The Texans will need to find a nose tackle for the future after Vince Wilfork‘s contract expires following this season. Here is why they should draft one in the first round.
In the 3-4 defense, a two gap nose tackle is the foundation of the defense. He plugs up the run and keeps blockers off of the linebackers so that they can make plays. Without a big guy like that in the middle of the defense, the 3-4 struggles to work.
Of the defensive linemen currently on the Texans roster, none other than Wilfork is over 310. Devon Still is one of the two at that weight, and he has been in a 4-3 his whole career. The other is Jeoffery Pagan, who is a defensive end. At Wilfork’s age, his productivity is declining and needs someone to spell him and step up to anchor the line for the future.
This draft has an uncommon amount of defensive linemen, particularly on the interior. However, guys like Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson from Alabama as well as Sheldon Rankins from Louisville are all more suited to be in the 4-3. The top guys for a nose tackle are Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech and Andrew Billings from Baylor.
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Butler doesn’t have gaudy numbers with only five sacks in 49 career games. But he got over 100 tackles and 23.5 for loss. He’s a big guy who fights off double teams well. He was one of the surprise stars at the Senior Bowl, and an NFC scout said that he ate up double teams well; which is necessary for a 3-4 nose tackle.
Butler is bigger than Billings at 6-3 and over 320 with 35 inch arms, two inches longer than Billings. He is a little older at 22 compared to Billings’ 21, but both are young and look to be growing as players. Due to the length of his arms Butler will be able to keep more separation from blockers and his lateral movement was better than Billings’ at the combine.
Billings led the Bears in tackles for loss last season with 15 and tied for the team lead in sacks with 5.5 despite missing time with an ankle injury. He started the year as dominant as anyone in the nation at that position, which led time to win a share of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Billings is stout at just 6′ tall and weighing 310. He ran well in the 40 yard dash and is strong as an ox with 31 reps in the bench press. He also has deceptive athleticism for a guy his size, but still he isn’t unanimously seen as a first round pick. Still, the advantage to his stout frame is that he can more easily get leverage on blockers, particularly taller ones.
One other name to keep your eye on is Austin Johnson from Penn State. While he will not be a first round pick, the former Nittany Lion could weigh heavily in determining if Houston goes the defensive line route in round one or not. If the Texans like Johnson they could choose to go for something other than defensive line in the first round and address a different need.