I have been a proponent of the "big nickel" defense for some time, and believe it to be the defense of the future.
More and more teams are using three wide receivers in their base offense, and a few are incorporating two-TE sets, all in attempts to create mismatches.
Divisional foe, the New Orleans Saints takes advantage of slower LBs by coming at defenses with either TE Jimmy Graham, WR Marques Colston, or both lining up in the slot.
The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots also feature the slot WR, and TE, game-planning ways to gain favorable match-ups.
How can NFL teams combat these three and four WR formations?
The "weakness" of the nickel defense, is that you have replaced your 320 pound NT (or sometimes an ILB) with a 185 pound CB, and thus are weaker against the run. Essentially, the big nickel personnel gives a defense a middle-ground between a poor pass coverage linebacker and a poor run stopping nickel corner.
With this in mind, I decided to dedicate my 2015 NFL mock to a conversion to this increasingly popular concept.
First Round - Danielle Hunter, OLB/DE hybrid, LSU:
The 6'6/245 pound Junior is expected to take have a break-out season in 2014. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said "I think Danielle Hunter will take his game to a different level even though he played extremely well for us last year." He made 57 tackles, eight tackles of loss, three sacks, and five QB hurries last season.
Second Round - Shaq Thompson, OLB/S hybrid, Washington:
A five-star recruit and #1 HS safety in the nation in 2012, Thompson played a sort of hybrid defensive back/linebacker role in his freshman season before settling into a more traditional linebacker’s position in 2013, when he was Washington's second-leading tackler. The 6'2/231-pound junior has been getting carries at RB during spring practice; something that is expected to carry over to the fall.
Third Round - Adrian Amos, S/CB hybrid, Penn State:
Listed at 6'0/215 pounds, Amos has the size of a SS, but the skill-set of a CB. He reportedly runs a sub-4.5 40 time.
Amos started 12 games at CB as Sophomore, then moved to safety at the beginning of the 2013 season, while starting seven games, before moving back to corner for the teams' final five games.
"I don't know if I've ever coached a player with Adrian's skill set before," Lions defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told ESPN.com."
Fourth Round - EJ Bibbs, TE, Iowa State:
At 6'3/261-pounds, Bibbs is expected to be the focal point of the Cyclones offense this season. Soft hands, strong blocker, tough to bring down in the open field, Bibbs is everything you'd want in a tight end, a position.
Fifth Round - Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia:
Suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of Georgia's opening game last season, missing the rest of the year.
At 6'1/190, Mitchell was a third-team Freshman All-American after making nine starts at wide receiver back in 2011.
The following season, Mitchell was asked to move to cornerback, at least in-part due to suspensions handed to CB Sanders Commings, FS Bacari Rambo, where he has 12 tackles and three pass-breakups. Despite that, he still finished with 40 catches, for 572 yards in his Sophomore season.
Sixth Round - Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina:
Carden enters his fifth year iat ECU coming off a season in which he completed better than 70 percent of his throws for more than 4,000 yards, totaling 43 combined touchdowns between passing and rushing.
At 6'2/218, Carden has mastered the "Air Raid" offense head coach Ruffin McNeill and coordinator Lincoln Riley brought with them from Texas Tech in 2010, but may not have the arm-strength or frame to go high in next year's draft.
Seventh Round - Joe Bergeron, RB, Texas:
The third mouth to feed, behind Johnathan Gray (torn achilles in 2013) and Malcolm Brown, the 6'1/230 pound Senior was best used as a goal-line back in 2012, when he rushed for 16 TDs as a back-up.
With this hypothetical overhaul to our defense, the 2015 Falcons defense could frequently look like this:
DE: Tyson Jackson, Ra'Shede Hageman, and Jonathan Babineaux
WILB: Sean Weatherspoon and Joplo Bartu
SILB: Tyler Starr and Akeem Dent
OLB (coverage LB):Shaq Thompson and Marquis Spruill
OLB (edge rusher: Leo-DE): Danielle Hunter and Prince Shembo
Outside CBs: Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant
Big Nickel (coverage safety): Adrian Amos
SS: William Moore and Zeke Motta
FS: Dezmen Southward and Dwight Lowerly
Of coarse we also will mix in...
NT: Paul Soliai
nickle-corners: Robert McClain, Ricardo Allen, and Javier Arenas