The Art of Drafting Defensive Tackles: Plugging the Interior Gaps

The Art of Drafting Defensive Tackles: Plugging the Interior Gaps

Defensive tackles play a crucial role in any football team’s defense, as they are responsible for plugging the interior gaps and disrupting the opponent’s running game. This article delves into the art of drafting defensive tackles, exploring the qualities and skills that make a successful player in this position. From understanding the importance of size, strength, and agility to analyzing techniques such as gap control and run stuffing, we will provide valuable insights for coaches, scouts, and football enthusiasts looking to enhance their knowledge of the defensive tackle position.

The Importance of Defensive Tackles in Football

Defensive tackles play a crucial role in the game of football, particularly in stopping the run game, disrupting and collapsing the pocket, and impacting the overall defensive strategy. Let’s dive deeper into each of these aspects to understand the significance of defensive tackles.

The role of defensive tackles in stopping the run game

Defensive tackles are key players when it comes to stopping the run game. They are positioned at the center of the defensive line, making it difficult for the opposing team’s offensive line to create openings for running backs. With their exceptional strength and size, defensive tackles are able to hold their ground and create a solid barrier against rushing attempts. By plugging the interior gaps, defensive tackles force the running back to change direction or get tackled for minimal gain. Their ability to control the line of scrimmage is vital in preventing the opposition from gaining momentum and dominating the game.

How defensive tackles disrupt and collapse the pocket

In addition to their role in stopping the run, defensive tackles are adept at disrupting and collapsing the pocket. Their primary objective is to apply pressure on the quarterback and disrupt the passing game. By using their agility and power, defensive tackles can penetrate the offensive line, forcing the quarterback to make quick decisions or scramble away from the pocket. This disruption not only limits the passing options for the opposing team but also creates opportunities for other defensive players, such as linebackers or edge rushers, to make impactful plays. The ability of defensive tackles to collapse the pocket is a crucial element in a team’s overall defensive strategy.

The impact of defensive tackles on the overall defensive strategy

Defensive tackles have a significant impact on the overall defensive strategy of a team. Their presence alone can intimidate the opposition and force them to change their game plan. By effectively plugging the interior gaps, defensive tackles limit the opposing team’s rushing options, forcing them to rely more heavily on the passing game. This, in turn, allows the rest of the defensive unit to adapt their strategy and focus on defending against the passing attack. Furthermore, the disruptive abilities of defensive tackles in collapsing the pocket can lead to turnovers, sacks, and overall defensive dominance. Their contribution extends beyond individual plays and has a direct influence on the success of the entire defensive team.

In conclusion, defensive tackles are crucial elements of a football team’s defense. They play a vital role in stopping the run game, disrupting and collapsing the pocket, and influencing the overall defensive strategy. Their size, strength, and agility make them formidable opponents and essential assets to any successful defense.

Attributes and Skills of Elite Defensive Tackles

Size and Strength

One of the most important attributes of an elite defensive tackle is their size and strength. These players are typically big and powerful, capable of taking on multiple blockers and holding their ground in the interior gaps. A strong and well-built defensive tackle can disrupt the offensive line’s blocking schemes, making it difficult for the opposing team to establish a running game up the middle. Additionally, their size and strength allow them to generate significant power, enabling them to overpower offensive linemen and collapse the pocket, putting pressure on the quarterback.

Quickness and Agility

While size and strength are crucial, elite defensive tackles also possess impressive quickness and agility. These attributes enable them to explode off the line of scrimmage and quickly penetrate the gaps, disrupting plays in the backfield. Quickness allows them to beat offensive linemen off the snap, giving them an advantage in one-on-one matchups. Agility is equally important as it allows defensive tackles to change direction rapidly, making it difficult for offensive linemen to block them effectively. The combination of quickness and agility makes elite defensive tackles a constant threat to disrupt running plays and pressure the quarterback.

Techniques and Hand Usage

Apart from physical attributes, elite defensive tackles also excel in their techniques and hand usage. These players are skilled in a variety of techniques such as the swim move, bull rush, and spin move. The swim move involves using quick arm movements to swim past offensive linemen, while the bull rush relies on pure strength and power to drive through blockers. The spin move is an effective technique to evade blockers by swiftly rotating away from their grasp. Additionally, hand usage is crucial for defensive tackles as it allows them to shed blockers and make plays on the ball carrier. Skillful hand usage helps them control offensive linemen, disengage from blocks, and react quickly to the direction of the play.

