(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
POSITION: Defensive End (4-3)
OVERVIEW: The premium placed on pass rushers in today’s NFL is surging, and that means that few positions on defense are as highly sought after as a capable defensive end. When we think of defensive ends within a 4-3 defensive scheme, we often bring about names such as Jared Allen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Julius Peppers and other top sack artists. But their roles extend beyond the ability to reach the passer, as they are still accountable run defenders as well. In New England, the Patriots picked up a pair of low-risk 4-3 defensive end investments prior to the start of the 2011 season that turned out to play major roles on their defense. Both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson accrued 10 regular season sacks, and Anderson turned his performance into a major raise in Buffalo. With what looks to be a continued transition to a reliance on more four-man fronts, the Patriots have invested in a number of players who fit the 4-3 defensive end mold.
DESIRED TRAITS: Keeping in mind that 4-3 defensive ends are not simply players with the ability to pursue the passer, it is important to identify a player with a combination of athleticism, strength and toughness who can be an edge setter on defense.
From an athleticism standpoint, teams target explosive players who can launch off the ball with a ferocious first step, as well as the short area quickness to work in tight spaces. Straight-line speed is measured to help understand a player’s ability to pursue down the line of scrimmage.
It’s important to capture not only how well a defensive end generates pressure, but also how he goes about getting to the quarterback. For some players, it’s speed, others quickness; the very best have an arsenal that includes a blend of athleticism, technique and smarts to create pressure. From what we learned about him during the pre-draft process, first-round pick Chandler Jones has dynamic athleticism off of the line of scrimmage. What we will learn more about is his technique as a rusher during training camp and the season.
As a run defender, it must be determined how strong of an anchor a defensive end has to take on blockers. He may face double teams, and those who can hold their ground and not be blown off the ball will succeed.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Given the athleticism of some defensive ends, they are able to play on all four core special teams and field goal block. A player like Jermaine Cunningham has been a special teams factor for the Patriots in his early career, and perhaps Jones could play some special teams as well in 2012 (depending on his defensive role).
PATRIOTS TAKE: When it comes to defensive ends, the Patriots have a unique mix of experience and youth, speed and size, and a load of potential for pass rushing production. On the veteran front, newcomers Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott could serve as both starters and mentors for the roulette of youngsters, and each has the ability to be pass rushers off of the edge. While he remains unsigned, it seems as though Andre Carter would be open to a Patriots return, and that the team would welcome him back. Bill Belichick described third-year player Jermaine Cunningham’s offseason as “great,” and he will look to bounce back after a quiet sophomore season. The player that has many excited is top draft choice Jones, whose supreme athleticism adds a new element to the Patriots’ front seven. Not to be overlooked is third-round choice Jake Bequette, who some have described as a polished product out of Arkansas. As it currently stands, the Patriots have talent, depth, and a lot of variety from their defensive ends as they head into 2012.