[Note by Ed Valentine, 03/20/13 11:26 PM EDT: I promised to try and front-page more 'FanPosts' I found deserving of attention. Here is a good one.]
I haven't been able to write as much as I've wanted to this season, but I definitely wanted to do at least one of these film study posts this draft season. These are some of my favorite articles to write because it really does let you connect what you see on tape and allows you to break it down in a technical aspect and put a qualitative evaluation into it.
I've already done three of these film studies, which show what I look for when checking out a position and then use a player from that draft and apply what we've talked about. Here they are if you'd like to re-visit them:
Today, we are going to look at 4-3 defensive tackles. As always, we'll start by what I look for when scouting DTs.
The first thing I look for is probably the most fundamental aspect of scouting the 4-3 defensive tackle. It's simply where he lines up. I'm sure you are all familiar with the different types of techniques on the defensive front, but in any case, can't hurt to do a quick primer.
This picture essentially did the work for me. In our traditional scheme, we usually have a 1-technique DT and a 3-technique DT with two 7-technique DEs (though teams, us included, move players to 5 and 9 techs as well quite frequently)
A 1 technique DT is on the inside shoulder of the guard and is usually the bigger of the two defensive tackles. A prototype 1-technique is Phil Taylor of the Cleveland Browns. He is 6'3 and 335 lbs. They are the main run stopping force and act as a plug. Their job is to anchor down, taking on the A gap (between guard and center) and possibly also a B-gap (between guard and tackle). They are the "disruptor," creating havoc at the LOS, not getting pushed back and taking on double teams. They facilitate the rest of the defensive line and just smack around everybody else.
A 3 technique DT is on the outside shoulder of the guard and is usually the smaller of the two defensive tackles. A prototype 3-technique is Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals. He is 6'1 and 300 lbs. They are the main pass rushing force and act as a knife. Their job is to push up-field, taking on almost exclusively the B gap. They are the "penetrator," destroying the integrity of the point of attack and getting into the backfield to generate tremendous pressure and tackling RBs for losses. They are the main interior pass rushers and are responsible for disrupting and re-directing the flow of the offense.
Now that we've got that cleared up, the next thing you want to check out is their stance. If you are a disruptive type that's going to anchor down, you want to look at their legs. They should be in a wider stance and dug in with a slight bend. Not too much bend because they aren't going forward too much, and if they are sprung back too much, they could get knocked off balance. If you are a penetrative type that's going to explode forwards, you want to act almost like a DE. Get yourself compact and add bend so you're like a spring loaded with potential energy. Regardless if you are in a 3 point (one hand on the ground) or 4 point (both hands on the ground) stance, have some bend in them to, so you can swing back quickly and get your punch out fast.
Finally, what I look for is frame. Are you a wide bodied defensive lineman? Are you skinny? Do you have length, or are you short and squat? All refer to winning the leverage battle.
That's basically it for pre-snap! Relatively simple, just look at technique, stance and frame.
FIRST STEP TO INITIAL CONTACT
Given that NFL teams want passrushers 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in terms of their priorities when looking at defensive linemen, nothing...and I mean nothing, is as important as the first step. It will dictate the outcome of the play probably 90% of the time. Granted its not as important for 1 techs as it is for 3 techs, but its still really high on the list when scouting.
What it essentially means is the timing and explosion off the snap to get to a certain spot and beat the offensive lineman to that very spot. This allows you to dictate the move you'll put on next and force the OL to guess, giving you a huge advantage. Sometimes, if you are good enough with your first step, you can beat the OL outright and have a free path to the QB or runner through the gap. This is a 3 technique's dream and why its so important to be explosive. This also means you have to be consistent in winning this first step off the ball as well. Cannot stress, again, how important this is.
Now, after you make your first moves forward, I look at the initial contact, whether that be the offensive lineman's hands or (if you are fast enough to beat his punch) his body. And what I look for is blow-back. That speaks to a few things, mostly power, base, and leverage. If you are someone who's looking to anchor, you want a wide base and a very strong upper body to absorb the blow and have minimal knockback. If you are someone who's looking to shoot a gap, you want to have a low center of gravity, so you want to be angled forward when you get hit. If you are too upright - often times referred to as a " high pad level", you can get knocked back and it will delay you in reaching your target.
