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2022 NFL Combine - How to watch the DL and linebackers

Your open thread for the third night of workouts

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The defense takes the field with the third day of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine workouts.

Today we’ll see the defensive line and linebackers take the field. Those two position groups feature some of the best talents in the whole draft and this promises to be a thoroughly talented group.

One thing to note today is that what we refer to as “EDGE” defenders isn’t a recognized position group for the Combine. Some of the players we classify as “EDGE” players will be working out with the defensive linemen (as defensive ends), while others will be working out as outside linebackers.

While we can assume that the New York Giants might put more emphasis on coverage players, conventional wisdom assumes they could still use an “alpha” pass rusher. The Giants could also stand to find a new nose tackle to anchor the middle of their defense, and might even need a linebacker once the opening waves of free agency pass.

Let’s talk about how to watch today’s workouts

Combine coverage

TV: NFL Network
Streaming: NFL.com, NFL mobile app, Sling, Hulu + Live TV, fuboTV, YouTube TV
Time: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m

This year’s draft class has an impressive front seven class. Obviously Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and David Ojabo stand out, but this is a thoroughly talented group. there are great linebackers, really good interior defensive linemen, and a deep class of linebackers.

Measurable events

While athletic testing isn’t particularly important to an offensive lineman’s evaluation, it can be very important for a defensive lineman and linebackers. The fact of the matter is that pass rushing is what matters most, and the best pass rushers are great athletes.

Not all of the numbers matter, but four of them combine to give us a good idea of just how explosive a prospect is.

  • 10-yard split
  • 3-cone drill
  • Short shuttle
  • Broad jump
  • Vertical leap

The name of the game here is fluidity and lower-body explosiveness. The bench press is important for when defensive linemen need to have the upper-body strength to control and shed blockers. Likewise, the ability to run (ie: the 40-yard dash) is important for off-ball linebackers, but it all starts from the ground up.

I look to see which prospects are best able to move their feet and have the lower-body fluidity to corner quickly and explode in a short area. Likewise, the players who put up good numbers in the jumps and the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash tend to have the best upside when it comes to an explosive first step rushing the passer.

Position specific drills

As with all the other positions, this is the good stuff. You can find out much more about a prospect from their positional drills than you can from their performance in the measurable events.

Pass rush drill

The prospect lines up in front of a line of blocking dummies in a three-point stance. He fires out of his stance at the coach’s direction and has to bend a 90-degree turn to get to the “quarterback”. This is an opportunity to see which prospects have good explosiveness, the lower-body flexibilty to bend the edge, and how well they use their hands to defeat blocks and aid in turning the corner.

4-bag drill

This drill has four bags on the ground with four assistants holding blocking bags. The defensive lineman starts out between the ground, and needs to step over the bags while alternating between tapping the bags on the ground (simulating defeating cut blocks) while striking the bags held by the assistants (simulating striking offensive linemen).

The Hoops

If you want to see which defenders are able to truly bend the edge and get low going around the corner, this is the drill to watch.

The description from NFL.com, “Two pass-rush hoops are laid on the ground two yards apart, forming a figure eight. Two towels are inside the hoops, one in each. The player lines up at a start cone (to right of hoops) in a three-point stance, fires off at movement of a ball on a stick (simulating snap), runs around the first hoop, picks up the towel with his left hand, crosses to the second hoop and drops the towel, continues around the second hoop, picks up the towel with the right hand and crosses back to the first hoop and drops the towel before finishing through the start cone.”

This drill shows off which prospects have great balance and lower-body fluidity to carry speed through their runs. Players need really good hip and ankle flexibility to keep their feet flat on the ground while leaning their body to lower their center of gravity and turn a tight corner without falling.

Coverage drills

These are the drills that show off how well defenders are able to move in space. All linebackers need to perform these drills, although there’s going to be a marked difference between the “EDGE” defenders who were lumped in with the off-ball linebackers. There will also be some “EDGE” players who were labeled “defensive ends” who are asked to do the coverage drills as well.

While it’s nice for an EDGE defender to be able to drop into coverage fluidly, it’s essential for an off-ball linebacker to be able to do so. Modern offenses place a tremendous amount of stress on the second level defenders, and linebackers who can cover effectively are very useful to have.