PDA

View Full Version : The 3-4 Switch: Can the Draft Do the Math?


Cool Breeze
02-26-2010, 07:20 AM
The 3-4 Switch: Can the Draft Do the Math?

By Doug Farrar
Scout.com
Posted Feb 25, 2010

A few years ago, all the talk at the Scouting Combine was about the difficulty in evaluating college players who played in spread offenses for their NFL abilities. The schemes were polarized to the point that many NFL personnel evaluators despaired of ever being able to properly rate those high-production players in different systems.

While the NFL has changed its game plan to adapt to the spread offense to a degree, there's a new schism affecting several teams and making interior defensive linemen among the most valuable members of many rosters.

With more and more pro teams switching to the 3-4 defense, college defenders are hitting a speedbump in the evaluation process. According to Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com, only two of the 120 BCS teams -- Virginia and Cal -- play full 3-4 schemes. As a result, personnel guys like general manager Scot McCloughan of the San Francisco 49ers, who first made me aware of the spread offense issue during an earlier Combine, have to adjust their eyes when grading the potential of 3-4 converts.

"There's a bigger chance that you're wrong than you're right," McCloughan said just after his press conference today, "because you're not seeing them play the position at our level." Earlier, he spoke about the importance placed in nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, which compelled the Niners to franchise Franklin for a guaranteed amount of $7.003 million in 2010.

"I think a lot of people say youíre looking for a guy with power, (who can) play at the point, take on the double team and just do the dirty work all day," McCloughan said. "The thing Iíve realized the last couple of years is the instincts, the blocking instincts. Because youíre not going to be dynamic. If you are, there are two or three in the league. Youíre taking care of your linebackers, letting them make the plays theyíre supposed to make. Thatís the thing with Aubrayo Ė his instincts for understanding blocking schemes is phenomenal. Heís not the most talented physically. But when you throw the mental (approach) in, thatís why heís a good football player."

Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert, having just signed nose tackle Casey Hampton to a three-year, $21.2 million deal in order to solidify his team's always-strong 3-4, would agree with McCloughan's laundry list of assets. "In our case, Casey Hampton was the anchor of our defense and has been. Defensive linemen in general are tough to find, especially for 3-4 defenses. This draft, there are more defensive linemen than any draft I can remember in really 26 years Iíve been doing this. It's not only depth but the quality of that depth as well."

But of those quality defensive tackles, only two -- Dan Williams of Tennessee and North Carolina's Cam Thomas -- project as obvious 3-4 nose tackles, because of their size and specific abilities. Beyond that, Rang said, it's a guessing game. "Williams (6-2, 329) and Thomas (6-4, 331) project very nicely as nose guards, despite the fact that each played in the 4-3 in college. Each possesses the bulk necessary to take up blockers in the two gap scheme, freeing up the linebackers to make plays. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Calís Tyson Alualu played defensive end out of the odd man front, but the 6-2, 291 pounder projects best inside as a three-technique defensive tackle in the more traditional 4-3 scheme. While strong, Alaaluís greatest asset is his quickness and hustle. Rather than holding up at the point, heís at his best tracking down the ball carrier Ė as his stellar production in the Pac-10 proves."

So even when the NFL does find a committed 3-4 lineman of any stripe, that lineman may not translate at the next level. What, I asked McCloughan, makes the ideal 3-4 end pop off the tape? He started with what doesn't. "If you've got a 6-1, 300-pound defensive tackle, even if he's a great player, he's sure not going to be a nose tackle in a 3-4. And you're not going to put him at end, because he doesn't have the length to hold the point against tackles. So, all of a sudden, he becomes a non-factor -- a good football player who doesn't fit your system."

And when it comes to those 3-4 ends, McCloughan says that the requirements for success are just as specific. "Height, arm length, and the ability to hold the point. If they have some pass rush, that's great, but they have to do the grunt work and hold up (the line). If your defensive end is too good rushing the passer, you go to a 4-3."

And if you want pass rush in a 3-4, as opposed to the 4-3 hybrids most 3-4 teams run on occasion (where the linebacker with the most pass rush ability will put his hand on the ground and turn one of the ends into a tackle), you're looking at more speed and much less weight. Teams will adjust, especially in obvious passing situations, but the basics stay the same -- if those ends can't hold up against big inside blockers, they're wasted in the more prevalent scheme. This leaves a limited pool of specific types for an ever-increasing number of teams with a great desire for their services.

New Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey, whose team will switch to the 3-4 this season, may have summed up the search best today. Everybodyís looking for a certain type of guy, those of us in the 3-4, and thereís not a lot of Ďem to be perfectly honest. So you have to take people you have and adapt the way you play. You donít have to play the same type of 3-4; you can adjust to what people do best."

If the draft process had a motto as it applied to NFL personnel men, it might be, "Adopt, Adapt, and Improve." The odds of getting exactly what you want are limited, so you must alter your expectations. This is what the NFL, in its newly shotgun-heavy incarnation, has done with the spread offense. This is also what the NFL will have

DenverBrit
02-26-2010, 08:04 AM
This is pretty good summary, especially regarding 3-4 NT's grading out.

