It’s not easy to move around when you weigh 330 pounds. The mere fact that some NFL nose tackles are able to take the field every Sunday is a testament to their incredible conditioning.
But even among these elite athletes, there is a tipping point where production diminishes.
In 2012, there were seven defensive linemen listed at 330 pounds or more who started at least 10 games. In an effort to determine just how valuable stamina was to their performance, I attempted to find their collective tipping point.
Using the snap count information from ProFootballFocus.com and their game-by-game grades, I was able to determine that somewhere around 30 snaps (roughly half of a game), these behemoths tend to see a decline in their production.
During games in which these linemen played 30 or fewer snaps, they earned a cumulative grade of +7.6 (in 870 total snaps). In games in which they played more than 30 snaps (3,498 total snaps) they earned a cumulative grade of just 5.6.
If you break those numbers down, the players had a +.0016 grade per snap when playing more than 30 per game, and a +.0087 grade per snap when playing 30 or less. Those numbers may seem small, but that’s 445% increase in production, just by limiting their snaps.
The best example of this is Terrence Cody who, at 360 pounds, has struggled with stamina throughout his career.
When playing over 30 snaps, Cody earned a cumulative grade of +0.8 (253 total snaps). When playing 30 or fewer snaps, his grade was -7.8 (291 total snaps).
So how can we use this information?
I believe there are two valuable takeaways from this study.
First, always have a quality backup on hand. Due to their hybird defense, and the prescence of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens were able to limit Cody’s snaps in 10 of the 18 games (including postseason) in which he played in 2011. This made him an effective weapon on defense, even if he wasn’t capable of being a three-down lineman. On the flip side, the Packers used B.J. Raji an average of 55 snaps per game, which led to him having the lowest overall grade of any of the 330+ linemen.
The second takeaway, however, is that not all nose tackles are created equal. Mount Cody clearly struggled when asked to take on a larger role. However, Sione Pouha – PFF’s highest rated defensive tackle in 2012 – still performed at a high level when playing 30+ snaps. Pouha did see a dramatic decline in production (.089 per snap, down to .042 per snap), however, his 30+ snap grade was still well above average and resulted in a cumulative grade of +23.1 in such games.
In terms of the NFL Draft, teams need to look beyond pure talent at this position, and pay close attention to how stamina effects each player’s performance late in games.