With a glance at his combine-measured 6'2", 331-pound frame, per NFL.com, most people see an old-school two-gap nose tackle, a plodding clogger of running lanes and locker-room toilets. They see an imposing monster of a man.
If you don't take the time to watch Nix play, you'll miss his athleticism and potential as a one-gap pocket collapser.
If you don't take the time to look past the face mask, you'll miss one of this draft's most interesting people.
With an outstanding combine performance, Nix could remind NFL scouts and executives of the dominant form he flashed during his dream junior season—and assuage any concerns they may have about the knee injury that slowed him in 2014.
Black and White
After an undefeated regular season that saw Nix and Notre Dame play for a BCS National Championship, it seemed like he was set to establish himself as one of the 2014 class' top prospects. Shortly after the 2013 draft, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated projected Nix to go at the No. 8 overall spot.
According to ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna, it was that very title game where Nix's troubles began. A minor pain in his knee that game lingered and worsened throughout 2013, and was eventually diagnosed as both tendonitis and a meniscus tear.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Dave Siebert, MD, took an extensive look at the surgery that prematurely ended Nix's season, along with the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections he took to help ready him for these combine workouts.
Nix's 2014 production took a major hit. In the eight games he was healthy enough to play, he managed just 11 solo tackles, 16 assists, two tackles for loss and no sacks. Nevertheless, he was ranked 22nd overall on Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller's pre-combine big board.
If a player at almost any other position in the draft had lingering injury questions combined with a precipitous senior-year drop in production, they'd fall much farther than from the top half of the first round to bottom half of the first round.
What kept Nix's stock from falling so far? The world theory.
One in a Million
The so-called world theory is often attributed to Bill Parcells, the Hall of Fame coach and executive. The idea is this: There are only so many men in the world with the size and athleticism to play nose tackle in the NFL, and anyone so blessed will have every opportunity to succeed.
Nix's size has been both a blessing and a curse. As discussed by Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com, he took a redshirt year partially to help get his weight under control and improve his conditioning. Nix told Mike Herndon of AL.com:
I came in kind of overweight. The overweight part didn't get me, it was the part about I couldn't keep up with the other guys running around. That breaks your heart, if you're not successful right now. You want to be that guy now -- that's what I wanted to be, because I knew I was good enough.
Now, his big frame and natural bulk make people see an old-school 3-4 two-gap nose tackle, but he could be much more than that. Courtesy of the cut-up artists at DraftBreakdown.com, here's his performance in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, against an Alabama offensive line chock full of NFL prospects:
Can Nix anchor against the run at the point of attack? Yes. Can he hold up against double-teams? Yes, though inconsistently. In 2012, he clearly showed the ability to get off the line, collapse the pocket and use quickness and swim moves to penetrate and disrupt. Burke said in 2013:
Nix is a bit like Star Lotulelei, in that he’s massive (6-foot-3, 330) and yet still nimble enough to beat blockers at the line. Kansas City could drop him right in at nose tackle, but he could play DT in a 4-3 or slide out to DE in a 3-4 if needed.
With an explosive performance at the combine, Nix can remind teams his athleticism makes him much more versatile—and much more valuable—than a pure space eater.
The question is, which team is going to look at him and see a perfect fit?
One of a Kind
Not only is Nix a potential 4-3 pass-rusher in a 3-4 nose tackle's body, inside that imposing NFL-ready frame is a funny, fun-loving guy who excels in front of a microphone. If NFL teams were evaluating prospects on their use of social media, he might be the No. 1 overall pick.
According to Herndon, Nix polled his Facebook fans to give him a nickname, and the winner ("Irish Chocolate") stuck.
Nix's Twitter feed (@1IrishChocolate) is endlessly entertaining. Here's what he had to say about interviewing with so many NFL teams at the combine:
For a while, Nix also had a YouTube video series he called "Chocolate News." The first episode, where he and some teammates go shopping for food, was an instant classic:
He made five more episodes on his YouTube channel, and they're all entertaining.
Today, Nix is still making people laugh. When Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune asked about the pre-combine conditioning program that appears to have him in the best shape of his life, Nix said "I just feel sexier, man."
There's no question Nix is confident and comfortable in his own skin. The question is whether teams will be comfortable building their defensive line around a player whose dominant two-way skill set is still more potential than reality.
At the combine, Nix has a chance to show them he's regained the explosion that made him a potential top-10 pick in 2013—and possibly push his draft stock up that high again.
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