The 2013 NFL draft is one that will be remembered as being deep along the offensive and defensive lines.
The "depth" of the offensive tackle position is an interesting case. It is a group stacked heavily at the top, with an underclass of prospects who all display unique characteristics coupled with shortcomings.
The job of NFL scouts and NFL draft evaluators is to identify where each side of the coin translates to the NFL game.
What does Xavier Nixon bring to the table?
Athleticism starts in the feet, and the feet are the first thing we will always look at when analyzing offensive tackles. The good news is, Nixon has good feet. Better than average, in fact. In a draft full of NFL tackle prospects with so many question marks after Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, this is among the most important traits to leave unquestioned.
Quickness, Agility and Balance
Wasted motion. It's what you notice over and over when watching Nixon. He has an almost-electric first step that is oftentimes followed by a silly looking display of "catching up" from the other half of the body. All of this being said, the displays we see out of Nixon still appear "athletic," just not efficient. This type of quickness that is not accompanied by superior agility and functional balance can be exploited, as we'll get to in the pass-blocking breakdown.
Motor, Toughness and Power
The game film indicates that Nixon would only put about up 19 reps on the bench, which he did at his pro day after missing drills at the combine with a hamstring injury. Nixon is not a player considered by NFL scouting departments as "tough" or "powerful." He does a lot of hand-fighting, and frankly, a lot of standing around once he feels his responsibility to the play has expired. Nixon currently lacks a mean streak.
Nixon just looks athletic, and he flashes rare athleticism at times when being used to pull and dash into space. He has a quick first step but wastes a lot of motion coming out of his stance and seems to struggle finishing on power run-block assignments. Nixon is not a "sticky" player who will get his hands on a defender and be relentless (again, a common theme with Nixon). He tends to hand-fight and get into engagements that look like shoving matches at the point of attack as opposed to collisions.
This play likely still gives Xavier Nixon nightmares, and it's easy to see why. His opponent, South Carolina DE JaDeveon Clowney, is one of the most advanced, athletic, fluid and powerful edge-rush prospects since Lawrence Taylor.
Prior to this play, Nixon handled Clowney fairly well for the better part of two complete offensive series, one of which was a scoring drive. But Nixon was able to do this with his positioning more than anything, taking shortcuts that would come back to bite him tenfold in the bat of an eye.
Clowney comes off the ball so fast that Nixon is uncomfortable. In looking at the photo below, you can see what route to the QB Nixon is defending against, as well as the eventual route that gets taken. You can also see that Clowney is moving before anyone else on the field.
The ball is still between the center's legs, but Nixon is already having to kick back and mirror. Nixon leaves himself completely open to an inside-rush move because he is simply too busy trying to get in position to defend against an elite talent.
Nixon's first move here is bad in a lot of ways. He is unbalanced, almost falling backward, and possesses no center of gravity from which to generate power. Half of his kick slide is good—the "kick"—but the "slide" is where the player is supposed to reset through his core and establish a new power base. None of this happens.
It's almost too easy to predict the outcome. By the time Clowney is forced to decide how he will convert the rush, the answer is simple.
What looks like the easiest path to the quarterback to you?
Nixon was beat when he made his first step, and by now Clowney is going to make things official with the first two moves any defensive end learns when strapping on a helmet and pads in middle school.
1. Attack Nixon's inside shoulder with the left hand.
2. Swim over the inside space created with the right arm.
Clowney is at the same depth as Nixon—completely unblocked en route to the QB—before Nixon even begins to get his body turned inside. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these images should say it all. It's like no one was ever blocking Clowney at all.
Every player's worst fear is getting posterized or screen-shotted, and obviously, the play outlined above is not indicative of Nixon's overall package as a player. Herein lies the issue—consistency.
He's a big, long and generally athletic tackle. However, Nixon currently lacks the requisite upper-body strength and functional balance to play at a high level in the NFL. While Nixon may "grow into" his frame and become the play-in, play-out force he has shown flashes of, it likely won't be happening right off the bat.
For this reason, NFL front offices will not be comfortable selecting Xavier Nixon prior to the mid-fourth round of the 2013 draft.
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