Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips combines a hulking frame with unexpected agility, making him one of the premier interior defensive lineman in the 2015 NFL Draft. While his tantalizing size and talent-level could result in a day one selection by a team in need of a space-eating anchor, Phillips’s limited game-day experience and bouts of inconsistency may give other organizations pause.
A textbook example of a “potential over production” prospect, Phillips started only 17 games over three seasons for the Sooners, seeing most of his action at nose tackle within a 3-4 front. After a 2013 season cut short by a season-ending back surgery, the imposing defender bounced back in what would end up being his final year, starting all 13 games at defensive tackle and earning second-team All-Big 12 honors from both the coaches and the Associated Press. The redshirt junior recorded two sacks and 39 total tackles (20 solo, 19 assisted, seven for losses), helping the Sooners run defense finish tied for ninth in the country based on yards per carry in 2014.
In 28 career games for Oklahoma, Phillips compiled 58 total tackles (nine for losses) and three-and-a-half sacks.
Tale of the Tape
Listed at 6-feet-5, the 22-year-old Phillips tipped the NFL Scouting Combine scales at 329 pounds. Despite his prototypical nose tackle size, the former Sooner ‒ a two-way player in high school that arrived at Oklahoma literally doing backflips on his first day of practice ‒ flashed some of his surprising athleticism during measurable drills.
Among 18 defensive linemen weighing in at 300 pounds or more, Phillips tied for the seventh best broad jump at 105 inches, landed the fifth highest vertical at 30 inches and finished eighth in the three-cone drill at 7.88 seconds.
However, the rest of his workout was rather pedestrian, even when compared to his big-bodied brethren. In particular, Phillips registered the third slowest 10-yard split off his 40 time, clocking in at 1.88 seconds ‒ an indication that his initial burst from a three- or four- point stance needs some fine-tuning.
Following mixed results at the combine in February, the defensive tackle ‒ partaking in positional drills only ‒ impressed NFL scouts at Oklahoma’s Pro Day held in March. Phillips has since had a private workout with the Detroit Lions – a team in need of interior defensive line depth following the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency.
What He Does Well
Possessing phenomenal size and strength, with spurts of off-the-snap quickness and change-of-direction mobility, Phillips fits the mold of an ideal 0-technique defensive tackle who also has the range to make plays outside the tackle box.
Strong & Quick
Crowding the line of scrimmage at nearly 330 pounds with an athletic build, Phillips has the strength to win one-on-one battles by force, knocking aside centers like bowling pins, such as on the draw play below:
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Exhibiting excellent reaction time off the snap with the ability to convert quickness into power, Phillips explodes forward at a good pad level, rising up at contact and throttling the center backwards. The nose tackle uses his hands extremely well, striking to the inside of the blocker’s shoulder, turning him sideways. The draw play is dead on arrival as the running back slams into a wall of red and white.
When presented with an opportunity to shoot a gap, Phillips also possesses the off-the-ball burst to end runs before they start, such as on the outside zone (stretch play) shown below:
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Firing out quickly from a four-point stance, Phillips beats the adjacent left guard on the attempted reach block with speed and active hands. The nose tackle snatches the ball carrier with one arm before spinning him down to the ground like a top.
As a 0-technique, Phillips excels at anchoring against double-teams and occupying blocks for as long as possible, keeping his middle linebackers clean and more likely to make a play on the ball carrier:
[jwplayer file=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Space-Eater.mp4″ image=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Space-Eater.jpg”]
In the play above, the nose tackle holds his ground at the point of attack against the center-guard blocking combo. Phillips uses his outside arm to fend off the left guard and his inside arm to delay the progress of the center into the second level. The defender keeps his linebacker free from the block, but manages to disengage and assist in bringing down the running back himself.
Resetting the LOS
Often difficult to move at the point of attack, Phillips not only stands his ground, but also gains push off his initial punch, resetting the line of scrimmage in the process:
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In the two plays above, the nose tackle wins with his pad level, getting underneath the blocker and driving his opponent back at least a step. Phillips then squeezes the gap by driving the blocker into the intended running lane before effortlessly shedding himself free and contributing on the tackle.
Lateral Movement & Block Shedding
Phillips displays above-average range for a defender his size. The nose tackle has the footwork and arm length to smoothly travel down the line of scrimmage and hold off a blocker:
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On the quarterback keeper shown above, Phillips uses his quick hands and long limbs to control the block, keeping his outside arm free. By staying as square as possible to the line of scrimmage while moving laterally toward the sideline, the big nose tackle easily closes the gap, sheds the block and lassoes the QB for the tackle.
