(Featured Image via NFL Mocks)
The general consensus from the draft community is that Washington’s Danny Shelton is best nose tackle in the 2015 draft class. Shelton is a good prospect with a sound combination of size and athleticism. However, the better and more freakish athlete is Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips. Listed at 6’6″ and 334 pounds, Phillips is an intimidating figure in the middle of a defensive line with not only his size, but his explosion and quickness.
Phillips shows the quick-twitch ability to get off the line quickly, shoot a gap, and get pressure in the backfield in the run game. While he can use his quickness to get after the ball carrier in the run game, he is even better at using his quick hands, lateral agility, and closing speed to collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback.
In the gif, Phillips comes off of the line too quickly for the center, and blows by him with a straight shot to quarterback Justin Worley. He then closes in on the quarterback, forcing him to fall backwards in the pocket. With the help of the blitzing linebacker, Phillips knocks Worley to the ground as he throws, making the pass fall at the feet of the running back.
Along with athleticism, Phillips can also win with his strength and his hand usage. As a part of this strength, the nose tackle has a very strong upper body. He can push back and squeeze a pocket with his bull rush, or he can win with a swim move.
Here, Phillips uses his hand quickness and technique to swim past the defender in one quick move. Just like that, he’s in the backfield and gets a hit on the quarterback. His style that dictates being able to switch things up on an offensive lineman to attack with power, burst, or hand quickness makes him a nightmare match-up against whomever he lines up.
Phillips also showcases good smarts on the field. If the nose tackle sees that he can’t get to the passer before the ball is thrown, he shows good awareness to get into position to try to knock the ball down. With his 6’6″ frame, he has a wide radius from which he can get a hand onto the ball. That said, his height can also be a disadvantage. Being as tall as Phillips is can make getting proper leverage difficult. However Phillips flashes the ability, albeit inconsistent, to keep his pads low and gain the advantage in leverage over his opponent.
Along with a disadvantage in natural pad level, Phillips also struggles with consistently disengaging and shedding blocks. Once he gets locked on to his opposition, he doesn’t usually end up getting disengaged. Instead, he’ll just do his best to push the lineman back with his strength. Being a nose tackle, Phillips has, and will, have to deal with a good deal of double teams. While he does do a good job of occupying space and taking up both blockers, he is essentially taken out of the play. Phillips needs to do a better job of making the linemen work and trying to get out of double teams. If he can disengage from two blockers, the likelihood of him having a clear shot to the ball is very high.
Another concern with Phillips is the back injury that caused him to need surgery and miss all but four games in 2013. While he seems to have recovered from his play in 2014, back injuries are something to be wary of. There’s no telling if he could re-aggravate the injury and miss more games, or if the injury could possibly be a lingering issue. His medical examination at the combine will give a clearer picture. Until then, it’s a question mark for everyone.
Overall, Jordan Phillips is force in the interior who is very versatile in the ways he can win. He has the quickness in his feet and hands to win with speed and technical moves, and be able to shoot gaps. The Oklahoma prospect also has the power and size to collapse the pocket and cause plays to fall apart. While he needs to improve his ability to disengage from blocks to fully realize his potential as a zero technique, teams will not let him fall too far on the package of positive things that he brings to the field. (Unless his back injury becomes a bigger concern.) Phillips is a perfect example of planet theory: that not many guys his size are roaming around the earth, and teams aren’t going to pass by the opportunity to have a guy like him on their team. Phillips is a late first round talent whose draft position should end up accurately reflecting that fact.