Draft Talk: Defensive Tackles
By Doug Cantor
Jets Insider.com Draft Expert
February 24th, 2006
On the Jets this past season, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin, Derrick Blaylock, Kevin Mawae, Jason Fabini, Jay Fiedler, Vinny Testaverde, and Chris Baker were all casualties to injury on the offensive side of the ball. It’s actually quite a staggering roster to look at. There’s no question that the sheer volume of injuries Gang Green suffered on the offensive side of the ball helped lead to a much lower quality of play on the defensive side due to them being on the field for almost 3 quarters of the game every Sunday.
Jets fans expected better and were privileged to have one of the top defenses in the league statistically in 2004. Former defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson appeared to be putting together an elite unit that fans were hoping could carry the Jets all the way to the Promised Land.
With injuries on the defensive side of the ball as well, the fact is that the Jets’ defense simply could not stop the run this year. One main reason was because the 4-3 defense that the Jets ran this past season relies heavily on 2 defensive tackles playing in the middle of the line to clear the offensive linemen out of the way so the linebackers and defensive ends to make plays. LB Jonathan Vilma thrived in that role in 2004. In the 4-3, one defensive tackle plays the nose; this is generally a larger player than the other defensive tackle as he lines up on the center’s shoulder. His responsibility is to make the blockers’ jobs a lot harder, and this is the job that DT Jason Ferguson used to have before the Jets lost him to the Cowboys last year as a free agent.
In 2003, the Jets invested the 4th overall pick in the draft, and a tremendous amount of money in DT Dewayne Robertson out of Kentucky for the purpose of playing the other defensive tackle position. That position is often called the “3-technique” where the player lines up on one of the guards’ shoulders, and is supposed to have more speed than the NT so he can make plays along with the defensive ends. However, the problem with this position is that if the NT is not adequately taking on the blockers he’s supposed to, it’s very hard for the DT to make the plays that he’s expected to make, and in D-Rob’s case, the plays that he’s being paid heavily to make. It’s also much harder for the linebackers to make plays on the running backs and stop them from getting into the secondary.
The position of nose tackle is one of the biggest concerns heading into this off-season. The defensive line, which accounts for a large part of the Jets payroll, needs a lift and that lift can only come from a big man to take on offensive linemen in the trenches and allow their blue chip defensive players, such as DE Shaun Ellis and Vilma to make plays in order to stop the run.
DT Sione Pouha, a reach third rounder in last year’s draft showed nothing in his rookie year to think he is the answer, neither is undersized James Reed or Lance Legree.
The Jets need a young bulldozer who can provide a spark to a defense that is still trying to catch its breath from being on the field so much last season.
Lets look at a few of the top young defensive tackles (who’d be able to play the nose tackle position) heading into this years draft, and how they’d fit in with the Jets.
Haloti Ngata, Oregon: It’s not even a question that Ngata is the best defensive tackle in the 2006 draft, there’s Ngata and then everyone else. The real question when it comes to Ngata is that he might actually be the best defensive player in the draft, period.
At 6-5 and almost 340 pounds, Ngata would be an absolute perfect fit for the Jets. He’s exactly what you look for in a 4-3 or 3-4 nose tackle. He’s a master at stopping the run and taking on multiple blockers, and is also excellent in the pass rush, which would certainly help Shaun Ellis come back from a lackluster season. The one knock on him is that he tore his ACL in 2003 and missed the entire season. On paper, it seems he’d be the perfect solution to all the Jets defensive shortcomings in 2005.
The problem though, is that the Jets wouldn’t be able to trade down and pick him, they’d have to stand pat at 4, and use an extremely high pick on yet another defensive player when the offensive woes are so much worse. Jet fans who are advocates of picking a player of Ngata’s caliber justify the pick as it would create somewhat of a “super-unit” in New York, with a front seven that would give offensive coordinators nightmares in the weeks leading up to a matchup with Gang Green. He’s also drawn comparisons from several scouts to Detroit’s Shaun Rogers, who is possibly the best nose tackle in the league.
On a recent survey done on the Jets Insider.com forums, 20 out of 49 participants said they’d be totally against taking another defensive lineman in the first round (it would be the 5th defensive lineman taken in the past 7 first rounds for the Jets), 19 out of 49 said they’d accept it but wouldn’t be happy about it, while only 10 said they definitely want a guy like Ngata and they’d have no problem using another high pick on another defensive lineman. The fact is, the majority of Jet fans feel it’s time to address the offense in the early rounds this year, be it a quarterback, running back, or offensive linemen, and the Jets front office might have to go that route this year. Thus, it’s not very likely that the Jets will pick Ngata unless they decide to pursue their entire offensive strategy through free agency and not the draft.
Gabe Watson, Michigan: Watson has come on very strongly in recent weeks. He was probably the biggest standout player during Senior Bowl week and has really made a name for himself over the past year. At 6-4 and 330 pounds, he was probably the best run-stuffer in college after Ngata, and draws double and triple teams on him almost every play.
The knock on Watson is that his pass rushing skills are suspect and that he’s downright lazy. Those who watched him play this year will agree for the most part that Watson seems to take plays off here and there, looking like an All-American on one play and then looking like a 3rd stringer in the next. However, in Watson’s defense, he showed none of those tendencies during Senior Bowl practices or in the game. With a solid combine, Watson could solidify himself as a lock to go within the top twenty picks of the first round.
Watson could be a good fit for the Jets. Top defensive players from the Big Ten have a solid history in recent years. He’d likely start right off the bat and would free up room for Robertson to make some plays in the backfield as fans and the organization have been expecting him to do since his rookie year. Is Watson worth the fourth overall pick? Certainly not. However, if the Jets traded down in the first round though, and acquired multiple picks from a team like Denver (who own the 22nd and 29th picks this year), it’s very possible the Jets could pursue Watson.
Babatunde Oshinowo, Stanford: A few scouts are projecting Oshinowo to go a little higher than expected right now. As of today, he’d most likely be a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder, which means he could be on the Jets radar. At 6-2, 320 lbs, he’s a few inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than you’d like your average nose tackle to be, but weight can be fixed with some a modified diet and time in the gym. Oshinowo has a big frame that’s capable of putting on more pounds, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
He was an absolute stud at Stanford, scouts have pointed out flaws in his rushing techniques, but he certainly has the ability to take on multiple blockers, which is the number one aspect of any nose tackle’s game that should concern the Jets for right now. Oshinowo might be the best option for the Jets, as it’s very realistic they could land him in the 3rd round and also has the ability to start as a rookie like Robertson did. He’d be a low risk pick with a very high upside, but if the Jets pursued him they’d be smart to bring in a capable veteran just in case Oshinowo got a little overwhelmed by being thrown into the fire, or also if he was not ready to start off the bat.
At this point in time, if the Jets are planning on pursuing a nose tackle on day 1, Oshinowo might be the most realistic pick at this point due to the need to address the offense in the 1st round.
Understand, there are other defensive tackles ranked higher on boards than Oshinowo or possibly even Watson, but these are the top 3 tackles in the draft who have the best potential to be NFL nose tackles and would be good fits for the Jets.
Check back Jets Insider.com often where we will analyze interior linemen, quarterbacks and wide receivers in the upcoming weeks.