LEVERAGE & TECHNIQUE
Once the initial contact has been made, it's primarily read/react and then a leverage battle. The player needs to keep his head up, and diagnose the play. They need to attack or close off running lanes, attack the QB if its a passing play, and sniff out screens by reading the offensive linemen and how they run their blocking formations. They need to have the presence of mind to get into throwing lanes if they weren't going to hit home in time in order to try and get a pass defensed.
If they are going forward, they need to maintain leverage. That's done with good positioning. They still are leaning forwards to get past the LOS as fast as possible when shooting a gap. If you are engaged with an offensive linemen, violent, active hands is a must. What do I mean by "violent hands"? Use your arms to twist, shove, slap, and punch to disengage as quickly as possible. Hand-fight like a sissy if you have to, just do whatever you can so that the OL can't lock on to you, cause if he does, more often than not, the play is over and you've failed.
I also need to see good hips. Like Shakira said, hips don't lie. You need to be able to fluidly roll your hips into the offensive lineman, and the ability to flex and bend your torso helps tremendously in gaining leverage. If you are shooting gaps, you need to make yourself small enough to squeeze through the gap. If your anchoring down, you need that hip and waist flexibility to twist and turn. Use the torque to your advantage to fight off double teams and keep your gap responsibility plugged up.
SHEDDING & TACKLING
These are both simple concepts, but imperative nonetheless. As we've said before, if a lineman is engaged with you, I'm checking to see how long it takes for you to get past them. Even if you're double-teamed you need to be actively working to shed those blockers and close in on your target. As a defensive tackle, you are one of the biggest players on the field, and need to have the mentality of a speeding train. Head towards your target, stay on track, and don't let anything derail you. All the concepts we talked about apply. Low pad level, active hands and power.
This has an actual basis in physics. You want to exert as much power as possible.
Power is essentially a derivative of mechanical work over time. Work is the force produced over a distance. You have a distance, you need to exert force in as little time as possible. Force is defined as mass x acceleration. You're one of the fatties. You've got the mass, now get that first step explosion as your acceleration. Exert that force at the proper angle and ta da! Perfect play.
Okay, so maybe I shouldn't be a physics teacher but hopefully you get the idea.
Also want to see tackling technique. They need to wrap up with both arms. Drive down the ball carrier and don't overextend. That's essentially it. Usually, most defensive tackles don't have an issue with this, its mostly those arrogant safeties and linebackers that are aiming for the big play that we worry about.
The last, but absolutely not the least, aspect I look at is the motor. They need to be relentless. The DT position is not a glamorous one, but it is one of the most important. They set everything up for both the DEs and the LBs. They need to keep working. If a RB or WR gets behind you, I still want to see you chase them down. It shows good stamina, and often times turnovers are created from pure hustle plays. It shows well on tape, and it'll get you in the coaches good graces. I consider this to be one of the top aspects of a DT to look for.
That's basically it! Now lets use this information to look at a player who may or may not be available when the Giants are picking at 19th overall. Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson:
Pro Day Measurables: 6'3 296 lbs, 4.88 40 yard dash, 30 bench press reps, 32" vertical
Sheldon Richardson vs South Carolina (2012) (via Aaron Aloysius)
NOTE: Sometimes the black box highlighting the player is difficult to see. Sheldon Richardson's jersey number is "34," so be on the look out for that. You might need to rewind a few times to make sure you're watching the correct player.
0:00-0:11 - 3 tech. Good burst off the line, engages guard and reads the run play quickly enough but is a hair too late in disengaging and allows the RB (Marcus Lattimore) to get the edge. Have to love him in pursuit though, was the fastest Mizzou player there and eventually assisted on the tackle.
0:12-0:20 - Tries an inside stunt but gets stone-walled in the A-gap. Diagnoses run quickly and is able to disengage cleanly and make a nice play on the ball carrier as he runs by. Stays low and fights well with hands.
0:21 - 0:50 - Great jump off the snap but wasn't quick enough. Engaged by guard one on one. Initially stopped, but stays low and hand fights. Puts a rip move to get by the guard and gets a pressure and QB hit on the play, Mixed play because he got the pressure, but needs to be quicker in beating the guard.
0:51 - 1:00 - Excellent play by Richardson here. Bull rush on the guard and destroys him. Shoves him all the way into the backfield where he bumps into Lattimore who is forced to redirect and gets minimal gain. This is a great way for 3 techniques to play the run despite not anchoring.
