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Does Size Matter?

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Does Size Matter?

The nose tackle position piqued my interest lately. With the move of Ryan Pickett to defensive end, the Green Bay Packers are going with second-year man B.J. Raji to man the nose.

With that move, the Packers went from the (listed) 6-2, 340 pound Pickett to the 6-2, 337 pound Raji. The difference in size may be negligible, but Raji at least appears to be slightly smaller than Pickett to the naked eye.

Moreso than the size of Raji, by taking a look at the hypothetical depth chart at nose tackle, the pecking order looks like 6-1, 315 pound Anthony Toribio followed by 6-1, 319 pound Aleric Mullins. They're the only other players listed as "NT" on the Packers' official website and, by all appearances, they've taken most of their reps at that position (even if they might practice at end from time to time).

The question is, are the Packers making a move to smaller, stockier, more squat nose tackles or is there just a lack of nose tackles in professional football that are both good and big?

Defensive tackles that play the 3-4 have been historically bigger than their 4-3 counterparts. Take a quick look at some of the better 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL:

  • Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers–6-1, 325
  • Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots–6-2, 325
  • Jamal Williams of the San Diego Chargers–6-3, 348
  • Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets–6-4, 349

Raji is ranks right up there with the aforementioned nose tackles in terms of size, but Toribio and Mullins are noticeably smaller from both a height and weight perspective.

There's several ways to look at this issue. Even though a guy like Toribio might technically be considered second on the depth chart, in reality he might be much further down the line. If Raji would happen to suffer a significant injury, for example, Pickett would–without a question–slide back over to nose tackle.

In addition, guys like Johnny Jolly (6-3, 325) and Justin Harrell (6-4, 315) have also taken occasional reps at nose tackle at practice as well. It stands to reason that fringe players like Toribio and Mullins would be even further down the food chain in favor of a Jolly or a Harrell if push came to shove.

There's also the possibility that the Packers' hand is being forced because good nose tackles are just in plain, old short supply. One source of evidence conceivably comes from the several nose tackles who received the franchise tag this offseason at the risk of their teams losing them to free agency. Those players included Pickett, Hampton, Wilfork and the 49ers' Aubrayo Franklin.

More proof from that line of thinking comes from draft analyst Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown, quoted in an article at the Palm Beach Post.

"There's no question it's a tough position to fill, and one big reason is a lot of teams don't run a 3-4 (defense) in college," Wright is quoted as saying. "It's hard to find guys with that combination of size, athleticism and strength. They're a rare breed."

But could there be any possibility that defensive coordinator Dom Capers is experimenting with a bit of paradigm shift in the size of his nose tackles?

An offseason interview with Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey is enough to consider that maybe nose tackles don't need to be huge behemoths to succeed in the 3-4.

“Don’t think that the guy that plays nose has to be a 330 or 340 pound guy,” said Gailey. ”We’re not going to take good football players and stand them over there beside me on game day. We’re going to put our best players on the field. If you have to put a smaller guy on the field to play there then you move him and do some different things with him. There are a lot of different ways to skin the cat and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll get our best football player on the field and let them play.”

That seems to be what the Packers had in mind when they flip-flopped the positions of Raji and Pickett.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (26) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

alex's picture

NO size dosent matter as long as you use it least while playing football

CSS's picture

No offense intended, Brian, but Buffalo really isn't a good example to advocate for a slightly smaller, active player in the middle when running the 3-4. The Bills are completely and utterly devoid of talent, especially for the 3-4. I would make the same optimitic comments if I were Chan Gaily.

3-4 nose tackles do well at a height under 6'3". It's a game of leverage and the ability to occupy blockers. You left out the gold standard (body/athletic wise) in Haloti Nagta. Wide body, very athletic and makes Ravens linebackers look even better than what they are (prolonged Lewis's career by 3-5 years).

BTW - Wilfork, Hampton and Jenkins haven't been a lick under 360 since their rookie seasons. Fox sports even had an amusing pre-game about it. I want to see Raji stay at around 335 lbs. and not sacrifice his ability to get verticle on obvious pass rushing downs.

PackersRS's picture

Like you said, no way in hell Hampton and wilfork are 325. ABSOLUTELY no way. 345 or bigger.

And it is a leverage game. To occupy 2 blockers, the lower the guy is, the better. But it's hard to maintain a frame with 6'1 and 340 pounds... It's a complicated balance.

And 3-4 DE's tend to be 6'4 or bigger so their arms can hold the point of attack better... That's what was missing last year IMHO... a taller DE.

nerdmann's picture

That's correct. Capers talked about this last year, iirc. You want your NT to be big, but not that tall.

CSS's picture

PackersRS - Spot on with the height for the ends, but it's in equal part due to creating smaller windows for passing lanes. Tall end = long arms. Throws the QB off his timing in routes.

CSS's picture

Just now had to ask K.C. Joyner on his ESPN chat:

Chris (St. Paul, MN)

Afternoon, KC! What does your ideal 3-4 nose tackle bring to the table, who's currently the gold standard and why? Thank you!

