The qualities in a defensive end vary with the type of defense a program plays and what the team asks a player to do.
Traditionally in the 4-3 look, teams are looking for defensive ends who can rush the quarterback. The weakside defensive end should be the best pass-rusher, and he must have speed and explosion off the corner and should be a potential sack artist. A good weakside end should have great range and chase ability and at least be adequate against the run.
A defensive end who struggles against the run will be exploited by opposing offenses who find him and run right at him. Many freshmen coming into college football lacking great size and strength become successful contributors as weakside defensive ends, either on a full-time basis or on a limited basis on passing downs.
The strongside defensive end in a 4-3 defense still has to have some pass-rush ability, but is also a little more powerful and stout. He must be able to stop the run (most teams are right-handed), and he must be able to hold up the tight end at the line of scrimmage. He is not quite the athlete that the weakside defensive end is, but he is more capable of anchoring. The perfect strongside end has enough size to stop the run, but also the quickness and athletic ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the pass rush.
In 3-4 defenses, the defensive ends are more physical and are asked to play the run more than pass. In this defense, the primary pass rush comes from the outside linebackers. So the defensive ends are asked to stuff the run and keep the blockers occupied. These players are usually tough guys with size and some athletic ability, but not necessarily proficient pass-rushers.
Obviously, programs are going to recruit to their respective team philosophies. Since most 17-year-old kids are underdeveloped at this stage, it may take some time to figure out which side they will end up playing.
Defensive Line Grading System
Scouts Inc. will evaluate the defensive tackles on the following criteria:
1. Against run: Are they one- or two-gap linemen? Are they strong at the point of attack? Can they ward off blocks?
2. Pass rush: Are they power rushers or finesse rushers? What pass rush moves do they show, and do they vary? Are they able to get good, consistent penetration?
3. Pursuit: Do they get over trash? Do they have the quickness to get to the outside? Do they show good effort in pursuit?
4. Tackling: Do they wrap up well? Do they tackle low or high? Are they able to drag down? Do they tackle with power and are they punishing?
5. Initial quicks: How is their get off the snap? How are their feet? Do they anticipate the snap?
6. Recognition: Can they see blocks coming? How are their overall football instincts? Can they find the ball?
7. Neutralizing blocks: How are they one-on-one? How are they against a double-team trap? Can they anchor?
8. Key and diagnose: Do they reads blocks well? Do they have a good feel and see the ball?