1:01 - 1:11 - Another excellent play. Insane explosion off the snap where he beats the guard and center before they can react. Instant pressure flushing the QB outside where he follows him and cleans up for the sack.
1:12 - 1:37 - Yet another great play. He gets a great first step and makes a subtle move inside. At that point, Lattimore goes the other way and Richardson is able to release cleanly. Shows incredible motor and catch up speed. Tackles him for minimal gain and is able to punch the ball out for a FF.
1:38 - 1:46 - Tries to attack the A-gap again and almost succeeds with another good get off after the snap. The runner (in this case, the QB) ran on the opposite end. Good motor play by Richardson to chase him even though he couldn't catch him and didn't make the play.
1:47 - 2:12 - Wow. Again, incredible first step. The center can't even get there in time as he shoots the gap and notches a terrific pressure and QB hit. Unfortunately for Mizzou, the QB was able to hit his hot read and get a big gain. Credit the QB for getting the ball out in 1 second with pressure right in his face from the snap.
2:13 - 2:24 - The first real bad play I've seen thus far. Richardson fakes a move inside from the 1 tech position and tries to stunt out into the B-gap but he can't manuever past the bodies. The ball goes into the slot WR, and he shows a lack of effort getting to the ball carrier as he comes into the middle near him. First time I saw a cold motor.
2:25 - 2:33 - Starts out as a 1 technique again and once again, shows tremendous burst. Gets through the gap without getting touched. He can't make the TFL against Lattimore, but provides a net "plus" play by redirecting and screwing up the blocking scheme to allow his teammates to clean up for marginal gain.
2:34 - 2:44 - Tries to do an outside move but is engaged by the offensive lineman. Is not able to get a pressure and his pad level was a bit high, negating any penetration. He finds the WR and shows excellent hustle in tracking him down and tried to karate chop the ball out.
2:45 - 2:58 - Plays 3 technique. Goal line situation and obvious run play. He doesn't get a good jump and is blown off the LOS. Runner does not go in his direction however.
2:59 - 3:06 - Gets a decent burst off the ball. Tries to anchor again, and again is unable to do it. His feet get tangled up and loses leverage to the offensive lineman, who essentially wrestles him down for no impact.
3:07 - 3:16 - Nice first step, and tries to use torque to brush off initial contact. Is able to make a release and has a chance at diving at the RB. Is able to tackle him, but was not able to reach him in time for the TD.
3:17 - 3:24 - I'm not sure what to make of this play. He's set up as a 0 technique - a true nose tackle. Certainly not his strong suit as he is shoved off the LOS almost immediately. However, he uses excellent short area agility to put a spin move and still move forward, churning his legs and making a play at the LOS as the running lanes collapsed. Part good and bad, I suppose.
3:25 - 3:35 - Okay, THIS is something out of Perry Fewell's playbook. He's got Sheldon Richardson, a 300 lb DT, playing as the MIKE LB. Nothing much to report except that Richardson oddly enough looks pretty decent in space.
3:36 - 3:46 - Another weird play where he acted as a LEO, running around. He started with a big loop to pass rush, read the play and realized he wouldn't get there in time, so he made a fantastic hustle play going across the field to tackle the WR. Great individual effort there.
3:47 - 3:56 - Richardson is playing LB again. He comes up in coverage to man the shallow zone. He faces a brigade of two blockers with the runner behind them. The runner gets just by, and Richardson changes direction and gets shoved because he's off balance but makes the play anyway. Weird.
3:57 - 4:07 - It's quite obvious that Richardson should not be a pass rushing LB. He tries it again, going up the middle out of a two point stance, but predictably, he gets stood up. Still, another fantastic hustle play as he is the one to make the play at the end by looping around the entire field 10-15 yards past the LOS.
4:08 - 4:23 - Finally is back in position as a 3 technique. OL tries to put a cut block on him, but he is not held up. Is able to run across the entire formation and shows off his superior range by making the play. He looks like a linebacker at times with how fluidly he can switch his hips to accelerate in different directions.
4:24 - 4:35 - Opts to go for the bull rush but gets too high coming in. As soon as the QB releases the ball, however, he changes direction and comes in screaming like a raging bull. Makes a wild tackle attempt but misses.
