In deep pool of D-line talent, schemes will dictate picks

The defensive line promises to be a solid talent pool in the 2013 NFL Draft. There are expectations for as many as 17 to 20 defensive linemen to be taken in the first two rounds, about 30 percent of all first- and second-round picks. By the end of the draft there could be more than 40 defensive linemen drafted. With all that talent, teams are looking for different things when it comes to D-linemen.

Because there are two major NFL defensive line schemes, 4-3 and 3-4, the defensive line has to be broken down into all the possible positions. The most talented defensive linemen in the draft qualify for multiple position groups, but all of them have a primary position of strength. Depending on the scheme your team plays will determine how they are stacked on the draft board.

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For example, a traditional 3-4 front wants a certain kind of nose tackle: a massive man who can clog up the middle. A stunting 4-3 front is looking for a nose tackle who relies on quickness to penetrate and move along the front. Here's a look at the six position groups that make up the players who put their hand on the ground to play defense.

3-4 nose tackle

The mold here is big wide bodies who can hold the point of attack and force double teams by the guard and center. The 3-4 nose tackle typically lines up in a '0 technique' which is directly over the center. Ideal size ranges from 6-foot-2 to 6-3 and 325 pounds to 375 pounds. These players are not going to wow anyone with stats. Often they come out in passing downs, and a good year could be 30-35 tackles and two sacks. Ask any 3-4 coach and he will tell you this is a critical piece to his defense. These guys do the dirty work. When I look at the 2013 draft class the right players for this job include Jonathan Hankins (Ohio State), John Jenkins (Georgia), and Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern).

4-3 nose tackle

This nose tackle is quicker than the 3-4 nose. He needs to be a guy who can shoot the 'A gap' and beat the center and guard into the backfield. Typically these players line up on an edge of the center and can be asked to loop all the way around the defensive ends to contain a quarterback. Height is not as important as it is for a 3-4 nose tackle, and weight can be closer to 300 pounds. Some of these players can line up in a 3-4 front, but their skill sets are better suited for the 4-3. When I look at the class of 2013 the right guys for the job are Jesse Williams (Alabama), Sylvester Williams (North Carolina) and Jordan Hill (Penn State).

3-4 defensive end (5 technique)

Height and arm length are important traits for this position. These players are often asked to 'two gap' the offensive tackle, which means getting their hands on the tackle, locking out their arms and being prepared to play two different gaps. They need enough bulk to hold the point of attack and not get blown off the ball by a 330-pound offensive tackle. They are not the primary pass rushers in the front but they should be able to generate six to eight sacks and should be tall enough to block some passes. A few players in this class fit the bill. Datone Jones (UCLA) can play multiple positions in both fronts but could be excellent as a '5 techniques' according to one defensive line coach I spoke with. Montori Hughes (Tennessee-Martin) is a later-round player who can do the job. The most interesting player for this role could be Margus Hunt of SMU. At 6-8, 277, with an 82½-inch wing span, he has the physical credentials.

4-3 defensive tackle (3 technique)

This is a premier position for defensive tackles. These players get paid the big bucks if they are good '3 technique' guys. Henry Melton of the Bears just got the franchise tag worth $8.45 million. Not bad for the former Texas fullback who demonstrated he can penetrate an A or B gap and simply beat an offensive guard into the backfield. Warren Sapp is heading to the Hall of Fame for his ability to play this spot. Height isn't as important as great leverage, quickness, and athleticism. This appears to be a very good year for the '3 tech' players and they will go high in the first round. Sharrif Floyd (Florida), Star Lotulelei (Utah), Sheldon Richardson (Missouri) and Kwann Short (Purdue) are the primary candidates. The ideal body type is 6-1 to 6-2, 295 pounds to 310 pounds, and runs close to a sub-5.0 40-yard dash time.

4-3 left end

This player has to be big enough to handle the power run game right at him with combination blocks by right tackles and tight ends. At times he could be dealing with close to 600 pounds of blockers trying to drive him off the ball. These guys have to win with quickness and an ability to split a double team as well as rush the passer. A solid left defensive end should be an 8-10 sack player. He can overlap with 3-4 '5 technique' ends but typically is a better pass rusher. These ends are not the cat-quick players who line up at the right end spot. Bjoern Werner (Florida State), Ezekiel Ansah (BYU), Alex Okafor (Texas), and Sam Montgomery (LSU) could all find their way out of the first round and into a 4-3 left end spot.

4-3 right end

This player will give up bulk for quickness and pass rush skills. At times he needs to be off the field in run down situations because he doesn't have the bulk to handle the run game at him, but he can chase down run plays that go away. The ideal player is a double-digit sack type who may also be athletic enough to drop into coverage occasionally in zone dog schemes. The players who fit this profile also could be considered for outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. Teams are looking very closely at Dion Jordan (Oregon), Damontre Moore (Texas A&M), Barkevious Mingo (LSU), Corey Lemonier (Auburn), and Michael Buchanon (Illinois).

Most of these 22 players, broken down by position-specific areas, will go early in this draft. They could play other positions, but that ultimately will be determined by each club's draft board, based on need and the scheme that team uses.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
 
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