Of Draft Value, Sean Spence, Nickels and Nose Tackles

In another thread a poster asked why we'd pick a backup ILB in round 3 and not Ta'amu, they had no objection to either player. They just wondered why we couldn't have picked Ta'amu in round 3 and Spence, a guy who will most likely backup Lawrence Timmons was seen as more valuable than a potential starting Nose Tackle like Alameda Ta'amu.

As I'm sure most of you aware things are changing in the NFL, because of rule changes, and perhaps more importantly, the success of teams winning with the pass, more and more teams are looking to spread it out on offense. What that means for the draft has proved to be very telling this year, and I believe it goes some way to answering why we drafted a guy like Sean Spence ahead of a stud NT prospect like Alameda Ta'amu.

Now first, let me talk about Sean Spence. Initially I was baffled by the pick. Common fan logic has us in need of a Buck linebacker to replace James Farrior. Most of us don't feel Larry Foote can be that guy and aren't sure on Sylvester. So to see us draft a kid who figures to be a backup to Lawrence Timmons doesn't make a great deal of sense. But, Farrior was a good coverage guy on passing downs. Foote, not so much and Sly, well I'm not sure on him either. The Steelers have already said they are high of Sylvester for the future and are very satisfied with Foote for the short term. So, what does Spence give us? Well firstly he's a leader and should be a good guy on Special Teams given his skill set. But secondly I can definitely see, when he's learned the defense, that Spence will be a significant contributor at ILB alongside Timmons in our nickel set. A role which will increase as more teams look to spread it out against us. Which brings me back to the impending culture switch in out copy cat league.

This is data pinched from Steelers Depot's Defensive Participation Charts. I looked at the defensive plays where we used a Nose Tackle

Week 1 Ravens: 47 of 61
Week 2 Seahawks: 23 of 47
Week 3 Colts: 23 of 62
Week 4 Texans: 42 of 56
Week 5 Titans: 24 of 70
Week 6 Jaguars: 39 of 61
Week 7 Cardinals: 33 of 55
Week 8 Patriots: 10 of 50
Week 9 Ravens: 45 of 77
Week 10 Bengals: 38 of 56
Week 12 Chiefs: 47 of 63
Week 13 Bengals: 34 of 55
Week 14 Browns: 40 of 69
Week 15 49ers: 50 of 61
Week 16 Rams: 51 of 63
Week 17 Browns: 25 of 58

So there's a handful of games there where the NT wasn't on the field for half the defensive plays, interestingly the Patriots game the NT was a virtual non factor, to be fair though, we didn't have 2 ILBs on the field for much in that one, I think that may have been due to injuries inside. Larry Foote played every snap. Now, we still play in a conference that favours more balanced offenses so a NT should be more valuable to us than to most other teams. But that's the thing with the draft, how much your team values a player is only part of the puzzle. How the teams around you value players also is a large factor.

As we saw in round 1, as teams look to combat these high octane passing offenses, teams placed a noticeably higher value on pass rushers than in previous years. With a whole load going in round 1. It also changes the way teams will want to look at their linebackers. Coverage skills will become more and more important and valuable to teams, especially those in divisions where the pass already dominates. Where this leaves you is a Linebacker like Sean Spence, who is noted for his coverage skills and his ability to read an offense, will be higher rated right now than he would be, say 5 years ago. Conversely, despite the increase in 3-4 Defenses in recent years, the pure NT is less of a factor now than he was a few years back. This is why I think we needed to draft Spence before Ta'amu.

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