KC Joyner (4:52 PM)

The ability to not only draw a double team block, but to also beat it. The best NTs will only win POA blocks around 15% of the time but that is often enough to make an offense have to consistently dedicate two blockers to them. When healthy, Kris Jenkins is the gold standard right now.

I take it with a grain of salt, but the guy watches gobbs of film.....I found his Point of Attack (POA) statistic to be surprisingly low but very enlightening as to how difficult the position is.

Oppy's picture

Remember, that 15% success rate is predominantly vs, double teams, and a guy who doesn't beat those double teams is still giving one of his team mates the one-on-one match up the DC is looking for.

packeraaron's picture

I can't stand Joyner.

psico's picture

I am not all that concerned about the size of the NT on the Packers, the leverage and leg strength for some upfield push is the biggest thing. Looking at Raji, he has tree trunks for legs, Pickett is a clogger. Some of my favorites of all time were not super tall guys, Jerry Ball 6-1 330 and Gravy Jackson 6-2 3??. Both of them had that great combo of strenght and bulk that is hard to come by.

I am hoping that we are ok there, and with some outside push I am also hoping against hope that Harrel contributes a little.

Oppy's picture

I'm sitting here trying to figure out how I never heard anyone call him "Gravy" Jackson before. THat's the best thing I've heard in weeks!

nerdmann's picture

Yeah, I think Raji is much more explosive than Pickett.
What I would like to see is sufficient depth where someone like Pickett could come in at the end of games, when most Dlines wear down. If we could have some fresh bodies in the middle, that would be awesome.

Dilligaff's picture

Thats the name of the game, fresh bodies for the defensive line, keeping a good rotation so that they are fresh.

The only way Raji is going to be successful is that he has a guy who can come in to relieve him, taking at least 35% of Raji's reps.

We keep Raji or any of the big guys in there all game they will be average to below average by the fourth quarter due to fatigue

Tarynfor12's picture

The NT will be as good as the guys on either side of him and vice versa as being noted by the fall of Haynesworth in the 4-3 with Wash last year and his trepidation on being a NT in the 3-4 this year.A tough position eased only by the size and ability of the others.Even the best NT can be made to look like crap.

Oppy's picture

Completely disagree, 100%.

Nose Tackles get no appreciable help from talent around them. the NT is the player who is given the task of making someone else's job easier.. The NT's job is to be good enough, stout enough to demand a double team and truly anchor the LOS, and by doing so, giving one of his team mates the one-on-one matchup the DC is trying to exploit.. But nobody on that line is being asked to make the NT's job easier.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Spot on.

Oppy's picture

BTW, HAynesworth isn't worried about the position because there isn't the talent around him for his personal success, he's complaining about playing NT because it's an unsung position where you rarely make highlight footage, and your only reward is your teammate's successes and getting your ass whooped on via constant double teams for 16 games a year. Haynesworth is only about himself, and he's lazy. He wants nothing to do with taking one for the team and/or increasing the difficulty of his craft. Believe that.

Ryan Pickett, on the other hand, jumped at the chance to take that role. Why? Because he's a honorable warrior, not a b*tch like Big Albert.

CSS's picture

Haynsworth was still absolutely dominant last year, he just can't stay healthy for a full season. Doesn't show in the stat line, but Haynesworth, despite his shortcomings, is a beast.

Tarynfor12's picture

perhaps then,you just nailed the reason they are in short supply.These are new times in the NFL and that Rule of Thumb cannot apply anymore solely.

supersoul's picture

Odd that a discussion of size and nose tackles doesn't include the current All Pro at that position: Jay Ratliff. 6-4 303 lbs. The guy has hardly any fat on him at all.

CSS's picture

And the Cowboys want to move him outside as he's playing out of position. He will be at end more this year and on DT when they run 4 man fronts (4-3 look).

supersoul's picture

Are you sure about that, I haven't seen a thing mentioning it. Why would they displace Spears and Olshansky? Who do they have that could play nose?

CSS's picture

They signed Junior Siavii, 318lbs compared to Ratliff's 303 lbs (he's under that by mid season) to play more true nose tackle in the 3-4 defense. Ratliff is disruptive because he can get up field, he will be even more effective on the outside.

Also, Cowboys give a lot of 4-3 looks, the 3-4 is only their base at which point Ratliff is a DT, not a nose tackle. Cowboys run out of base less than the Packers.

supersoul's picture

Sigh. It's not terribly important but I feel compelled to respond still.

I've read plenty of things about the Cowboys in the past 24 hours. I can not find one thing about Ratliff moving. Not to mention how odd it would be to move an all pro talent at a position. Could you please cite some kind of source saying Ratliff will play more defensive end this year?

FITZCORE1252's picture

Does size matter? 'Asshat's' mom says it doesn't, so I'm gonna roll with that.


BubbaOne's picture

Besides the flexability standpoint of having Pickett being able to play 2 positions, is it possible the coaches like what they see in Toribio and Mullins? That maybe the move is more permanent than not?

BTW- I never thought I would have Pickett/flexability in the same sentence.

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