Breaking Down the Skills of a Prototypical DE Recruit
They say that after you finally land a stud QB, your next move should be to find a franchise pass-rushing DE. In today's game, with teams throwing the ball so much, in order to have a chance to win, a team needs a dominant pass-rusher coming off of the edge.
That is why the defensive end position has seen its value increase over the years and even now. Landing a defensive end who can rush the passer with excellent skills while still being a difference-maker against the run helps a defense out so much.
The Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007 by having a package featuring basically four defensive ends, and I'm sure Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers and Mario Williams all have teammates who will tell you those players make them better.
The prototypical DE recruit's skills is what we'll discuss with the piece and we'll both show you video examples of each skill, as well as naming a recruit who shows this skill the best.
Snap Quickness and Explosiveness
If a DE prospect doesn't have this trait, then chances are he isn't going to be any good at the college level. You have to be able to explode upfield at the snap of the ball if you want to play the DE position.
Any defensive end that I see who doesn't have any snap quickness, I almost move on from or start projecting him at another position. That's how crucial I believe this skill/trait is.
When the ball is snapped, the DE prospect must show a burst, explosiveness and get off quickness with both his steps and his body to get upfield toward the QB.
On the first play of this clip, Chris Long shows a perfect example of what snap quickness is. Jadeveon Clowney and Noah Spence are two recruits who grade high in this department.
Hand Usage and Pass Rush Plan/Arsenal
The next skill the prototypical DE has is the ability to consistently and violently play with his hands. Most high school players are not great at this, and this is a skill that does take time to learn and hone.
But having hand quickness, length to stay clean and and ability to use your hands as weapons is crucial.
The above clip is a special clip on hand usage and pass rush moves that a DE must have at least three or four of.
If a DE is working a game without any plan on how he's setting up a blocker, I see not much variety of in his moves, and if I notice that he really just relies of being bigger and stronger than people, I will grade him down.
Robert Nkemdiche, Andrew Brown and Carl Lawson are some recruits who use their hands pretty well.
Point of Attack Strength and Edge-Setting Ability
Not only should a DE be just a pass-rusher, he also must be able to do what we call "set the edge."
Once the ball is snapped, the DE must be able to quickly read the play, and if it's a running play, he must be able to stack up a block at the point of attack using upper-body strength and be able use lower-body strength to drop weight/hips and stick his feet in the dirt and anchor.
This creates a stalemate with the blocker on the edge, therefore the blocker generates no push. Once the edge is set, the DE must have the strength and hand-use ability to shed the blocker and make the play.
From 1:17-1:34, Nkemdiche puts on an edge setting clinic in this clip.
Passing Lane Disruption
I know not every play is going to result in a sack, even with the prototypical DE. So on those plays where the stud DE can't get to the passer or maybe he's running a stunt or twist to the inside, he still needs to be productive.
I want a DE who's going to disrupt passing lanes whenever he can. By this I mean the ability to recognize he isn't going to get the passer, but he's going get his hands up and tip passes and make it hard for the QB to get the ball downfield.
Right now, there's no better passing lane disruptor at the DE position than J.J. Watt. Here's a great example of that skill with this skill.
Range and Speed
What I mean by the term "range" at the DE position is how much ground can the DE cover. The more range a DE has, the more plays he has a chance of making.
If a guy has limited range, then he obviously is going to be limited in how many and also the types of plays he'll be capable of making.
Raw speed and short area quickness are vital for a DE. These traits and skills are important because the DE will be asked to chase running backs down from the backside and also be asked to make tackles on sweeps and perimeter offensive plays on his side.
Noah Spence has exceptional speed and range at the DE position, evidenced by watching this clip.
Burst to Finish on the Passer
This is a skill that I learned a DE needed to have when I worked for the Giants. The ability to have a burst of explosive foot speed to finish plays is something that I now look for when I evaluate all DE prospects.
This almost is a skill that a DE has or he doesn't. Sure, it goes into the athleticism category over the pure skill category, but it's vital for a DE to have.
Many of the top DE recruits have flashed it the past few years. If you still don't get what I'm talking about, take a look at this burst and explosion to finish the play Peppers shows in this clip.
Ability to Buzz into Underneath Coverage
Granted, I want my stud DE prospect going forward and toward the passer at all times. However, sometimes he'll be asked to drop into coverage so the defensive can run its full playbook.
I want a DE who's athletic enough to do this and be effective at it.
He doesn't have to have cover skills of a safety, but the ability to put his hand down and then at the snap turn and buzz into underneath zone coverage with his head on swivel looking for pass catchers and the ball is something I look for in a DE prospect—at least the potential to do it.
This isn't the best example, but it's good enough. Watch how Von Miller drops back into underneath coverage.
Versatility and Sub-Package Value
I also look for if the DE is going to fill two roster spots. What I mean is, if he can play some DT on passing situations and in sub-packages.
If he can, then he's basically two players in one, and that means I can use my other scholarship or roster spot for another position instead of having to bring in another DT.
In order for the DE to be able to do this, he must show solid strength, power and toughness to go up against guards while still being quick and explosive.
I also want to see if the DE can rush from a two-point stance, which will allow me to run various fronts. Nkemdiche can obviously play some sub-package DT based on watching this clip.
Instincts, Play Smarts and Quick Scheme Read Ability
Finally, I want a smart and heady DE, just like I do at all positions. Instincts are crucial in my evaluation and the skill to be able to quickly process information and read blocks is something a DE needs.
He must quickly be able to tell if an OL is short setting him or just run blocking him. If the DE can't quickly read a short set, then he is not going to know he has to get to the QB because it's a passing play.
If he can't quickly tell, he's being double-teamed, crack blocked, sealed or chopped, and then he's not going to make many plays.
Look at this clip; it's a perfect example of a DE being instinctive and quickly reading the blocking scheme. Peppers quickly recognizes he's being chopped, which means it's a quick throw. His ability to quickly read the blocking scheme and be an instinctive player leads to him making a rare play.
Edwin Weathersby is the College Football Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. He has worked in scouting/player personnel departments for three professional football teams, including the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena League. He spent a year evaluating prep prospects and writing specific recruiting and scouting content articles for Student Sports Football (formerly ESPN Rise-HS). A syndicated scout and writer, he's also contributed to WeAreSC.com, GatorBait.net and Diamonds in the Rough Inc., a College Football and NFL Draft magazine.