Looking for help on the defensive line has become much more than simply drafting an end or a tackle. There are some real distinctions because of the differences in the 3-4 and the 4-3 schemes.
This season, 15 teams will configure some form of a 3-4 and 17 teams will use a base 4-3. When teams stack their draft boards, scheme will have a lot to do with placing a final grade on a player.
To understand what teams want, the defensive line prospects must be broken down into five different positions.
- 3-4 nose tackle or "zero technique" (Casey Hampton)
- 3-4 defensive end or "five technique" (Aaron Smith)
- 4-3 defensive tackle or "three technique" (Warren Sapp)
- 4-3 open side end or speed rusher (Jared Allen)
- 4-3 base end or left DE (Michael Strahan)
This is shaping up to be an excellent draft to find players in all categories, with a few defensive tackles expected to go early. As many as eight defensive linemen could be taken in the first round, with another 12 selected in rounds two and three.
Top player at each category
» 3-4 nose tackle: This position requires a massive person who can force a double team and clog up the middle to free up the linebackers to make plays. He doesn't really have to be much over 6-foot-1. Tennessee's Dan Williams measured at 6-2, 327 pounds. While he could play in other schemes, he will give a 3-4 team all kinds of flexibility.
Gil Brandt's scouting report
Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida
The most unique player in this draft is Pierre-Paul. He only played one year of major football after being a junior-college transfer. He was unbelievable at the combine as far as his first-step quickness. He did eight back flips in a row, which shows you what kind of an athlete he is. He's a player, but he's also a risk-reward guy. If you hit on him, he's really going to be a premium pass rusher who gets 11 or 12 sacks a year.
» 3-4 defensive end: The 3-4 teams are looking for guys with height and long arms to two-gap the offensive tackle, hold their ground and control the line of scrimmage.
» 4-3 defensive tackle: The 4-3 teams are looking for one-gap penetrators with tremendous first step quickness to beat a blocker. They aren't interested in holding the point but rather are asked to wreak havoc in the backfield. Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy has a strong reputation of quickness, balance and pursuit skills.
» 4-3 open side end: This player usually lines up away from the tight end or predominantly on the right side. He should lead the team in sacks and often commands a protection call his way. Teams are infatuated with South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paulafter a solid pro day and NFL Scouting Combine performance. While he's locked in as the top candidate, it's mostly based on potential rather than production, which makes him a big risk.
Michigan's Brandon Graham could also be considered but probably goes to a team as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
» 4-3 base end: This player can overlap skill sets with the 3-4 "five technique" DE. Still, teams want one-gap penetrating ability and more wiggle in the pass rush. Florida's Carlos Dunlap has the traits but also has some off-field issues. USC's Everson Griffen has risen into the first round and Arkansas State's Alex Carrington, who had nine sacks at 285 pounds, is the type of player teams are looking for.
Player with the most upside
Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh is ranked No. 1 on many draft boards and can probably play any defensive line spot in any front and win with power or speed.
He will develop pass-rush techniques in the NFL to go along with his brute strength. He can drop into coverage, split a double team, chase a play down from behind or control the line of scrimmage.
Biggest boom-or-bust prospect
McCoy is the next in a long line of potential Warren Sapp-type players. In fact, it looks like he could be headed to Tampa Bay. He did not impress in strength testing and can get washed down the line if he fails to penetrate. If he can rely on his first step quickness to win most of the individual battles, he could be a Pro Bowl player down the road.
Others considered were Pierre-Paul and Cody.
Small-school prospect with a chance
Lane caught my eye on his first one-on-one drill at the Senior Bowl. First, he bull rushed a tackle into the quarterback. He followed that up by beating the guy with a good speed rush on the next play. He has Aaron Kampman-type skills, and the more I talk to him the more he reminds me of Allen. Lane is 6-foot-6, 276 pounds and ran a 4.89 40 at his pro day.
Teams with the greatest need
» At 3-4 nose tackle: Buffalo, Washington, Miami and Arizona.
» 4-3 defensive tackle: Tampa Bay, Detroit, Carolina, Houston and Cincinnati.
» 4-3 ends: Tennessee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and Houston.