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NFL Draft

NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE Prospects

Brian Martin



Cowboys Headlines - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE Prospects

Today, we continue our series about what to look for when scouting NFL hopefuls at different positions. We move on to the defensive side of the ball now after finishing up the first half of the series on offensive positions.

We have previously taken a look at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line positions.

The defensive end position should be analyzed from two different perspectives, the players that fit into the 3-4 defensive scheme and those who fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme that the Dallas Cowboys choose to use.

Like I mentioned with the offensive side of the ball, the biggest tool at your disposal is studying game film. Game film allows scouts to analyze different players and the environment they expect them to play in, but it doesn't make up the entire scouting report.

Character background checks and pre-draft workouts should also go into finalizing the scouting report on NFL hopefuls.

Now, let's take a gander at what I like to look for at the defensive end position.

Scheme Fit

The first thing I look for when scouting players to play defensive end is what kind of defensive scheme they are best suited to play.

A defensive end in a 3-4 scheme is a lot different than a defensive end that plays in a 4-3 defensive scheme.

3-4 defensive ends are usually bigger players because they are asked to play more in the interior of the defensive line and have to take on offensive lineman on a more consistent basis. The normal for a 3-4 defensive end is usually about 6'4" tall and somewhere around 300 pounds.

4-3 defensive ends play with their hand in the dirt and are usually lined up outside the offensive tackle as edge players. A 4-3 defensive end is usually 6'3" tall and about 260 pounds or more.

Once you understand what type of defensive end you are scouting, you can break them down into specific scheme fits and what team they are best suited to play for.

Let's focus on what I look for in a 4-3 defensive ends since that is what the Dallas Cowboys defense uses under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.


A 4-3 defensive end relies on his athleticism to make plays in both the running game and when he has asked to rush the passer.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE ProspectsAthleticism is a key trait that I look for in defensive ends because they are not only responsible for setting the edge and stopping the running backs from running the ball outside of the offensive tackle, but they also have to use their athletic ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback.

A really good tool to use to measure a players athleticism is to find out their individual explosive number.

Bench Reps + Broad Jump + Vertical Jump = Explosive Number

I mentioned this equation previously when talking about scouting the tight end position, but it also helps to analyze a defensive ends athleticism as well.

I'm not saying that the players that have the best "explosive number" will end up being the best defensive ends, but it does help determine how athletic that individual player actually is.

Quick First Step

Another trait I like to look for in a 4-3 defensive end is how fast they get off the snap, especially when they are rushing the passer.

I prefer to watch a players game film when trying to analyze a player because they are in full pads and in an actual game situation, but like I mentioned earlier, pre-draft workouts are also part of the scouting report.

At the NFL Scouting Combine you can get it good idea of a defensive ends quickness off the ball by looking at their 10 yard split time. I really like to see a defensive ends 10 yard split time as close to 1.6 seconds as possible.

A quick first step allows a defensive end to put pressure on the offensive tackle and hopefully get them out of position. The quicker a player can get off the ball, the less likely an offensive tackle can get his hands on the defensive end and slow him down.


A player's athleticism will be what the first thing that catches your eye, but when studying the defensive end position you also have to pay attention to their technique.

Athleticism will not get you very far in the NFL, but improving a players technique cannot only improve their overall play, but help them gain a better understanding of what it takes to succeed.

There are quite a few things to look for when analyzing a defensive ends technique which include flexibility, hand use, strength, and the leverage that they play with.

If a defensive end can become technically sound and the combine that with his athleticism, he can probably have a very long career in the NFL.


I really like to see a flexible defensive end, because I believe that they are more successful at rushing the passer.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE Prospects 1

Photograph by Doug Buffington/ Icon Sportswire).

No, I'm not talking about a player that can do the splits. I'm talking about a player that can dip his hips and lower his shoulder while trying to get around the offensive tackle.

This gives a much smaller surface area for the offensive tackle to get his hands on him and also lessens the distance to the quarterback.

A defensive end that is flexible while rushing around the offensive tackle can then explode and uses athleticism to get to the quarterback, hopefully resulting in a QB sack.

Hand Use

Hand usage is one of those traits that is sometimes overlooked because a lot of people pay more attention to a players athletic ability or strength, but I think that is a mistake.

If a defensive end can keep an offensive tackles hands off him he has a much better chance of making a play either in the running game or getting around the tackle in the passing game.

I like to see a defensive end explode out of his stance and swat an offensive lineman's hands out of the way.This really puts an offensive tackle in a bad situation from the start and allows the DE to make plays.

Hand usage is also important in the running game, especially when an offensive lineman or running back tries to cut block the defensive end.

A defensive end needs to use his hands so that he can stay on his feet and make the play.


Although strength and leverage could be considered to different traits to look at when analyzing a defensive end, I like to link the two together because I kind of think you can't really have one without the other.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE Prospects 2A DE has to use leverage in the running game to hold their ground and a lot of times a defensive end can't maintain their leverage without using their strength.

A defensive end can be as strong as an ox, but if he doesn't use the proper leverage he is going to get washed down and run out of the play.

I like to compare it to changing a car on a vehicle. You could use a hand wrench to get the lug nuts off but it's much simpler if you use the lug nut tool provided because it's longer and provides more leverage.

Diagnose and React

The defensive end position is much more than stopping the run or pressing the quarterback, a player has to be able to quickly diagnose a play and react accordingly to what's happening.

