When analyzing any position, the most important tool at your disposal is game film. I think game film makes up about 90% of a scouting report for an individual player. The other 10% is split between a player's background check and their pre-draft workouts. Add all three of these together and that is what I use to finalize the scouting report.
When scouting players, it is important to keep in mind that in the NFL different teams choose to use different types of defenses. Many teams have chose to use the 3-4 defense, but the Dallas Cowboys use the 4-3 defense and that is what I will mainly focus on for this article.
The defensive scheme fit might just be the most important thing to pay attention to when scouting a defensive tackle prospect. You don't want to miss identify a prospect that is a better fit in a 3-4 defense and then draft him to play in a 4-3 defense, or vice versa.
3-4 defensive tackles are usually bigger and are mainly used to keep offensive lineman from getting to the second level and blocking linebackers. They are usually one or two gap players that are asked to stop the run by clogging the running lanes.
4-3 defensive tackles are usually smaller and quicker than 3-4 DTs. They are usually dual threat players that can play effectively against the run and also be disruptive in the passing game.
I personally like to keep a chart when analyzing defensive tackles to keep track of exactly where they lineup and then determine what defensive scheme they fit best in.
A player's athleticism is probably the first thing that will catch your eye and it's usually the first thing that jumps off the tape.
I like athletic defensive tackles, especially when analyzing players to play in the 4-3 scheme. You can't really coach athleticism, you either have it or you don't.
A DT can improve his technique, his strength, and his knowledge of playing the position, but you can't learn athleticism no matter how hard you try.
Unfortunately, being an athletic player doesn't mean that it will result in success. It takes a lot more than athleticism to succeed in the NFL.
A defensive tackles technique a lot of times is really difficult to analyze at the collegiate level.
In college, defensive tackles usually rely more on their athletic ability than they do on the technical side of the position, but in the NFL they will have to use both to have any longevity in the league.
There have been really athletic defensive tackles to enter the league, but their careers were cut short because they were never able to grasp the technical aspects of the position.
Technique can be coached up at the NFL level, so what I try to look for when analyzing a prospect is if they have any bad habits that might be hard to break. Also, I want to see where their pad level is at when playing.
Are they playing too high and getting blocked easily?
Sometimes bad habits are really hard to break, which could mean a short unsuccessful career in the NFL.
Quickness is a trait I really look for when analyzing defensive tackles, especially when it comes to scouting players to fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme.
This trait is especially important to a coach like Rod Marinelli, who likes to provide pressure with just four down lineman. He likes his defensive tackles to be quick and athletic so that they can get up the field and put pressure on the quarterback, while also holding up at the point of attack in the rushing game.
The 3-technique is the defensive tackle position that relies more on quickness than the 1-tech does. The 1-tech or nose guard is mainly responsible for clogging up the middle of the defense and fighting off double teams, so that the 3-tech can take advantage of single coverage and apply pressure to the QB.
I really like to see a defensive tackle that can fire out of their stance when the ball is snapped and use their quickness to disrupt the opposing offense.
The quicker the defensive tackle is, the less likely that the offensive lineman can get their hands on them and that makes it a lot more difficult to block the DT.
Again, I have linked both strength and leverage together because I think they go hand in hand when scouting a defensive tackle, just like they did when I analyzed the defensive end position.
Strength comes in handy when a DT wants to bull rush or in a goal line stand, but without leverage it will often come to nothing. That is why I think the two traits work together when analyzing a defensive tackle.
A DT uses his strength to keep offensive lineman from getting into their body and he uses leverage to maintain his position and keep from getting driven back.
Leverage comes into play mostly on running downs when a defensive tackle needs to keep his pad level low and keep offensive lineman from reaching the second level the defense. This allows the linebackers the opportunity to make plays without having to fend off offensive lineman.
Leverage and strength really comes into play in short yardage or goal line situations where defensive tackles have to hold up at the point of attack and stop the offense from converting.
Both leverage and strength can be coached up at the NFL level, but analyzing where a defensive tackle is at already in these areas can go a long way in determining how ready that player is to contribute.
Hand usage at the defensive tackle position might be more important to this position than any other position in the NFL.
Defensive tackles are in the trenches were all the dirty work is taking place and they have to be able to use her hands properly to stack and shed blocks to free themselves from offensive lineman in order to make plays in the running and passing game.
This trait is especially useful for 4-3 defensive tackles, because they are asked more to get off blocks and make plays in the backfield. This is especially true in Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defense. Marinelli prefers penetrating defensive tackles.
Hand usage is a key factor when a defensive tackle is trying to remain unblocked. If a DT is not very effective at using his hands, more times than not he is nothing more than a space eater that is clogging up the middle of the defense.
Diagnose and React
The DT position doesn't receive a lot of the hype that other defensive positions do, but that doesn't make it any less important to the overall success to a team's defense.
A DT has to be good at diagnosing a play in a split second and then properly react to what's going on. This can happen in just a blink of an eye and the better defensive tackles in the NFL are really good at diagnosing and reacting.
A DT has to know whether it's a run play or pass play, and then act accordingly.
I like to see a defensive tackle get in the hip pocket of a pulling offensive lineman and work their way down the line chasing after the ball carrier.
Is the offense throwing a screen pass? Are they running a draw play? Is it a running or passing play?
These are all questions that need to be answered when scouting the defensive tackle position and the players that can diagnose and react as quickly as possible to these questions can be successful in the NFL.
It's my personal opinion that the defensive tackle position is one of the more difficult to scout and finding really good DTs is sometimes a difficult and frustrating task to take on.
There are just so many different variables and traits that you should look for when analyzing the position and you have to be meticulous in studying game film and when determining what type of defensive scheme fits the best in the NFL.
One player that I think fits into defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defensive scheme is Hassan Ridgeway, out of the University of Texas. Ridgeway can play at both the 1-technique and the 3-tech, and is a type of athletic DT that Marinelli likes in his system.