By KFFL Staff on April 21, 2011
Howie Long on drafting the defensive front seven
There's no question that in today's game the number one priority of every NFL team is finding a franchise quarterback. As difficult as it is for me to say this, you can't compete for a championship without one.
But as my old boss once said, "The quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard." Well those words were true then and they're still true today -- which means the number two priority for every team is finding players that can put the quarterback on the ground.
And that is why we could see as many as 16 players on the defensive front taken in round one on draft day, and why there is a very real chance that as many as 20 defensive players overall could hear their names called in round one of the 2011 NFL draft.
Drafting for 4-3 vs. 3-4 defensive alignment
With 19 teams running some version of a four-man front, and 13 teams running some version of a three-man front, there's a big demand for edge rushers at both the defensive end and outside linebacker positions.
The reason for the rise in the number of teams playing the 3-4 defense is twofold: 1) the complexity and versatility of the 3-4 scheme 2) it's just a helluva lot easier to find a 245- to 255-pound athlete who can turn the corner (see DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison and Clay Matthews) than it is to find a 285-pound athlete who can do the same.
A number of the defensive ends in this year's draft have shown the potential to play both DE in a four-man front or OLB in a three-man front -- guys like Robert Quinn out of North Carolina, Aldon Smith out of Missouri and Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue. But choosing one is always a gamble, particularly in round one. Just remember that for every DeMarcus Ware there's a Vernon Gholston. So if you're going to ask a guy who's played with his hand on the ground his whole life to suddenly play out of a two-point stance in the NFL, you better be sure that he has the ability to play blocking combinations in the run game and rush the quarterback in the passing game out of a two-point stance, while also having the ability to drop in coverage. What we're talking about is a very special guy.
There are also a number of defensive ends that teams view as base ends in three-man fronts (290 pounds) who, despite their size, have the athleticism to kick outside to play LE in four-man fronts or to slide inside to a three-technique on third down. Guys like J.J. Watt out of Wisconsin, Cameron Jordan out of California and Adrian Clayborn out of Iowa could potentially fit that bill.
That leads us to the big men: three-techniques -- disruptive big men (285-295 pounds) who line up on the outside shoulder of the guard. Guys like Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus fall into this category. Finding a dominant three-technique is rare, but if you hope to have a dominant four-man front you simply have to have one.
Drafting a nose tackle
Which brings me to nose tackle. Many believe that, like in baseball, if you are going to run a 3-4 defense you must be strong up the middle. That middle -- that island -- is inhabited by a mass of humanity called the nose tackle. The problem is, finding a 340-pound man with incredible athletic ability that's also willing to take the kind of physical abuse that should be illegal is hard to do. There simply aren't many of those guys walking around the planet. The guy that could potentially fill that hole in this year's draft is Phil Taylor, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs in at a slimmed down 334 pounds!
There's a lot of talent at the defensive tackle position in this year's draft and we could see as many as six taken in round one.
So what's the bottom line? There's a ton of talent, literally, along the defensive front in this year's draft, with at least a half-dozen guys capable of making an immediate NFL impact - and that's something those franchise quarterbacks will soon discover.
Cris Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason, Howie Long, and Phil Simms will be appearing at an NFL Draft preview event in New York City on Monday night, April 25th, as part of the newly formed The Experts Network (TXN) www.TXNSPORTS.com.
As a lead-in to the event and to draft week, The Big Lead has exclusive access to Collinsworth, Esiason, Long and Simms to get their thoughts on the NFL Draft. We will be publishing those interviews, as well as additional custom video content from the event which will be available at The Big Lead beginning next week. Don't miss it!