In conclusion, elite defensive tackles possess a combination of size, strength, quickness, agility, and excellent techniques with hand usage. These attributes and skills allow them to be dominant forces in plugging the interior gaps, disrupting plays, pressuring quarterbacks, and stopping the run. Their presence on the field can greatly impact the success of a defense and make them invaluable assets to any football team.

Scouting and Evaluating Defensive Tackle Prospects

Physical measurements and body type

When it comes to scouting and evaluating defensive tackle prospects, physical measurements and body type play a crucial role. These factors can provide important insights into a player’s potential effectiveness on the field. Here are some key considerations:

  • Height and Weight: Defensive tackles come in various shapes and sizes, but typically they possess a combination of size and strength to hold their ground against offensive linemen. Evaluating a prospect’s height and weight can give an indication of their ability to anchor the interior line and disrupt plays.

  • Body Composition: While size is important, it’s equally essential for a defensive tackle to have the right body composition. A good balance of muscle mass, agility, and overall athleticism is crucial for executing effective pass rushes and stopping the run. Evaluating a prospect’s body type can help determine if they have the necessary physical attributes to excel at the position.

Game tape analysis

Analyzing game tape is an integral part of evaluating defensive tackle prospects. It provides an opportunity to assess a player’s performance in real-game scenarios and offers valuable insights into their skills, techniques, and decision-making abilities. Here are some aspects to consider during game tape analysis:

  • Gap Control: Defensive tackles are responsible for plugging interior gaps and disrupting the opposing team’s running game. Evaluating a prospect’s ability to control their assigned gap, maintain leverage, and shed blocks is crucial in determining their effectiveness in stopping the run.

  • Pass Rushing Techniques: While defending the run is a significant part of a defensive tackle’s responsibilities, their ability to generate pressure on the quarterback is also essential. Analyzing game tape allows scouts to assess a prospect’s pass rushing techniques, such as hand usage, swim moves, bull rushes, and overall explosiveness off the line.

  • Instincts and Football IQ: Defensive tackles must possess strong instincts and a high football IQ to read and react to offensive plays effectively. Evaluating a prospect’s ability to diagnose plays, recognize blocking schemes, and make quick, intelligent decisions can provide valuable insights into their potential as a defensive tackle.

Performance in specific drills and tests

In addition to game tape analysis, evaluating a defensive tackle prospect’s performance in specific drills and tests is another vital aspect of the scouting process. These drills and tests can help gauge a prospect’s athleticism, agility, and overall physical capabilities. Here are some key drills and tests to consider:

  • 40-Yard Dash: The 40-yard dash is a measure of a player’s straight-line speed and acceleration. While it may not be the most crucial factor for a defensive tackle, it can provide insights into their burst and explosiveness off the line.

  • Bench Press: The bench press assesses a player’s upper body strength and endurance. A strong defensive tackle should be able to generate power to shed blocks and overpower offensive linemen. Evaluating a prospect’s performance in the bench press can give an indication of their strength and ability to control the line of scrimmage.

  • Three-Cone Drill: The three-cone drill measures a player’s agility and change of direction ability. Defensive tackles often need to quickly change direction to pursue ball carriers or disengage from blocks. Assessing a prospect’s performance in this drill can help determine their lateral quickness and overall agility.

By considering physical measurements and body type, analyzing game tape, and assessing performance in specific drills and tests, scouts and evaluators can gain a comprehensive understanding of a defensive tackle prospect’s potential. This holistic approach allows teams to make informed decisions when drafting defensive tackles and plugging the interior gaps effectively.

Drafting Strategies for Defensive Tackles

Determining Team Needs and Scheme Fit

When it comes to drafting defensive tackles, one of the first steps is to evaluate the team’s specific needs and how the potential draft pick would fit into their defensive scheme. Each team has its own defensive philosophy and style of play, which may require specific skill sets from their tackles. For example, a team that primarily runs a 4-3 defense may prioritize defensive tackles who excel at penetrating the offensive line and disrupting plays in the backfield. On the other hand, a team that employs a 3-4 defense might value tackles who can anchor the line of scrimmage and occupy multiple blockers to free up linebackers.

