New York Jets DT Folorunso Fatukasi’s pass-rushing has grown to a level that beats most nose tackles in the NFL.
Standing at a gaudy 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds while almost always popping off the screen as the strongest man on the field, it’s obvious why Folorunso Fatukasi is in the league: to stop the run. And he’s damn good at it. Fatukasi graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best run defender among interior defensive linemen in 2019 (87.6 grade) and jumped up to second-best in 2020 (86.2 grade).
For most run-game-centric nose tackles in the league like Fatukasi, teams don’t care too much about their impact in the passing game. As long as they are effective in their primary role of stopping the run, teams will live with it if their nose tackles do absolutely nothing as pass rushers over the limited amount of snaps per game in which they are on the field for a passing play. Anything a nose tackle can provide in that phase is a bonus.
In 2020, Fatukasi grew into one of the league’s better pass-rushing nose tackles, providing a cherry on top of his dominant run defense. While he was certainly nowhere near great as a pass rusher in a vacuum, he was among the cream of the crop when compared to other nose tackles.
To weed out the players who were in a similar boat as Fatukasi in terms of their role, usage, and skill-set, I looked for all of the defensive tackles who played at least 200 defensive snaps in 2020 with over half of those snaps coming against the run. Fatukasi played 509 snaps with 52.9% of them coming against the run, well above the league average ratio for interior defensive linemen (42.5%). There were 27 qualifiers who met the criteria, giving us a strong group of comparable players to stack up against Fatukasi.
Among the 27-player group, Fatukasi ranked third in total pressures (12), fifth in PFF’s pass-rush grade (64.0), second in pass deflections (2), and sixth in percentage of pass-rush snaps recording a pressure or a pass deflection (5.9%). No other player in the group ranked top-six in all four categories.
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Now, those numbers are nothing special when compared to the average interior defensive linemen in the league – Fatukasi’s total of 14 pressures-plus-deflections tied for 68th at the position while his 5.9% pressure/deflection rate was below the positional average of 7.3% – but they are fantastic for a player in his role. The average player in the 27-player group of run-game-centric defensive tackles posted a total of 7.9 pressures-plus-deflections on the season. Fatukasi nearly doubled that output.
This marked a huge step forward in the phase for Fatukasi. His total of 12 pressures doubled-up his six pressures in 2019. He also leaped from one sack to two, from three quarterback hits to five, and from one batted pass to two.
Let’s take a look at Fatukasi’s growth into one of the league’s best two-way nose tackles.
Despite getting called for roughing the passer, Fatukasi throws a nasty move from a 0-tech (nose) alignment here. Off the snap, Fatukasi goes straight into a swim move with his right arm, clearing the center with ease as he gets high on his toes and continues to work outside in order to prevent the center from establishing contact. Fatukasi gets home quickly for a hard hit on Cam Newton.
Earlier in the season, Fatukasi beat Patriots center David Andrews with a similar move from the same alignment. This time, instead of throwing the swim right away, Fatukasi engages off the snap, works outside, and waits to throw the move until he catches Andrews with his hips open. Once Andrews opens the gate, Fatukasi brings his right arm over to leave Andrews in the dust and create pressure through the A-gap. The swim move truly is Fatukasi’s go-to.
The pressure that makes this sack happen is created by Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, and Harvey Langi, but Fatukasi cleans it up with ranginess that most 318-pound nose tackles do not have. At the 1-technique position, Fatukasi’s initial bull rush is walled off, but he does a good job of reacting to Geno Smith’s scramble. Fatukasi throws a hump move, using the guard’s momentum against him and tossing him toward the outside. He then swings his outside arm over the guard to shed the block, free himself up, and chase down Smith to finish the sack. Crazy movement skills for a man that size.