(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
POSITION: Nose Tackle (3-4)
OVERVIEW: Few positions on defense are more difficult to find front-line starters at than nose tackle, with only a handful of elite players at the position in the NFL today. A 3-4 nose tackle requires an athlete strong and large enough to consistently hammer up against double teams, while also one athletic and instinctive enough to play laterally and diagnose offensive plays. In New England, although the Patriots have largely moved away from a 3-4 defensive front, the team still has arguably the top 3-4 nose tackle in the NFL in Vince Wilfork. Wilfork, a gargantuan figure, has exceptional athletic ability and superb power and technique to be a two-gap controlling force in the middle of a defense. Finding a player like that is difficult, and it’s reflected in the low number of dominant nose tackles in the league today.
DESIRED TRAITS: The process of evaluating a nose tackle begins with finding a player who has the size needed to anchor the middle of a line. 275-pound nose tackles are no longer a regular occurrence in the NFL (and rarely have been); 300+ pounders fit the mold.
Beyond size, a nose tackle needs to be tough-minded. He’ll spend much of his time on the field absorbing contact and eating up space in lieu of shooting gaps and racking up statistics. Finding a player who can endure throughout the course of a game with multiple blockers on his case can be difficult.
At the point of attack, a nose tackle that can engage his blockers and lock his arms out to re-set the line of scrimmage and play ball from there is invaluable. Wilfork has mastered this, and is also capable of moving laterally to pursue down the line. A nose tackle doesn’t have to be an elite athlete, but one that can move down the line is a major plus.
From a pass rushing standpoint, nose tackles most often rely on their explosive power to push the pocket and disrupt its form. Wilfork, for example, has never been a major sack player (his 3.5 in 2011 were a career-high) but is nonetheless a pivotal rusher who can cause havoc against an offensive line. Nose tackles in a 3-4 scheme are also often taken out in passing situations, mitigating the need for them to possess a diverse arsenal of pass rushing skills.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Nose tackles will be used on both field goal protection and field goal block teams.
PATRIOTS TAKE: As has been discussed within this series, the Patriots project to rely mainly on four-man fronts in 2012. That being said, in Wilfork, they are well equipped at the nose tackle position, regardless of how much 3-4 defense they play.
Beyond Wilfork, both Kyle Love and Gerard Warren -- big bodies in their own right -- are capable to play the nose tackle spot if necessary. Warren is a sturdy veteran, while Love had a breakout year in 2011 and could continue to improve again this season.
Should the Patriots incorporate 3-4 defense this season, they look set at the nose tackle position.