Considering the Depth and Talent of the Draft Class

Another important aspect to consider when drafting defensive tackles is the depth and talent level in the draft class. Some years may have a deep pool of talented defensive tackles, while others may be relatively thin in terms of quality prospects. It is crucial for teams to assess the overall strength of the draft class and determine whether it is worth using an early draft pick on a defensive tackle or if they can find comparable talent in later rounds. Evaluating the depth and talent of the draft class allows teams to make informed decisions and maximize the value of their picks.

Balancing Immediate Impact versus Long-Term Potential

One of the key challenges in drafting defensive tackles is finding the right balance between immediate impact and long-term potential. Some prospects may be highly polished and ready to contribute right away, while others may possess raw athleticism and untapped potential but require more development. Teams must evaluate their current roster and assess whether they need an immediate starter or if they can afford to invest in a player with higher long-term upside. Balancing immediate impact and long-term potential ensures that teams make the most prudent decision for their specific situation.

By following these drafting strategies, teams can increase their chances of selecting the right defensive tackle to address their needs and enhance their defensive capabilities. Whether it is considering scheme fit, evaluating the depth and talent of the draft class, or finding the right balance between immediate impact and long-term potential, a well-informed approach can lead to successful drafting of defensive tackles.

Player Development and Coaching Techniques

Teaching proper techniques and fundamentals

Coaching defensive tackles requires a deep understanding of the intricacies of the position. To excel in plugging the interior gaps, these players must be equipped with proper techniques and fundamentals. Skillful coaches prioritize teaching the following techniques:

  • Gap control: Defensive tackles must learn how to effectively control their assigned gap, preventing offensive linemen from dominating the line of scrimmage. Coaches emphasize the importance of maintaining leverage and using proper hand placement to shed blocks and disrupt running plays.

  • Pad level: Maintaining a low pad level is crucial for defensive tackles to gain leverage against opposing offensive linemen. Proper coaching teaches players to explode off the line of scrimmage while keeping their pads low, allowing them to generate power and maintain balance.

  • Hand fighting: Hand fighting skills are essential for defensive tackles to shed blocks and make plays. Coaches work on teaching players various hand techniques, such as the swim move, rip move, and club move, enabling them to effectively disengage from offensive linemen and penetrate the backfield.

Developing strength and conditioning

To excel as defensive tackles, players need to possess tremendous strength and endurance. Coaches focus on developing the following aspects of strength and conditioning for optimal performance:

  • Functional strength: Defensive tackles must possess functional strength, enabling them to overpower offensive linemen and hold their ground in the interior gaps. Coaches design strength training programs that target the lower body, core, and upper body, emphasizing compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

  • Explosiveness: Defensive tackles need explosive power to quickly penetrate the line of scrimmage and disrupt plays. Coaches incorporate plyometric exercises, such as box jumps, medicine ball throws, and explosive starts, to enhance players’ explosiveness and first-step quickness.

  • Endurance and stamina: The demanding nature of the position requires defensive tackles to have excellent endurance and stamina. Coaches implement conditioning drills, such as shuttle runs, sled pushes, and interval training, to improve players’ cardiovascular fitness and ensure they can maintain a high level of performance throughout the game.

Mentoring and guidance for mental growth

Player development extends beyond physical skills; defensive tackles also require mental strength and growth. Coaches provide mentoring and guidance to help players develop the following aspects:

  • Film study: Coaches encourage defensive tackles to extensively analyze game film to understand opponents’ tendencies, offensive line techniques, and potential weaknesses. By studying film, players can anticipate plays, read blocking schemes, and make more informed decisions on the field.

  • Mental resilience: Defensive tackles often face physical and mental challenges during games. Coaches instill mental resilience in players, teaching them to overcome adversity, stay focused, and maintain a positive mindset. This mental toughness enables defensive tackles to bounce back from missed opportunities and continue giving their best effort.

  • Leadership skills: As key members of the defensive line, defensive tackles are expected to provide leadership on and off the field. Coaches mentor players in developing leadership skills, fostering a sense of responsibility, and encouraging them to set an example for their teammates. This guidance helps defensive tackles become not only exceptional players but also leaders within the team.

