Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle

By Matthew Marczi

Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.

If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.

There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.

It’s hard to gauge where the Steelers as an organization feel they are with respect to securing the nose tackle position. They do currently have three players to play the position—assuming Al Woods is re-signed—though two of the three are not natural nose tackles.

The third, Hebron Fangupo, is heading into his third season, has hardly any actual experience, and is already approaching 30 years old. Meanwhile, opinions on the performance of Steve McLendon seem to differ a fair bit.

Steve McLendon: McLendon was a necessary re-signing after the team parted with longtime nose tackle Casey Hampton after more than a decade. Though McLendon doesn’t have the prototypical size of a nose tackle, the Steelers have made out with similar body types before, most recently with Chris Hoke, who started most of the 2004 season due to an injury to Hampton.

While he started out on a strong note, one area of his game that did not develop the way many anticipated was his pass rush. Nose tackles are not generally counted on for their pass rush, but McLendon’s smaller size and flexibility provided him with an advantage that he was able to use in more limited roles in the past.

On the other hand, he played much better against the run than many seem willing to give him credit for, making plays on his own and shooting gaps. The main sticking point is his ability to not only navigate, but command double teams. This is an area that could be upgraded, but it was something the organization understood when opting for a smaller player at the position, which offers other advantages.

Hebron Fangupo: Fangupo ultimately won a training camp battle against Alameda Ta’amu to serve as the third-string developmental nose tackle. Ta’amu ended up in Arizona, playing over 200 snaps and grading quite well against the run according to Pro Football Focus. Fangupo played 13 snaps and didn’t look any more polished.

What’s more, he’ll be 29 when his third season starts. This, like Keenan Lewis and Jason Worilds vs Sean Lee, will probably be debated by Steelers fans for years to come, especially if Ta’amu continues to build his role and eventually takes over the nose tackle position. What kind of long-term potential is there in a somewhat raw 29-year-old?

Draft Strategy: Although I don’t tend to lean that way, it’s possible that the Steelers could address the nose tackle position as early as the first round. As they did with Hampton many moons ago, this could involve a trade-down scenario.

Otherwise, there are several mid-round prospects that could offer a better long-term candidate than Fangupo, but in the immediate future, it is essential to re-sign Woods, who proved last season that he’s capable of backing up all three positions along the defensive line.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • 20Stoney

    Please….no Nix in the first round. He is no Casey Hampton or Dontari Poe. Drafting this high, they need a real playmaker.


    I love it! A Pittsburgh version of Seinfeld………… “not dat der’s nuttin’ wrong wit dat.”

  • steeltown

    Sign Woods..he can serve as the backup to McLendon, maybe hang onto Fangupo for another year and see if there is any improvement there.. and then draft accordingly next year

  • dgh57

    McLendon & Company can hold the fort down another year or least if Woods is resigned. It’s the secondary that needs to be upgraded due to declining play, getting older, and Clark not likely to return. Our needs FS and CB before NT!

  • Jollyrob68

    Once the Steelers are eliminated from the playoffs it time to talk about the draft.

  • Jollyrob68

    Sign Al Woods & sign Terrence Cody.

  • lefnor

    No, he is Vince Wilfork.

  • lefnor

    A first round CB pick is a luxury because Lebeau’s system is so complex at CB and you have to learn the proper technique in your rookie year (and maybe beyond that, ask Keenan Lewis). The most important thing is that you have to be good sized and athletic (I don’t mention physical because Allen and Brown weren’t, altough Hawthorne was). This is why they draft good athletes in the 3rd and 4th round and not in the first, there are great athletes too. They will build them. I would hate a first round CB draft, especially because this year’s class isn’t frontloaded.
    FS? Troy played EVERY DEFENSIVE SNAP and there is Shamarko. The ultrabrutal Calvin Pryor would be an excellent pick but only if the FO knows that 2014 will be Troy’s last year with the team. Otherwise Pryor would be a dime back for years.
    McLendon and the Woods resign is the solution at the NT position? Please no. The NT position has to be the strength of this D. Put McLendon into the LDE position, he would be spectacular there. Everone say that Nix would be a 2 down player. Yeah, whatever. Who sacked Brady at that key 4th down in the first half and who stuffed the running play at the key 2 point conversion against the Broncos? You are right, the NT Knighton. Outside of his actual knee problem Nix is a better prospect than Poe was. Hampton had ACL surgeries so I don’t care about his meniscus surgery. His weight will be managed and he will be a beast. His swim and rip move paired with his explosiveness is outstanding. This D badly needs someone who keep control over the LoS inside the guards.