Change of Direction & Pursuit Plays
With the ability to play lighter than he looks when working in space, Phillips exhibits good change of direction agility such as on the play below:
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Lining up as a 3- or possibly 4i- technique (a rare occurrence in the tape reviewed), Phillips initially crashes down into the C-gap but immediately course corrects, diagnosing the QB run to the outside. Showing off nimble feet, the defensive tackle escapes a potential block with a spin move toward the direction of the ball carrier to make the shoestring tackle.
The defender also demonstrates his surprising athleticism and speed for the position on pursuit plays such as in the instances captured below:
[jwplayer file=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Pursuit-Plays.mp4″ image=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Pursuit-Plays.jpg”]
Although not always consistent with his motor ‒ which may be more of a conditioning issue than an effort problem ‒ Phillips flashes glimpses of impactful backside pursuit ability and range that most NFL nose tackles simply do not possess.
Pass Rush Potential
While Phillips is a run stuffing weapon first, he still shows potential as a pass rusher, possessing both an adequate swim maneuver and a counter spin move:
[jwplayer file=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Pass-Rush-Moves-002.mp4″ image=”http://insidethepylon.com.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Oklahoma-DT-Jordan-Phillips-Pass-Rush-Moves-002.jpg”]
In the first clip, the nose tackle appears to have his swim move thwarted by the left guard as he slants down the line of scrimmage, but Phillips counters with a quick spin back around the center. The defender breaks into the pocket, moves the QB off his spot and speeds up the throwing process on the incompletion. On the second play, Phillips uses his swim move for a decisive win over the center, forcing the QB to scramble out of harm’s way.
Phillips was also useful in the few designed line stunts observed due to his ability to move laterally with good short-area burst.
In order for Phillips to develop into more than an early-down base / short-yardage defender ‒ how Oklahoma mostly used the nose tackle ‒ he must become more effective as a pass rusher. He also needs to work on maintaining proper technique to consistently maximize his physical tools.
Firing Out High
Phillips has a tendency to fire out of his stance high, slow, or both, working with little bend in his knees, thus reducing the power he can gain from his lower body:
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As the plays above demonstrate, Phillips bounces almost straight up out of his stance and fails to lower his pad level. By doing so, he is unable to convert a strong base into functional upper body strength, which allows his opponent to overcome his size advantage and control the momentum of the block.
As a pro, Phillips will need to improve his consistency when exploding out of his stance, staying lean with good bend at the knee and contacting the blocker with a low pad level before rising up.
Pass Rush Sustain
Not known for harassing the QB in college, the monster nose tackle ‒ after an initial shove forward ‒ struggles to continue his push into the pocket as a pass rusher:
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Lacking sustain when getting after the quarterback as shown above, Phillips often abandons the pass rush and resorts to attempting to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage. In other film reviewed, the nose tackle exhibited a mediocre bull rush ‒ a surprise given his overall strength but somewhat explained by his lapses in technique when firing out of his stance.
Pass Rush Balance
Using a violent upper body when battling blocks, Phillips has stretches where he becomes overly top-heavy and struggles to maintain his balance:
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The nose tackle needs to lean more consistently on his legs in order to drive through and past blockers while under control. By exploding lower out of his stance and keeping his feet under him and moving when engaged, Phillips should be able to better leverage his strength into more wins in one-on-one pass rush opportunities.
Comparable Players: Dontari Poe / Sione Pouha
Although Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe ‒ the 11th overall pick in 2012 ‒ had a more noteworthy NFL Combine than Phillips, both defenders, who each left their respective schools one year early to enter the NFL Draft, possess similar builds and college production. If Phillips doesn’t progress to the same extent as Poe, he’s more likely to follow in the footsteps of retired nose tackle Sione Pouha, an underrated run stuffer who played eight seasons for the New York Jets.
Phillips is a huge physical specimen with sneaky athleticism that should almost immediately improve any 3-4 defense in need of a nose tackle. The former Sooner’s best attribute is his ability to anchor at the point of attack, occupy multiple blockers for an extended period, and free up linebackers to swarm to the ball unimpeded. Whether Phillips can develop into more than just an effective lane-clogger and base defense defender will largely depend on how much he perfects his technique as a pass rusher. His production level and limited game experience in college may prevent him from being a day one selection. However, due to his combination of size, strength, athletic ability and high-ceiling potential, Phillips is bound to be off the board no later than early in the second round.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.