run stopper. The real concern with Augusta is pad level. He can be inconsistent with his pad level at 6’4 and this results with him getting driven off the line of scrimmage. Despite this, teams will love his size and physicality. He is a promising candidate for a true 3-4 nose tackle.
Deangelo Brown, DT, Louisville 6’1’’ 310 lbs
Brown’s build at only 6’1’’ allows him to naturally play with leverage against the run. He is willing to eat as many blockers as you can throw at him and not move an inch. Not moving appears to be his specialty. He looks the part of an NFL 3-4 nose tackle and does not rush the passer, but lets be honest, those are extras for a nose tackle. Simply put, he holds his point. Brown is as one demential as a NT can be and the only question will be how many plays in a game can he stuff the run before he needs oxygen.
BJ Singleton DT Houston 6’4’’ 320 lbs
The limited game tape I watched on Singleton was frustrating. He is properly sized at 6’4’’ 320 lbs, but he was getting pushed off the line far too often in the run game. He would flash and get good push against a double, but it was random and rare. He did not show one successful pass rush move. He did however impress me with his motor. He did not quit on any plays and would run (more like a jog, but he is 320 lbs) until the whistle. He is a boom or bust, or perhaps a “starter or bust”, but he flashes NFL ability.