It's funny how some think that a College 320lb body automatically means an NT in the NFL.

With only 2 college teams running a 3-4.......I thought it was a few more........it's no surprise that quality NT's are rarer than QBs.

Thanks for posting.

oubronco
02-26-2010, 08:06 AM
Good read

Mediator12
02-26-2010, 10:06 AM
"I think a lot of people say youíre looking for a guy with power, (who can) play at the point, take on the double team and just do the dirty work all day," McCloughan said. "The thing Iíve realized the last couple of years is the instincts, the blocking instincts. Because youíre not going to be dynamic. If you are, there are two or three in the league. Youíre taking care of your linebackers, letting them make the plays theyíre supposed to make. Thatís the thing with Aubrayo Ė his instincts for understanding blocking schemes is phenomenal. Heís not the most talented physically. But when you throw the mental (approach) in, thatís why heís a good football player."

This is the part about grading prospects that causes the most misses on players. You have to find players who can mentally play at the next level, not just be a physcial player. I see way too many people look at college players and not factor in the transition to the next mental level. Everyone of these guys has the physical ability to play at the next level. It is who can take that ability and use their mental skills to translate that into execution in the NFL. It is about understanding your role and how you fit into a play.

There are just too many players who excel in college because of the scheme allowing them to freelance. Or, who excel because they are physically more talented and their team is more physically talented than their opponents. These players look great on highlight tape, but people fail to see WHY they made a play. They just see the results.

That type of player faces a real hard transition to the NFL where the players are more than physically capable to beat them, they are mentally sharper and tougher play to play. The coaching and playbooks are much more difficult, because there is accountability to every play unlike College. Teams will learn and exploit your weaknesses until you correct them. These are usually mental mistakes like Overpursuit, missing protections, running the wrong hot route, etc.

Finding the right type of player is much more than looking at tape and physical makeup. It really is about finding players that can do a specific role and do it better than the guy across from them. Players that can mentally handle their assignments and execute the play in front of them. It is what makes the best personnel people and destroys the others.

This is the main reason I want better DL for DEN. All these guys are adequate Physically, but they have never made the jump mentally to the NFL. Peterson, Reid, McBean, and Fields are guys you can win with, as long as they are not the main guys and part of a rotation with starter level players. Right now, DEN starts Backups and brings in Guys with no business playing in the NFL. That has to change, and DEN desperately needs a few Starter caliber DL right away unless you want to continue to see the collapses they have now become expected to have the second half of the seasons.

RaiderH8r
02-26-2010, 10:12 AM
This is pretty good summary, especially regarding 3-4 NT's grading out.

It's funny how some think that a College 320lb body automatically means an NT in the NFL.

With only 2 college teams running a 3-4.......I thought it was a few more........it's no surprise that quality NT's are rarer than QBs.

Thanks for posting.

that's always been my beef with a 3-4. To truly be a beast of a system it, more often than not, requires a very specific type to excel at the NT and that type is tough to find. He has to be huge, occupying 2 and sometimes 3 blockers at a time but athletic and fit enough to stay on the field. He has to be strong enough to collapse the pocket and agile enough to 2 gap it. If it doesn't work out there are must more OL free to pick up LBs and that matchup usually favors the G/C in both the run and pass games. This is not to say that teams can't make a 3-4 work for their club to win but for our club to win we'll need more out of our D than the current 3-4 lineup can produced and that success will start and end with a productive, studly NT.

This is why I get so infuriated at the prospect of trading away offensive talent, we just do not have and can not build the type of defense to over come offensive shortcomings in the near future. Sending Nolan packing didn't help our cause either.

Bronco Boy
02-26-2010, 10:38 AM
Don't West Virginia and Alabama run a (mostly) 3-4 defense as well? Still a small number regardless.

Bronco Boy
02-26-2010, 10:40 AM
that's always been my beef with a 3-4. To truly be a beast of a system it, more often than not, requires a very specific type to excel at the NT and that type is tough to find. He has to be huge, occupying 2 and sometimes 3 blockers at a time but athletic and fit enough to stay on the field. He has to be strong enough to collapse the pocket and agile enough to 2 gap it. If it doesn't work out there are must more OL free to pick up LBs and that matchup usually favors the G/C in both the run and pass games. This is not to say that teams can't make a 3-4 work for their club to win but for our club to win we'll need more out of our D than the current 3-4 lineup can produced and that success will start and end with a productive, studly NT.

This is why I get so infuriated at the prospect of trading away offensive talent, we just do not have and can not build the type of defense to over come offensive shortcomings in the near future. Sending Nolan packing didn't help our cause either.

A NT also needs to be smart enough to recognize all the blocking schemes of the offensive line. Tough requirements to be sure.

elsid13
02-26-2010, 10:52 AM
Don't West Virginia and Alabama run a (mostly) 3-4 defense as well? Still a small number regardless.

WVU runs a hybrid system that more of 3-3-5