Why Penn State DL Carl Nassib Can Be Huge NFL Draft Sleeper

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2016

Sep 19, 2015; University Park, PA, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Chris Laviano (5) is pressured by Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Carl Nassib (95) in the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL draft class is loaded with talent on the defensive line, but it's severely lacking elite pass-rushers.  

As a result, franchises looking to improve their ability to pressure the quarterback might need to get creative and seek out players who can impact the game in ways other than simply winning with speed on the edge. 

Penn State's Carl Nassib is one of the most intriguing developmental prospects this year and could eventually emerge as one of the top pass-rushers in this class. 

Here's a look at where Nassib stands as a prospect now, what he can do to further his development and what type of player he could become in the future. 


Why He's Undervalued

The NFL has seen far too many one-year wonders fizzle out in the NFL, and talent evaluators have become skeptical of any player who doesn't have an extended resume at the college level. 

Prior to his senior year at Penn State, Nassib was a career backup. 

According to ESPN.com's Josh Moyer, Nassib never started a game in high school, before walking on with the Nittany Lions. 

But Nassib's lack of success dating back to high school may actually be reason to trust his breakout season. 

Unlike many one-year wonders, Nassib wasn't a superstar recruit who finally turned it on with his NFL contract in sights. He had to work just to earn his roster spot at Penn State, let alone achieve the success he finally reached on the field in 2015. 

For this reason the typical one-year-wonder concerns shouldn't apply to Nassib. 


Scheme Fit

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Nassib primarily lined up at left defensive end at Penn State but has the size and skill set to be a versatile defensive lineman. 

At this point in his development, he likely needs to remain on the edge, ideally in a 4-3 scheme. But at 6'7" and 277 pounds, there's still room on his frame to add weight and functional strength, especially in his lower body. 

If Nassib can improve his lower-body strength, it could open up opportunities to rotate in as a 3-technique pass-rusher in 4-3 schemes or potentially earn a spot as a starter as a 5-technique end in a 3-4. 

Those roles are strictly a long-term projection, but it's an intriguing possibility. 

When compared to other defensive tackles, Mockdraftable.com generates an impressive list, including Gerald McCoy, John Henderson, Nick Fairley and Leonard Williams. 

A closer look at those comparisons shows the only substantial gaps in measurables appearing in the weight and bench-press categories—arguably the two easiest areas to develop. 

So while Nassib will likely be limited to a role on the edge early in his career, his draft stock could be elevated based on a long-term projection. 


Pass-Rush Skills

Nassib burst onto the scene in 2015 with a school-record 15.5 sacks, but it's tough to imagine those numbers translating to the NFL as an edge-rusher. 

The Nittany Lions coaching staff took advantage of Nassib's explosive ability by lining him up in a Wide 9 position in obvious passing situations. 

Here's an example of Nassib in a 3rd-and-long situation against Ohio State:

Credit: Draft Breakdown

Nassib had enough speed to create pressure from the generous Wide 9 angle against college right tackles such as Ohio State's Chase Farris. However, he lacks the elite explosive ability to continue winning in this way at the NFL level.

When Nassib lines up in a more traditional position, he lacks the skills to be an effective edge-rusher. 

In this play against Georgia, Nassib lines up on the inside shoulder of the Georgia right tackle and tries to beat him on the edge. However, Nassib lacks the flexibility to bend around the edge and is unable to create an angle to the quarterback.

Credit: YouTube

With these limitations it will be difficult for Nassib to remain a productive edge-rusher if he continues to rely on speed alone. 


Long-Term Projection

Since Nassib won't be able to win in the NFL with the same technique he used in college, his draft stock is more about a projection than most prospects, which factors into his status as a Day 2 prospect. 

As a result, there's certainly a high bust factor in his stock compared to other more polished products. 

However, Nassib's athleticism and potential to improve his functional strength give him an elite ceiling as a pass-rusher in a two-gap scheme. 

Right now Nassib can be compared to J.J. Watt but 15 pounds lighter and about 70 percent the functional strength. 

That might still sound like a lofty comparison, but take away the power from Watt's game and all you have left is a marginal edge-rusher. That's what Nassib is right now. 

But as a developing prospect with room for growth in his frame, there's hope Nassib can close the gap between where he stands now and the elite level Watt has reached in the league. 

Realistically, Nassib will never reach the gold standard Watt has set, but he could fall lower on that spectrum, potentially in the range of a Cameron Jordan or Derek Wolfe. 

With that type of upside, Nassib is well worth a gamble on Day 2 of the draft, even if his immediate value will be limited.


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