- Albert Haynesworth didn't work out in Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense, so the Redskins likely will look to add a nose tackle through the draft or free agency. (Photo: Associated Press)
If the last two weeks of NFL playoff action have taught us anything, it’s that for the 3-4 defense to work, the team running that scheme needs to have a dominant nose tackle. The Redskins entered last season believing that perhaps they could press Albert Haynesworth into nose tackle duty, and they signed Ma’ake Kemoeatu as an insurance policy.
Neither ended up working out, however. Kemoeatu’s return from a 2009 Achilles’ tendon injury (which required surgery) was rocky, and he wound up on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Bruce Allen said last week that the door isn’t close to Haynesworth returning, it would be a shock of Haynesworth finally consented to play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense that he hates so much.
Now the team must address the position either through the draft or free agency. So what are the Redskins’ options?
The Redskins hold a first- and second-round pick in this April’s draft, and they also have two fifths, a sixth and two sevenths. Things could change if they are able to pull off deals that would involve trading Donovan McNabb and/or Albert Haynesworth for a draft pick each. But that remains to be seen.
In the first two rounds, Washington will pick 10th overall and 42nd overall. Both of those picks are high enough to obtain a strong prospect that could contribute this coming season and for years to come, but should they use it on a nose tackle? It depends on who’s there.
There are some talented defensive tackles that are expected to go in the first round. Some consider Auburn' defensive tackle Nick Fairley to be one of the top players in the entire draft. After that, there’s Alabama's Marcell Dareus, Oregon State's Stephen Paea, Illinois' Corey Liuget and LSU's Drake Nevis. But the question is whether or not they would fit in the 3-4.
Fairley is a 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior that recorded 56 tackles, 12 sacks and an interception this past year. He has great size and speed as well as athleticism and strength. Two problems, however. 1.) He isn't expected to be on the board by the time the Redskins pick. Secondly, He played in the 4-3 in college and scouts believe that if he is to play in the 3-4, the best bet is to switch him to a defensive end, not a nose tackle.
Alabama’s Dareus is 6-3 and 306 pounds, and also a junior. This past year, he recorded 33 tackles and five sacks. He, like Fairley, is expected to go high and could be gone before Washington gets to him. Also like Fairley, Dareus is expected to be better as a traditional 4-3 DT or as a 3-4 DE.
Paea is 6-1, 311 pounds and is projected to go either first or second round. This past year he had 45 tackles and six sacks, and Scouts Inc. gives him a top-10 grade, but the opinion on him is that he is a better 4-3 defensive tackle and isn’t the space-eater nose tackle type.
At 6-3, 300 pounds, Liuget has great size and this past year made 63 tackles and five sacks. He played in the 4-3 in college, however, and like many of his other defensive tackle prospects, scouts believe that he would best benefit from a move to defensive end if he is to play in the 3-4.
LSU's Nevis is explosive and makes plays, but at 6-foot-even and 289 pounds, he lacks the size of a nose tackle. He made 56 tackles and six sacks, and isn’t expect to go until late in the first round, but he probably isn’t the best option for Washington either.
A guy that could be interesting, however, is Baylor's Phil Taylor. At 6-3, 350 pounds, he is a monster. He isn't expected to go until the second round, so maybe he could be an option with the 42nd pick. He has good athleticism, gets off the ball quickly and is a strong bull-rusher. He doesn't always get the best leverage and there are questions about his conditioning and ability to maintain his weight. He had 62 tackles and two sacks this year, and although he played in the 4-3 in college, he probably could make the switch to the 3-4.
So basically, the talent pool for nose tackles isn’t exactly bubbling over. It wouldn’t seem to make much sense to draft a guy with the No. 10 pick and hope he can make the switch to 3-4 NT when his skills are better suited for DT or DE. Would 42 be too high to take Taylor?
What about free agency?
No one knows exactly how free agency will work this year with the CBA for 2011 still up in the air. But if teams are able to go after free agents as usual once the CBA is agreed to, the best nose tackle prospect appears to be a guy that is right up the road -- Baltimore's Haloti Ngata.
The 6-foot-4, 350-pound Ngata just completed his fifth season in Baltimore, meaning he already has learned the 3-4 defense. This past year, he had a career-high 63 tackles and 5.5 sacks. It’s hard to say what kind of money he would command, but it definitely isn’t expected to be Haynesworth type money. And, spending money has never been a problem in D.C. Maybe this would actually be a free agent signing that makes sense.