This offseason, I’ve detailed quite a few defensive tackle prospects. Only one of those players, however, is a “true” nose tackle (Baylor’s Phil Taylor). Taylor is a space-eating monster with insane agility for his size, and I have him ranked No. 6 overall on my 2011 Big Board.
Many people consider today’s feature, Oregon State’s Stephen Paea, to be a nose tackle as well. Despite his size and strength, however, I see Paea as a three-technique. That’s not to say he couldn’t play the nose. . .just that I don’t see Dallas having significant interest in him.
At 315 pounds, Stephen Paea seems like a natural fit as a nose tackle. The truth is, however, he’s best-suited as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense. Despite his size and incredible strength (as evidenced by his record 49 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine), Paea is extremely athletic. In the video below, he absolutely dismantles Oregon by shooting gaps and causing havoc in the backfield.
I really see Paea as a one-gap player—a bigger Jay Ratliff. Personally, I prefer penetrating one-gappers to space-eating nose tackles, but Rob Ryan seems to prefer a two-gap player. If that is what he wants from his nose tackle, Paea probably isn’t his guy. Sure, Paea can hold ground and allow others to make plays, but that isn’t what he does best. Forcing Paea to be a two-gap player would be like never allowing Randy Moss to go deep. Sure, he may still be a good wide receiver, but you aren’t maximizing his potential.
The one major concern with Paea is his height. At just 6’1,” does he have the length to fend off interior linemen who will be far stronger than those he faced at the college level? I think his quickness will allow him to excel, but again, only if he’s allowed to freelance a bit. His lack of ideal length could become an issue as a two-gap nose tackle. He has the strength to anchor, but why waste his quickness?
In my opinion, Paea would be an upgrade against the run at nose tackle for the Cowboys. That isn’t to say that Ratliff is poor, but Paea certainly possesses superior strength to Ratliff. Further, Paea’s ability to penetrate in the passing game is comparable to Ratliff’s. If the Cowboys do take a chance on Paea and move Ratliff to defensive end, I think it would be an upgrade of two positions.
Paea figures to be a second-round pick. As I said above, I believe he will fit in well as a three-technique, but he could play the nose if he’s utilized correctly. I prefer one-gap nose tackles who can get after the quarterback (much like Ratliff), and Paea’s athleticism and ability to penetrate fit the bill.
I would certainly consider Paea with the 40th pick if I was Dallas, but I don’t think the ‘Boys will see him as a legitimate option. As of now, I believe Rob Ryan when he says Ratliff will remain at nose tackle. Thus, Paea-supporters need not get their hopes up that he’ll land in Dallas.
Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011