  • 20Stoney

    Not from what I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot of Notre Dame. Time will tell.

  • LucasY59

    I would be ok with that if all were for very cap friendly contracts

  • Kirby Hogenmiller

    Hes a better prospect then Poe Please. Nix isnt half the Athlete Poe is.

  • lefnor

    Did you watch Poe at Memphis? I think no, because you wouldn’t say that. He was nowhere near where Nix was in 2012.
    Hampton was half the athlete Poe is but Big Snack was a better run defender. Poe is very good but there is too much hype there because he ran a 4.89 at the combine. A 40 yard dash isn’t everything.

  • Kirby Hogenmiller

    Ya and now Poe is one of the best Nose tackles in the Nfl how well you played in college arent the only indicators of how well a player is going to be. The Steelers would have to be insane if they were to draft Nix in the first after having to pick in the 30s constantly and always settling on D-line men. Now they are picking at 15th and have a shot at a lockdown corner a sideline to sideline inside linebacker and a really good WR those are players you cannot get in the 30s.

  • LucasY59

    There is not much NT depth in this draft.
    If there is a trade down and Nix is the best player available (and no CB, WR or TE is worth the later 1st rd pick) then I would be ok with the pick. I would be disappointed if they took him with the 15th pick tho. after Nix the next NT is D.Jones from Penn St. not sure if he is a true NT and I don’t think he would be any better than Mclendon he will most likely be taken in the 2nd or 3rd rd (where the depth at other positions in the draft make NT not worth the pick) next is Mcullers, he shouldn’t be taken before the 4th rd, but likely 3rd rd because a team will like him for his size (He is huge, but he doesn’t do that well with double teams plays too high doesn’t have very good leverage) D. Coleman from Cal is another like Mclendon or Jones (probably should play DE or 4-3 DT) Ellis from La. Tech, Carrethers Ark. St., or Allen from Wisc. are day 3 prospects .

    Ellis is the NT I think would be the best pick with a 4th rd comp or 5th

  • dgh57

    Don’t see us drafting a NT in the first rd.(pick#15) unless he’s considered the 2nd coming of Casy Hampton in his PRIME which Nix is not. Because there is no one of that value I see them instead strengthening the backside of the defense this year where Taylor has regressed and the new CB needs to learn while Taylor is still around.

    As for Safety you are right Troy did play every down but at SS not FS! Clark(a FS) is doubtful to return which makes his position a priority.

    Because the NFL is becoming more of a passing league we use more sub packages for our defense which means even more DBs being used thus more of a priority!

  • lefnor

    You are right but Nix has great upside too.

    I agree that you can’t find a CJ Mosley caliber ILB and a WR with Benjamin’s upside (I would love those picks too) in the 30s but there are no definite lockdown corners at 15th (Gilbert or Dennard is not that good imo) and there is a very very deep WR class. And you can’t find a Nix caliber NT in the 30s too. And maybe I am alone with that but I think he is the best NT for years, included Poe. His top5 overall grade before his injury plagued season was not a coincidence.

  • lefnor

    Yes but interestingly Ellis is a better pass rusher than run defender. He is one of my favorite sleeper for years. I’m happy that he had a good Shrine Game and Senior Bowl week.

  • LucasY59

    I like Pryor as a replacement for Clark, but only if he is available in the 2nd.
    15th seems like a tough spot to pick this year. most of the players that will be available will either be reaches based on potential or play a position that usually isn’t worth the 15th pick. (I’m not saying they cant get a very good player with the pick Its just more of a gamble than some other years, I would be very happy if they can trade back and pick up some extra picks)

  • Kirby Hogenmiller

    Don’t get me wrong im not completely against nix but if Mosley, is there you got to pick him. If Benjamin Evans or Watkins is there you have to pick him. Especially if Watkins is there.

  • pittsburghjoe

    It will make me totally sick if Ta’amu develops into something after we threw him away.

  • gene mann

    If the Steelers Take Nix i think my head will explode