The nose tackle is perhaps the most desired position in the 3-4 defense. To play nose tackle, one has to be incredibly skilled in the art of football. Big, quick, strong, smart.
Since the hiring of Dennis Allen, there have been many rumors and speculation that the Oakland Raiders will be lining up in the 3-4 defense in the 2012 season. The Raiders' front seven have many players to fit both the 3-4 and 4-3: Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston, Kamerion Wimbley and Rolando McClain. However, they are missing the most vital position yet, a nose tackle!
Now, I've done a lot of research for this article and I was able trim down my wish list to two players. Alameda Ta'amu of the Washington Huskies and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste of the Baylor Bears are the two players that got me excited when watching their film.
Don't get me wrong, there are players that are currently better, such as Dontari Poe, the ultra-quick 350-pound stud from Memphis, but I'm being logical here. The Raiders have no picks in the first two rounds and their first compensation pick comes in the third round at the earliest. I guarantee that Poe will be long gone before the Raiders' first pick arrives.
Let's break down both Ta'amu and Jean-Baptiste and see why I like Jean-Baptiste more as a prospect.
Alameda Ta'amu comes in at 6'3" and 341 lbs., a good size for a NFL nose tackle. He recorded 30 tackles (seven for losses) and 3.5 sacks. He does a great job maintaining his spot on the line and taking up two blockers like a nose tackle is supposed to.
There are plays where I think I'm watching Haloti Ngata in disguise. But then, the next play, I'd look for the same guy wearing 74 and he's nowhere to be found. Ta'amu's senior year would have been an amazing one if he was able to keep his motor running at all times and wasn't so inconsistent.
Who is the better prospect?
Jean-Baptiste is the less gifted of the two. He is only 6'1" and 335 lbs. but is still a rock. He uses his 6'1" frame to his advantage and does a great job getting under the offensive linemen he goes against. He had a relatively better season than Ta'amu, recording 36 tackles, nine tackles for losses and four sacks.
However, like Ta'amu, Jean-Baptiste has his negatives. He doesn't eat up blockers as well as Ta'amu does and isn't as disruptive as as Ta'amu. However, he is an incredibly hard worker and has a very nice motor. No matter how far away, Jean-Baptiste always ran to the ball-carrier, which is something to love.
Both have their positives and negatives, but Ta'amu's inconsistency is killer. The Raiders have enough inconsistent players on defense and there's no need for another. What the Raiders need is a guy who does everything well, someone with tons of potential and someone who is hard-working.
Now that you know why I chose Jean-Baptiste over Ta'amu, let's go more into depth to why he fits with the Raiders.
He's exactly what the Raiders are looking for. When I see Jean-Baptiste, I see a young Casey Hampton. He's a natural nose tackle with unlimited potential. The way he can get underneath the blockers is amazing, but that's only half of it. Once he gets his hands on a blocker, he drives them back with good force and disrupts the play.
If he could improve the way he takes up blockers, it allows the linebackers behind him to roam free. Rolando McClain, who got to play behind Terrence Cody at Alabama, will thank Jean-Baptiste over and over for saving his career. He will relieve pressure off of guys like Kamerion Wimbley rushing off the edge and will force offensive lines to decide to block either himself, Lamarr Houston or Richard Seymour.
He does a good job recognizing the run, where it's going and being able to get there to stop the runner. One thing I saw he did really well was slide down the line and jump over interior linemen foolish enough to try and cut block him.
However, like Mike Martin, Jean-Baptiste needs a lot of development. He, too, will need to sit behind a more experienced nose tackle (hopefully John Henderson) to learn how to eat up blockers and anchor the line more effectively. He needs to get off the ball a little more quickly and polish his pass-rushing skills, though he displayed nice moves at the East-West Shrine game.
If Jean-Baptiste can polish his tremendous talent and just slightly tap that potential he has, the Raiders will have their nose tackle for the next decade or so. If Jean-Baptiste falls to the third or fourth round as projected, the Raiders must consider this guy. If they do, then Jean-Baptiste will just be another player added to the long list the Raiders have stole with their mid-round picks.