After yet another average season from Dean Lowry and the one-dimensional Tyler Lancaster, it’s clear the Packers need some new blood on the defensive line alongside Kenny Clark. Kingsley Keke showed flashes of what he could be, but he likely isn’t an every-down player just yet. The Packers will probably need to invest early in this year’s draft to find a complementary player, especially after losing out on the J.J. Watt sweepstakes.
Given that Clark is only 25, with plenty of years ahead of him, it would make sense for the Packers to take another interior lineman to help take the load off of him and allow him to age more gracefully.
Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon could be the perfect interior pass rusher to fit the Packers’ 3-4 scheme and would be an upgrade over Lowry and Lancaster.
Although Nixon is 6’5″, 305 lbs., he’s quick for his size and can make contact with interior linemen before they have a chance to get set in protection. He’s also able to take down ball carriers in the backfield, recording 13.5 tackles for loss. He has the size and length needed to play the position at a high level.
The Kenosha native excels as a pass rusher, using a combination of speed and power to disrupt plays. He notched an impressive 5.5 sacks for the Hawkeyes this season, but that stat doesn’t adequately describe his true impact. Nixon’s ability to fluster the quarterback often results in easy sack opportunities for edge rushers who are pushing guards into the signal-caller’s lap.
He is no slouch against the run either. Nixon uses his power to fill gaps and eat up blocks, allowing linebackers to get free and make tackles close to the line of scrimmage. His ability to control the line of scrimmage and show off his power in moving guards at the point of attack could prove to be a big help to a Packers defense that struggled mightily to stop the run this season.
Nixon and Clark would make a fearsome defensive tackle tandem that would give trouble to any interior O-line in the NFL. Their presence alone would make it harder for guards to pull off of blocks and allow Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes to clean up the ball carrier, attacking them downhill.
Despite all of this, Nixon’s most incredible trait is his instincts as a defensive tackle. Teammates and coaches alike gush over how well he can diagnose the play before it happens. “It’s crazy how instinctive he is,” said fellow defensive lineman Chauncey Golston, adding that he thought that Nixon saw the cards with the play calls on them.
Nixon’s incredible football IQ was on full display against Penn State. He read the eyes of quarterback Sean Clifford, peeling off his block and entering into the passing lane to force an interception. Somehow this interception wasn’t even the most impressive part of the play. Nixon then anticipated that Clifford would reach for the ball and proceeded to do the football equivalent of a Euro step over him as he returned the ball 71 yards for a touchdown.
The thought of Nixon in green and gold is compelling. His ability to feast on interior lineman with his speed and strength would prove very useful in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears have below-average guards and centers, which would allow him to flush the relatively unathletic Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton out of the pocket.
Nixon and Kenny Clark in the middle would be an intimidating force that would discourage inside runs and instead make teams run to the outside, limiting Dalvin Cook‘s impact on the game. Think back to Week 8 when Cook carved up the Packers’ defense for four touchdowns — a majority of the running plays came from up the middle.
I think with the speed and power Nixon possesses, along with his instincts for the game, he is barely scratching the surface of his potential. Given this year’s rather average defensive tackle class, Nixon is among the very few who could make an immediate impact and elevate the Packers’ defense in both the run and pass game.