Is this guy a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle?
If he’s playing the 3-technique, it doesn’t matter because there is a 3-technique role in most 3-4 and most 4-3 defenses. NFL media need to stop focusing so much on scheme designations when classifying draft prospects and start looking at the technique and scheme fit for each individual team.
Modern NFL schemes run multiple fronts and make the designations of 3-4 and 4-3 obsolete when talking about players. With more guys like the Ryan brothers, Mike Nolan and Ray Horton controlling defenses, it doesn’t matter how these guys are listed if they are controlling 1-gap most of the time.
So many guys can fit into either scheme that we have to change how we classify prospects as they declare for the NFL draft. Let’s start by classifying them based on their roles in the scheme as opposed to their named position on whatever roster they were on in college.
In breaking down what the names of these spots should be, nose tackle, penetrating defensive lineman, edge player and off-ball linebacker stood out as the best monikers. They allow us the ability to call players what they really are and focus more on techniques than scheme fits.
What They Should Be
Nose Tackle (NT)
These are, by far, the biggest players on the line as they play defensive tackle in either 3-4 or 4-3. This will also be the category with the fewest amounts of players every year due to what Bill Parcells used to call the Planet Theory. The theory of there only being so many men who will weigh over 320 pounds on the planet.
These gentlemen will be faced with the tasks of playing 0-technique (heads up with the center), 1 technique (in the A-gap between the center and guard) and 2-technique (heads up with the guard). They will have to understand how to use their girth to take on double teams to open up players around them.
The designation allows us the ability to separate these massive players from the smaller, quicker defensive tackles and ends. The top nose tackles in the 2014 NFL draft are Louis Nix III from Notre Dame, Ryan Carrethers from Arkansas State and DaQuan Jones from Penn State.
Defensive Lineman (DL)
While this designation may seem like a bit of a grab bag, it’s designed to sort out the guys who fit best as 4-3 defensive tackle, 3-4 defensive end or defensive ends who play the 5-technique in over/under style 4-3 defenses like Seattle and Jacksonville.
Ideally, these guys can penetrate through a B-gap as a 3-technique, hold up against a tackle as a 4-or-5-technique and draw double teams in either spot. These are the bread and butter of modern defenses as they should be able to either generate pass rush themselves or help edge players generate it.
The top penetrating defensive linemen in the 2014 NFL draft are Aaron Donald from Pittsburgh, Ra’Shede Hageman from Minnesota and Timmy Jernigan from Florida State. These guys are all versatile enough to play techniques anywhere from 3-to-5 and can pass rush very well.
Edge Player (EP)
This is where the whole concept of renaming how we refer to front seven players even came about. People love to claim whether a guy can fit the 3-4 or the 4-3 as a defensive end or outside linebacker. The truth of the matter is, most teams will use these guys at both spots.
The advanced usage of multiple fronts by all 32 teams in the league shows that players need to be more versatile when they get to the NFL, or they have limited value. The majority of these players have to understand how to play the 6-, 7-, and 9- techniques with their hands in the dirt as a defensive end.
So while these guys might play as a defensive end on a four-man front, they can slide out to outside linebacker in a three-man front. Top edge players tend to specialize as pass-rushers because finding a run stuffing one is a dime per dozen.
The top edge players in the 2014 NFL draft are Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina, Khalil Mack from Buffalo and Anthony Barr from UCLA. All three of them project well in either scheme due to a high level of athleticism and football intelligence.
Off-Ball Linebacker (LB)
The way that these new designations would work is that anyone who plays off of the ball, regardless of scheme, would be lumped into this category. In older terminology, these are primarily 4-3 outside linebackers, 4-3 middle linebackers and 3-4 inside linebackers.
In essence, whether it’s inside or outside, these guys will play a couple of yards off of the line of scrimmage. In today’s hybrid style defenses, those that do play outside in the 4-3 will more than likely have responsibilities on the inside of the 3-4.
Some will even wear the green dot once they get to the NFL to signify they are the play-caller in the huddle, regardless of where they play scheme-wise. The best off-ball linebackers in the 2014 draft are C.J. Mosley from Alabama, Ryan Shazier from Ohio State and Chris Borland from Wisconsin.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.