By focusing on teaching proper techniques, developing strength and conditioning, and providing mentoring and guidance for mental growth, coaches can effectively nurture the talent and potential of defensive tackles. This comprehensive approach ensures that these players excel in plugging the interior gaps, becoming invaluable assets to their teams.

Case Studies: Successful Defensive Tackle Draft Picks

Examples of impactful defensive tackles in recent drafts

In recent years, the NFL has witnessed the emergence of several highly impactful defensive tackles that have made a significant difference for their respective teams. These players have not only excelled in their college careers but also seamlessly transitioned to the professional level. Let’s delve into some notable examples:

  1. Aaron Donald – Selected by the St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) as the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Donald has undoubtedly become one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the league. With his explosive speed, exceptional technique, and relentless pursuit, Donald has consistently disrupted opposing offenses. His ability to penetrate the interior gaps and generate pressure on quarterbacks has been a game-changer for the Rams.

  2. Fletcher Cox – Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Fletcher Cox has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Cox possesses an impressive combination of size, strength, and agility, which allows him to overpower offensive linemen and disrupt plays. His consistent playmaking ability has earned him multiple Pro Bowl selections and helped anchor the Eagles’ defense to a Super Bowl victory in 2018.

  3. Chris Jones – The Kansas City Chiefs struck gold when they selected Chris Jones in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Jones quickly established himself as a game-changer, possessing an uncanny ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt passing plays. His athleticism and versatility have made him a nightmare for opposing offenses, and his impact on the Chiefs’ defense played a pivotal role in their Super Bowl win in 2020.

Analysis of their college careers and transitions to the NFL

These successful defensive tackles not only showcased their skills in college but also seamlessly transitioned to the NFL, proving their worth at the highest level. Let’s take a closer look at their college careers and how they made the leap to professional football:

  1. Aaron Donald – During his college years at the University of Pittsburgh, Donald was a dominant force. He recorded an astounding 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss throughout his collegiate career, earning him numerous accolades, including the prestigious Chuck Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy. Donald’s exceptional performance in college provided a strong foundation for his transition to the NFL, where he has continued to showcase his exceptional skills.

  2. Fletcher Cox – Cox played college football at Mississippi State University, where he consistently displayed his disruptive abilities. With 114 tackles and 8.5 sacks over his college career, Cox established himself as a force in the interior defensive line. His impressive performance led to his selection as a First-Team All-American in his senior year. Cox’s success in college propelled him to become a dominant force in the NFL.

  3. Chris Jones – Jones played college football at Mississippi State University alongside Fletcher Cox. He quickly made his mark as a disruptive force, racking up 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in his final year. Jones’ outstanding college career caught the attention of NFL scouts, leading to his second-round selection by the Chiefs. His smooth transition to the professional level showcased his immense potential.

Lessons learned from their development and success

The success of these defensive tackles offers valuable lessons for teams and aspiring players looking to draft and develop impactful interior defenders. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Skillset and athleticism matter: All three players possess exceptional athleticism, refined technique, and a relentless work ethic. Teams should prioritize scouting and drafting players with the physical tools and drive necessary to excel in the demanding role of a defensive tackle.

  2. College production is indicative of potential: The impact these players made in college was a strong indicator of their ability to transition successfully to the NFL. Consistent disruptive play and standout performances in college can be strong indications of a player’s potential at the professional level.

  3. The value of versatility: Each of these players showcased versatility in their skill set, allowing them to contribute in various defensive schemes and situations. Teams should look for players who can adapt to different roles and effectively contribute to the team’s defensive strategy.

By studying the success stories of these impactful defensive tackles, teams can gain valuable insights into the traits, development, and potential that lead to success in drafting and developing this crucial position.

In conclusion, the art of drafting defensive tackles is a crucial aspect of plugging the interior gaps in a football team’s defense. This article has explored the various skills and qualities that make a defensive tackle successful in their role, such as size, strength, agility, and technique. By understanding the importance of these attributes and employing effective drafting strategies, teams can enhance their defensive line and create a formidable front to disrupt opposing offenses. Whether it is through scouting, analyzing game tape, or measuring physical attributes, the process of drafting defensive tackles requires careful consideration and evaluation. Ultimately, a well-drafted defensive tackle can make a significant impact on a team’s overall defensive performance and contribute to their success on the field.