I'm here to inform you on some information you would like to know about the game of football. Being my charitable self, I do it for free, but I digress. I've been posed with the question concerning defensive end. Cscmember wants to know the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive end, and that is a very good question. A lot of people don't know the difference, which isn't surprising to me. Fans in this day and age are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the sport, going from casual fans to well educated sports fanatics, and my duty is to help that process. I'm going to do away with what guys like Todd McShay or Mel Kiper say, and let you in on the real stuff, so let's make the jump and begin.
Essentially a 3-technique DT from a 4-3 in some systems, and in other systems they are over-glorified NTs. Let me start by explaining the 3-4 defense. It is a scheme becoming more and more popular, as it's obvious the NFL is a copy-cat league. There are 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers, and from there, the defensive coordinator gets to work their own schematic madness. But to make it simple I'm going to break 3-4 systems into two simple categories: good linemen and good linebackers. While dividing the scheme into those two very vague categories may do an injustice to some teams, I think it makes it fairly easy on the reader to understand, so I will continue.
In the 3-4, the DE plays what is called a 5-technique position. This player lines up directly on top of the offensive tackle, which leaves him with a two-gap responsibility; stopping the run from the "B gap" between the tackle and guard, as well as the "C gap" which is the outside shoulder of the tackle or in some cases between the tackle and tight end. Their main duty is to try to funnel the quarterback into the pocket and shut down the opponent's run game.
Some 3-4 DE prospects in this class would be Cameron Heyward (Ohio St.), Cameron Jordan (Cal), and Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple). All of them possess exceptional size, speed, and power combinations and could also be selected by 4-3 teams to play 3-technique DT.
Teams with good linemen are few and far between. The Patriots are one of those teams with good linemen, as are the Ravens (but they kind of have both, so I'm going to focus on the Pats here). The Patriots have exceptional linemen, and have invested 3 first round picks on the that defensive front with Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and former Patriot Richard Seymour. By getting three high quality linemen that have the exceptional abilities and bodies, the Patriots have linemen that control not only two gaps in the running game, but can also bring pressure in rushing the passer. Linebackers in this type of 3-4 usually get to just drop back into coverage and make plays while the linemen do all the work.
Now on to schemes with good linebackers. I'm going to use the Pittsburgh Steelers in this case. This team has some serious linebackers. From Lamarr Woodley to James Harrison to Lawrence Timmons, this is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. The linemen, though, aren't quite as flashy. Look at Brett Keisel. He's no freak athlete who's going to get 15 sacks a season (he may be a freak though, have you seen that beard?), no way, but man can he play that 5-technique and stop the run. Linemen in this type of 3-4 often use pure power to control their ground, often completely committing to controlling the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can make a play in the backfield. These guys are humble as they sacrifice their own stats for the greater-good of the entire defense.
And that pretty much sums it up for 3-4 ends, now we can move on to what the Saints are looking at with 4-3 players.
4-3 Defensive End
I'm not going to lie, this is a pretty easy position to play on defense. But it's exceedingly difficult to find players that have the skill set to play the spot well. The 4-3 defensive end really has just one person to get past. If they play on the right side, and line up against the left tackle, then usually you want a fast guy that can blow by the elite linemen in the league. On the opposite side you can put your less talented guy who can do a little here and there, but the money is on that right side of the defense. Ends in this system have two responsibilities: one being to rush the passer, the other being able to seal the edge and chase down the runner as he tries to squirt around the outside.
So what kind of body type do you want in this type of player, you ask? You want a tall guy, freakishly athletic, with long arms and legs. Somewhere around 260-270 is ideal weight for this spot. They also have to be fast, the rest is coaching. In college, defensive ends often rely on their speed and athleticism to get them production, and they're usually drafted based on potential rather than focusing mainly on stats. As coaches in the pros begin to help these players develop pass rush moves and the ability to disengage an offensive lineman in order to pursue a ball carrier, they open up more potential for the 4-3 defense.
In the Saints case, they need a fast guy. Will Smith is better suited to play on the left side as he's a pretty thick guy, so the defense really needs an end that can blow by a left tackle. In my eyes, the three players who could be that guy are Aldon Smith(Mizzou), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), and J.J. Watt (Wisconsin). Of the three I would either take Smith or Watt. Smith is a freak athlete, no doubt, but some question his motor and durability, as well as his maturity. Watt on the other hand is a monster and undoubtedly my favorite player in the draft. 6'6", 280 lbs is a lot to deal with. He's got a relentless motor as well as a great nose for the football and getting to the quarterback. My favorite things about him though are his passion for the game and high football I.Q., and I believe if he's available at spot 24, then the Saints will have to grab him.
So with that, hopefully I have answered your questions on the difference of the two ends. If there's any question you may still have, just let me know, as I will gladly address it. Commence with comments!