A DE can't just fire off of the ball every snap and try to make play in the backfield, they have to be able to see what's going on in every play and handle their responsibilities.

Can they recognize a screen pass? Do they need to drop in coverage? Do they need to stay at home and look for a reverse or a cutback by a RB?

These are all things I try to look for when analyzing a defensive ends game film because if the player cannot diagnose a play then he's not going to find his way to the field very often.

These players that cannot diagnose and react are usually just regulated to being a third-down pass rusher or a two down run defender.


The defensive end position is one of my favorite positions to scout because there are so many different traits to analyze and identify.

You really need to know the type of defensive scheme that the player fits into best, but it goes beyond that because different defensive coordinators like different traits in their defensive ends.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, prefers quick twitch defensive ends that can get off the snap quickly and rush the passer.

One player that I really like and think would be a good fit in Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defense, is the former Clemson Tiger, Shaq Lawson.

Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

  • Jess Haynie

    Great breakdown, Brian.

    How do you feel about guys who have the height/weight of a 3-4 end but also the speed/quickness of some 4-3 players? Obvious pro examples are guys like Julis Peppers and Mario Williams. In this draft class I'm thinking of Carl Nassib, who's 6'7" but ran a 4.84 40-yard dash.

    • Brian Martin

      Honestly, I don't get too caught up in the height/weight of a player. As long as they can play their size doesn't matter much to me. You mentioned Julius Peppers and Mario Williams as some of the bigger defensive ends that have been successful, but then there are guys like Trent Cole that are on the smaller side of the spectrum who also been successful. As long as they can play both the run and pass effectively I think there is a roster spot for them somewhere.

Dallas Cowboys

Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

Brian Martin



Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

You may not be aware or maybe you've simply forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled drafting players in the 2nd-round who can come in and contribute. Typically players drafted this highly are not only immediate contributors as a rookie, but are cornerstone players for years to come. That hasn't been the case for the Cowboys.

I don't know where you stand, but I was beginning to think the Dallas Cowboys were cursed with their 2nd-round draft picks. I know this was an area where they would gamble on players for some reason or another, but unfortunately it never really paid off. Hopefully, things are changing for the better.

Let's take a look back at past drafts to see what I'm talking about.

Past 2nd-Round Draft Picks Dating Back to 2006:

2018 Connor Williams
2017 Chidobe Awuzie
2016 Jaylon Smith
2015 Randy Gregory
2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
2013 Gavin Escobar
2012 (no selection) used to trade for Morris Claiborne
2011 Bruce Carter
2010 Sean Lee
2009 (no selection) traded out of 2nd-round
2008 Martellus Bennett
2007 (no selection) used to trade back into 1st for Anthony Spencer
2006 Anthony Fasano

You may be wondering why I decided to start all the way back in 2006. Well, I believe that's when the 2nd-round draft picks curse started for the Dallas Cowboys.

Anthony Fasano ended up having a solid career in the NFL, but he never lived up to his draft status as a former 2nd-round draft pick. The same can be said for Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, and Bruce Carter. Shed a tear for them if you want, but I'd put them in the "bust" category.

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

The sad truth is, Sean Lee is the only 2nd-round draft pick on this list to ever see a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Although, I guess you can include DeMarcus Lawrence since he will be playing under the franchise tag in 2018. But, that's still not a very good hit percentage in the 2nd-round for more than a decade. Luckily, it looks as if things are changing.

DeMarcus Lawrence might end up being another "hit" for the Cowboys. It may have taken him four years to reach his potential, but there's no denying how dominant he was last season. If he can maintain that dominance this season, he could be looking at a big payday from the Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys took a risk on the next two players they drafted after D-Law. They knew Randy Gregory had his off the field issues, but were willing to take a chance on his talent in the 2nd-round. That has yet to pay off, but Gregory has a chance to rebound now that it looks as if he has his life back in order.

Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys took another risk in the following draft when they drafted Jaylon Smith. No one knew if he would ever be able to play again after the devastating knee injury he sustained in his final collegiate game, but it's looking as if he could make a full recovery and return to his pre-injury form. Year 3 will be big for him, but he could end up being an absolute steal.

Fortunately, the Cowboys 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks (Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams) look to be cornerstone players for years to come. That's what you're looking for in players drafted this highly.

I say all of this because it's really looking like the Dallas Cowboys have finally broken their 2nd-round curse. Maybe it's a change in draft philosophy or maybe it's because Will McClay's voice carries more weight in the draft room, but it's definitely good news for the future of the franchise. Hopefully it continues.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys 2nd-round curse has ended?

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?

Kevin Brady



2018 NFL Combine: 3 LBs Who Impressed
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.

But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.

Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.

Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.

First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.

On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 1: DUPLICATE***Colorado State Rams wide receiver Michael Gallup (4) picks up a few yards after catch as Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Isaiah Oliver (26) comes in for the tackle during the first quarter on September 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado at Sports Authority Field. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

What about the rest of the class?

Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.

After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.

How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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NFL Draft

Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Mauricio Rodriguez



Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.

Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.

But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.

Cowboys en Español: Dallas Selecciona a Vander Esch, ¿Quién Sigue?

Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.

Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.

Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.

One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.

In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.

Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?

Dallas Cowboys Add Depth on Day 3, Building Future with Young Starters 1

Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.

The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.

Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.

Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.

For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.

Tell me what you think about "Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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