One of the recent trends in the NFL over the last few years has been the NT position getting smaller and faster. In today’s NFL, the passing game is king, and therefore, many teams are placing more value on quicker NTs who can shoot gaps and make plays over run-clogging fatbodies. The emergence of QBs who can run around and make plays should only help continue that trend. The average weight of projected starting 3-4 NTs across the NFL (using Ourlads.com’s depth charts) is “only” 318.7 pounds, and there are 4 projected starters who weigh less than 310:
Take the Redskins, for example. In 2011, the Redskins signed Barry Cofield to a big money deal to play NT in their 3-4. Many people, myself included, questioned his fit in the scheme as an “undersized” player. But Cofield has been outstanding. Here’s an example of what he brings to the table. In the end of the second quarter in a crucial “playoffs on the line” game in Philly, the Eagles set up a screen to the right side and got the ball in the hands of WR Jeremy Maclin. Here’s Cofield’s positioning at the snap:
At the snap, the Eagles didn’t block Cofield, allowing him a free run at the QB. If nobody blocks you, something is usually up, and Cofield didn’t take the bait. He instead read QB Nick Foles’ eyes:
Foles delivered the pass to the right, and Cofield was in a good position to be able to hustle over and make a play:
Here’s the impressive part. Look at the distance between Cofield and Maclin as Maclin hauls in the pass:
Maclin has good blocking in front of him, but Cofield is bearing down from behind like a freight train:
And he buries Maclin before Maclin can get to full speed:
If you look at the reverse “All 22″ angle and take Cofield out of the picture, the Eagles potentially had a big play set up here, which Cofield ruined:
These are the kinds of plays defenses want from their NTs, and they’re plays that the traditional 340 lb lane cloggers would have no chance to make.
Texans defense coordinator Wade Phillips was early to the game on this trend. He employed quick but undersized Jay Ratliff as his NT in Dallas, and then undersized Shaun Cody in Houston.
Cody is 30, recently had back surgery, and remains a free agent, so the Texans could be looking for his replacement in the draft.
Sylvester Williams is 6’3, 313, which would make him undersized in the traditional sense, but he does a great job of penetrating and making plays. He played a lot of 3-technique in the Tarheels’ 4-3 alignment, but he also played some nose in 3-DL sets. Williams would fit in nicely as an athletic, penetrating 1-gap NT in Phillips’ 3-4, who also has the versatility to play other spots along the line if need be.