The game of football starts at the line of scrimmage. The team that controls this line wins more games than it loses; this is a proven fact of the game. In any defensive front, the big men on the line set the tone. Their ability to control and dominate the line of scrimmage is the key to any defensive formation or scheme. When grading defensive linemen, I divided them into five categories: 4-3 DE (defensive end), 3-4 DE (defensive end), DT (defensive tackle), NT (nose tackle) and DPR (designated pass rusher).
DEs in the 4-3 defense defend the edges of the defensive line. Their main responsibility consists of stacking the POA (point of attack) vs. the run and applying relentless pressure by attacking the offensive tackle’s upfield shoulder, then flipping and clearing hips with burst to the quarterback drop zone. In the past, the right DE was the best athlete to combat the offense’s LT (left tackle) and put pressure on the pocket, attacking the quarterback’s blind side. The left DE was the power player. Today, defenses are using athletic DEs to anchor both ends of the front, applying an equal amount of pressure to squeeze the pocket. Both DEs use two different stances, the traditional three-point stance and the new four-point stance, for a more explosive get-off. Defensive ends in the 3-4 are flanked by outside linebackers and align inside the shoulder of the offensive tackle. Their responsibilities are the same as the 4-3 DE.
DPR’s (designated pass rushers) are undersized DEs with natural and relentless pass rush skills to get to the passer, but not used as linebackers which need awareness of both ball and receivers in space when dropping into zone coverage. DTs (defensive tackles) align as the interior linemen. Their responsibility is gap protection, to stack POA (point of attack) and stop the run. It is a major plus if these interior linemen have pass rush skills like St. Louis Rams Rookie Pro Bowler Aaron Donald to apply steady pressure and squeeze the pocket from the middle of the defense. A NT (nose tackle) plays in the 3-4 defense and is aligned head up over the OC (center), or tilted in the center-guard gap. His responsibility is to two-gap and take up space so that the two middle linebackers can run and hit.
Character: Leader in the locker room; community involvement; off-field issues (arrest, drugs, assaulting women, guns, multiple campus, etc.).
Football Intelligence: Student of the game; film study; playbook memorization; ability to process and regurgitate information with recall, loves the full process of football (practices, meetings, weight room, off season workouts etc).
Leadership: Natural-born leader; vocal; quiet; leads by example.
Competitiveness: A win-at-all-costs attitude, high level of intensity, plays with passion on every play. He is at his best under adverse and pressure situations, exhibiting pride and a true passion for the game, he is confident in himself and his teammates.
Toughness: A nasty inline defender to consistently deliver under pressure and refuses to be defeated, motor runs fast and steady, has ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.
Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations.
Arm Length: Ideal length for edge players ranges from 33 1/2 to 36 inches.
Athletic Skill Set
Interior Defensive Line: Attitude and temperament; get-off, explosion and penetration; aggressiveness; willingness; runs feet and constricts run lanes; effort; physical toughness; balance; finish; anchor, productive in a phone booth.
Explosion: Uncoil; pad level; hip snap, ankle flex.
Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position; ability to play hurt.
Strong UOH (use of hands): Plays with arms; hump move; club, grab and steer; stab and punch; pull and jerk; double arm-bar separation; single arm-bar; head slap; tilt and toss, press and release; practice martial arts hand combat to improve advantage.
Football Intelligence: High football IQ; football instincts; awareness; read reaction quickness on the move; blocking recognition of pulling and trapping offensive linemen; locate and track ball in box; nose for making plays inside box.
Base Strength: Functional strength and explosion; maintain leverage; knee bend and lower body explosion with hiop snap, further development, upside.
Against the run: Defeat blocks; neutralize and explode into blocker; split and defeat double team; shed blockers on the move; stack and control POA; press off, base strength with strong anchor, defy angles.
Stunts and Games: Slants; E/T; T/E stunts, delayed blitz.
Lateral movement: First-step quickness; slide with ability to get skinny in hole; clear feet and work over and through trash; COD and redirect with burst and acceleration.
Leverage/Explosion: Plays behind pads; good knee bend; ability to dominate with strength and explosion, plays with leverage and power.
Pursuit/Range: Intensity; relentless; flatten down LOS, sacrifices body with diving effort; chase with short-area burst and speed.
Tackling: Collision with wrap; explosive; arm; drag down; run through tackler who hits with eyes; inline/open field; COD and breakdown, understands angles.
Defensive edge players: Power rusher; anticipation; push on pocket; inside stunt; explosive movements; get-off with burst on snap; quick feet, base and balance; burst with ability to turn speed into power; close off blocks; UOH quickness and strength; technique/counter; flip hip and burst to quarterback drop zone, quickness and acceleration off block; leaping ability to jump in quarterback passing lanes; zone drops with awareness in space of ball and receivers; look for check down and dump passes.
DT USC Leonard Williams 6’4 – 302* Top 5 Pick
Texas Malcom Brown 6’2 – 319* 1st Rd
Iowa Carl Davis 6’4 – 320 2nd – Rd
Ohio State Mike Bennett 6’2 – 293 2nd Rd – 3rd Rd
Arkansas Darius Philon 6’1 – 298* 4th Rd
DE Oregon Arik Armstead 6’7 – 292* 1st Rd
Florida State Mario Edwards 6’2 – 279* 2nd Rd
Arizona State Marcus Hardison 6’3 – 307 2nd Rd
Missouri Markus Golden 6’2 – 260 3rd Rd
Kentucky Za’Darius Smith 6’4 – 274 3rd Rd – 4th Rd
NT Florida State Eddie Goldman 6’3 – 336* 1st Rd
Washington Danny Shelton 6’2 – 339 1st Rd – 2nd Rd
Oklahoma Jordan Phillips 6’5 – 329* 2nd Rd
Clemson Grady Jarrett 6’0 – 304 4th Rd – 5th Rd
Northwestern State Deon Simon 6’4 – 321 5th Rd
DPR Clemson Vic Beasley 6’3 – 246 1st Rd
Nebraska Randy Gregory 6’4 – 235* 1st Rd (C)
Kentucky Bud Dupree 6’4 – 269 2nd Rd – 3rd Rd
Missouri Shane Ray 6’2 – 245* 2nd Rd – 3rd Rd (C) (X)
LSU Danielle Hunter 6’5 – 252* 3rd Rd
Others to Watch
Mississippi State Preston Smith DE
Washington State Xaiver Cooper* DT
Miami Anthony Chickillo DE
Florida Leon Orr DE
Washington Hau’Oli Kikaha DPR
Montana Zack Wagenmann DPR
Central Michigan Leterrius Walton DT
(C) = Character Issues
(X) = Medical Concerns