Areas That Need Work
While I have painted a picture for you that Nnadi is this elite NT already after one season of play, that’s not at all the case. He still has plenty of areas he needs to work on over this offseason and improve on in year two.
The first thing that he needs to work on is his burst off the line of scrimmage (LOS). There were too many plays where he was late off the snap putting himself immediately in catch up mode and often times allowing blockers to gain leverage and/or placement against him. While this improved some as the season went along, it’s still something that needs work. It also showed when it came to him jumping offsides, which he had four accepted penalties for in 2018.
Another area I would like to see get cleaned up is his ability to bring the ball carrier to the ground or finish when he gets quick penetration. In the play above, Nnadi is late off the snap, which didn’t hurt him too much, but then takes a poor angle to the running back and aims high by diving at him instead of aiming in front of the ballcarrier and wrapping up his ankles or even tripping him up. There are going to be some misses by every lineman, but it happened too often in 2018.
Last but not least, Nnadi will have to learn some more pass rush moves and counters if he wants to succeed as a pass rusher. While we saw the long-arm move earlier, offensive linemen knew that the bull rush was primarily his only move, which is not too uncommon for NT’s. There were some flashes later in the season of a rip move, but it was rarely successful. If he can add some moves to his arsenal it will go a long way in improving his pass rush along with consistency off the LOS.
It’s hard not to be excited about the player we saw Derrick Nnadi become in just his rookie season. Not only was he a third-round pick that became a good starter, which is usually more than what you typically expect out of a third round pick, but he showed development over the course of the season in numerous areas of his game. In a position that is hard to play well right away in coming out of college, Nnadi showed that he is one of the unique who can dominate right away in the NFL.
Already the clear star of last year’s rookie class, Nnadi has now had a full offseason to work on his technique and preps for his second season in the NFL but under a new defensive coordinator and scheme. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo decides to deploy Nnadi in 2019. The most interesting thing to watch arguably will be seeing how he does in stunts and twists as he rarely got the opportunity under former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
Overall, Nnadi is an above average NT just off of his rookie season, even with some of his technique and timing that he still needs work on. He’s best used from a 0 or 1 Tech alignment where he is reading the backfield and making plays as a 2 gap defender which is normally deployed in a traditional 3-4 alignment. If Kansas City decides to use him as more of a 1 gap defender shooting gaps, it will be interesting to see if he can keep up the same level of play.
Nnadi does very well against the run, against both zone and gap schemes. His ability to stay low and anchor even against double teams was very impressive and will continue to make running up the middle hard for opposing offenses. He also demonstrated good play against outside zones with good athleticism, technique, and awareness.
In pass rushing situations, Nnadi is an adequate pass rusher at this time with just a bull rush/long-arm move that will get pressure from time to time but shouldn’t be relied upon heavily for pressure. While he showed a couple of counters toward the latter part of the season, he still has to put it all together and continue to add to his arsenal before he becomes more than a two-down player.