Welcome to Defensive End Tips… Today we’re going to touch-on the things NFL scouts tend to look for when they’re scouting defensive ends.

So you know, there’s a part two to Defensive End Tips…  that you can check out here, once you’ve read through

5-time All-Pro Defensive End Julius Peppers.  (ICON Sports)

5-time All-Pro Defensive End Julius Peppers. (ICON Sports)

this one.

The skills and abilities that we’re going to look at will come from some extremely credible sources; a 3-time Super Bowl Champion head coach, a gentleman with nearly 30 years of scouting experience at the NFL level, and one of the nation’s premier scouting authorities.

I’m speaking of the late-great Bill Walsh, Greg Gabriel from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc.


Difference Between 4-3 and 3-4 Defensive Ends


There’s a huge difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defensive end.

4-3 defensive ends are usually smaller than 3-4 ends, and their primary job is to rush the passer.

College 4-3 d-ends usually don’t have have much value to NFL teams that run 3-4’s, unless they have the quickness, speed, athleticism, and loose hips to play as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.

If they fit this criteria, they’re considered “tweeners,” and NFL teams that run 3-4 offenses will consider them as candidates for roster spots as outside linebackers.

As Gabriel points out in his article, these guys usually weigh between 245 and 265 pounds and stand between 6″3′ and 6″5′.

3-4 defensive ends are asked to play a more physical game; stopping the run and occupying the blockers is their primary concern, not rushing the passer.

In 3-4 defenses, the pass rushing duties are usually moved back to the outside linebackers.

With that out of the way, let’s move-on to the things scouts look for in defensive ends.

Size. Bill Walsh’s ideal defensive end weighed 275 pounds, and stood 6″5′.  I’m going to assume he had a 4-3 defensive end in mind when he made that statement, because 3-4 d-ends tend to weigh way more than that.

Nasty Attitude. Gabriel on what he looks for attitude-wise, in d-linemen:

One thing is certain when you look for defensive linemen: they have to be tough, nasty people. By definition you are asking them to be in 60-70 5-second street brawls a game. It is not a position for a choir boy. If his personality is a bit on the rough side, that’s fine with me.

Balance. As Gabriel says, “you can’t play the game on the ground!”

Ability to “move through trash.” Ever watched what’s really going on around the line of scrimmage during a football play? There’s bodies everywhere.

If you’re on the ground, you’re not productive, so you have to be able to navigate around, and through, the trash to be effective.

Ability to shed blocks. The best defensive ends are able to shed blocks quickly and get to the ball.

Loose hips. Loose hips are especially important if you’re a tweener college defensive end that wants to be considered as an outside linebacker on an NFL team that runs a 3-4.

Speed. Everybody wants as many fast players as they can get, but speed is “really” important for 4-3 defensive ends, because they’re pass rushers first and foremost.

Quickness off the snap. Ever watch the defensive linemen during a pro football game and notice how fast they get off the ball?
I swear sometimes, it looks like they knew exactly when the snap was going to take place.

That’s because some of them do… well, that’s not 100% true, but the best defensive ends are able to anticipate the snap of the ball well; so well, that it looks like they knew when the snap was going to take place.

Quickness. You don’t have to be fast to be an effective pass-rushing defensive end, according to Gabriel:

Speed is obviously a required trait but there have been many top pass rushers through the years who had average speed but also had great quickness and body control. Leslie O’Neal, who was a 6-time Pro Bowler for San Diego and Kansas City, was no faster than 4.9; Michael Strahan was a 4.8 guy when he came out of Texas Southern.

Burst/explosion. Gabriel on explosion and burst:

They usually have great quickness off the ball to gain advantage against the blocker and can redirect their charge very quickly. They also have to have a good burst to the quarterback coming off a block.

Change of direction/lateral agility. With all the athleticism and speed in the NFL, a defensive end that can’t change directions or move laterally quickly is pretty-much useless.

Recognition/Instincts. The most effective defensive ends are able to anticipate blocks, and find the ball quickly.

Beating the offensive tackle is great, but if you’re not getting to the ball, what’s the point?

Upper body strength. Coach Walsh on the importance of upper-body strength:

Upper body strength… becomes important. Because you can start one way and when the blocker adapts to your move up the field, then you can arm over him or slug him past as Fred (Dean) would do, and come underneath him.

Upper/lower body girth. An NFL scout’s ideal prospect has upper and lower-body girth…  In other words, they want to see a body that’s wide and muscular in the legs and torso.

As Coach Walsh points out in his article, having the proper girth helps the end keep from getting off-balance when big offensive tackles work to route him away from the ball carrier or the quarterback.

By the way, if you want to check out their articles on your own, check out Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Defensive End, Gabriel’s Scouting Defensive Linemen from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc on Defensive Ends from Espn.com by Scouts Inc, which discusses the criteria they use to grade defensive ends.

That’s it, for today, family. 

Here’s a link to part 2.

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