How To Scout Defensive Linemen
By Brent Foshee
Great defensive linemen remain, along with quarterbacks, remain the rarest commodity in the NFL. Frequently among the most drafted first round position, teams are always looking for a big man that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses, forcing them out of their comfort zone and making them more one dimensional. The defensive line in modern football has unique responsibilities for each position. Strong side defensive ends are typically taller and stronger in order to hold their ground against the run. Nose guards typically line up directly over a center or guard and are huge behemoths that are difficult to move. The nose guard is typically paired with a smaller and quicker pass rushing tackle that will over the opposing guard. Weak side defensive ends are usually little more than overgrown linebackers that have the speed to beat their blockers, and sometimes the strength to bull rush through a tackle. While many roles change a number of attributes are universal among defensive linemen and serve as a useful guide in scouting.
Size - Defensive linemen should be among the largest players on a team. Their job is to stand their ground. Having bulk makes them harder to move. All else being equal a big man is valued more than a small man.
Length - Having long arms gives linemen the ability to make plays in larger spaces. Whether it be reaching out to grab a ball carrier or reaching up to knock down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Long arms is always a plus.
Technique - So many dominant defensive linemen are never able to transition to the next level because they never learned to play with proper technique consistently. Sloppy play from a defensive lineman stands out on film and in the eyes of NFL scouts it just means more work for the coaching staff to do before a player is NFL ready.
Strong Side Defensive End - The base end frequently plays directly over the tackle or one of his shoulders. Tasked with controlling the running game the base end typically is a taller player with good reach to enable him to keep offensive linemen off his body and extend to make plays when the ball carrier is near. Base ends are typically tall and stocky. Many of the best base ends also have the strength to bull rush their blockers and the athleticism and energy to pressure the quarterback around the edge. In many defensive systems the base end is primarily responsible for occupying blockers and holding his ground in the running game and freeing up blitzers in the passing game. Good base ends are often double teamed and need to be able to overcome multiple blockers. In a 3-4 defense both ends are typically base ends.
Key Attributes - Size, Length, Strength
Nose Tackle - Typically a large wide body that is difficult to move the nose tackle will be expected to clog the middle of the line of scrimmage and occupy blockers. Nose tackles need to be strong and have a wide body. Height is less important than girth but a taller player is not considered a liability. The nose tackle is rarely expected to get sacks but should be able to do so when the quarterback is forced to move forward in the pocket. In addition to the physical attributes nose tackles, because of their size, should display a consistent work ethic and motor both on the field and off. An out of shape wide body isn’t enough in modern football.
Key Attributes - Girth, Strength, Good Motor
Defensive Tackle - The defensive tackle is the highest profile player on a defense. Teams are willing to reach in a draft and in free agency to bring in a difference maker at the position. Defensive tackles are typically expected to disrupt offenses by getting penetration. They need to be strong, and of a certain size, but quickness and anticipation are far more important for defensive tackles than any of the other positions along the defensive line. Many teams will use smaller players than normal in a rotation in order to maintain pressure. A big man that can move is what every team wants at this position though. The most successful defensive tackles consistently play with proper hand technique and leverage. An ability to excel at those two attributes will make a good player great and keep an average player employed.
Key Attributes - Quickness, Technique, Athleticism
Weak Side Defensive End - These are the guys that rush the passer relentlessly. They are typically smaller than the other defensive linemen - many are similarly sized to linebackers - because their job is to get to the quarterback as quickly as possible. Length is important in a pass rusher, as is strength, but for these guys it’s all about speed and quickness. Like the other defensive linemen proper hand technique is useful but what you want is a guy that beats blockers with his speed, energy, and occasionally his reputation.
Key Attributes - Speed, Length, Quickness