4:36 - 4:45 - Tries to move laterally and collapse the pocket inside. He is initially double teamed but they are unable to move him off the LOS and he closes in on the ball carrier for an assisted tackle. He showed good power, churned his legs and was able to drive through the run blocking on that play.
4:46 - 4:56 - Poor play by Richardson here. He matches up one on one with the center and is beaten to the spot. Rare time his movement off the ball was slow. Struggled to disengage and then didn't put up much of a fight on this one.
4:57 - 5:08 - Playing as a 1 tech. He doesn't give up space against the opposing guard. Able to disengage nicely, and takes down the ball carrier that runs towards his side on the edge. Shows very good short area quickness here and good acceleration after change of direction, as well as shedding ability.
5:09 - 5:16 - Tries to shoot the gap and collapse the pocket, but he leaves a void in the gap where he was. Looked like it was designed to collapse one half to create a running lane and it worked. Richardson got tricked on this one, so it wasn't a great play in terms of him diagnosing what it was.
5:17 - 5:25 - Richardson is inside, and does not get moved off the LOS. Able to shed and close in on the ball carrier, similar to the play @ 4:57.
5:26 - 5:33 - Tries collapsing the pocket inside again, but is overwhelmed by the double team. Moved off of the LOS from the start.
5:34 - 5:44 - Playing as an OLB and uses a bullrush. Effective in pushing the OG all the way to the backfield but opens up a lane for the QB to run. Sort of an "Osi" play to me.
5:45 - 5:54 - Tries to stack and shed, and again faces a double team. He tries to anchor down and plug up the A - gap, but is pushed around a little bit. Ends up making the tackle, but past the LOS.
5:55 - 6:04 - Initially a very good play. He was blocked after having a decent get off, but is able to quickly release and close in on the running back. The RB (who I again, stress is Marcus Lattimore pre-injury) is able to curve around him. I don't blame him too much, nobody was there to help him clean up.
6:05 - 6:14 - Playing as a nose tackle again. Gets a great first step and gets instant penetration. The running back turns the opposite way, but he again makes his way across to tackle him at the LOS. Very nice play.
6:15 - 6:26 - The final play is another weird one. He lines up in a 2 point stance and fakes as a rusher but then drops back in coverage. He tries to make the tackle on the running QB, but you can't really expect too much out of a DT to make plays in space.
Sheldon Richardson is my top target in this year's draft. Right up there with Luke Joeckel and Ezekiel Ansah in terms of both impact and upside. Ideally, 1st rounders should be game-changers. Sheldon Richardson is a game-changer.
He shows consistently great burst off the line. He attacks the gap like a man possessed and makes great use of violent hands to disengage opponents pretty easily in most cases. His motor runs white hot about 80% of the time. I charted 2 to 3 plays that he took off in this game. But when his motor is on, he is all over the field. You can see it yourself, he is the one making tackles 20 yards down the field on WRs. Most of the time, he plays with good leverage and gets his pad level down, but there are a few times where he'll get stood up.
He played a whole host of positions, including 3 technique, 1 technique, 0 technique, rush linebacker, and coverage linebacker. I think we can safely rule out rush linebacker and coverage linebacker. He played inconsistently as a 1 technique trying to anchor. Half the time he was blown off the ball, and half the time he was able to successfully stand his ground and make a play on the ball carrier.
So given that fact, I think his natural position is as a 3 technique one gap penetrator. I think he's a pro-bowl caliber player in that regard. His first step is unnatural, and he can make himself skinny if he needs to. He probably shouldn't play 1 technique in the pros, but he was surprisingly better at it than what I had given him credit for. He'll get blown off the ball, but his motor and elite change of direction acceleration will allow him to make a play on the ball carrier regardless. I think based on how fluidly he can move, he would be a very good 5 technique as well.
All in all, I think his motor, speed, and explosion make him a player the Giants will target. He's a freak (check), at a position of need (I know we just grabbed Cullen Jenkins to be a 1 gapping DT, but he's not a permanent solution and we lack quality depth anyway), and at a high positional value (pass rusher). I'm firmly of the belief that we need to get back to an attacking, swarming style of defense, and getting an internal presence like Sheldon Richardson would make him an absolute perfect fit for that.
He would be my top choice if he were to fall to the New York Giants, but I give him a top ten grade, and so the chances of him falling are unlikely.