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NFL Draft: What To Look For In DE Prospects

Today, we continue our series about what to look for when 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 position should be analyzed from two different perspectives, the players that fit into the 3-4 and those who fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme that the 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 .

Character background checks and pre-draft workouts should also go into finalizing the scouting 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 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 as 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 uses under .


A 4-3 defensive end relies on his athleticism to make plays in both the 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 , but they also have to use their athletic ability to put pressure on the opposing .

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 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 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 .

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 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 , is the former Clemson Tiger, .

Brian Martin
Brian Martin
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.

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