What teams want in defensive prospects

Picking up where we left off on Thursday, here's a quick checklist of the optimum skill-sets that NFL scouts want at each defensive position. This is based on a book the late Tony Razzano wrote called "Razzano: Secrets of an NFL Scout." Razzano scouted for the 49ers, Patriots, Chargers and Redskins.

He helped build the great 49ers teams of the '80s and early ‘90s. It's an informative read, and I highly recommend it for any football fan interested in forming his own conclusions about what the future holds for NFL players or prospects. Check out Amazon.com to get a copy.

Defensive linemen

Must be at least 265 pounds. Must have speed, but quickness is more important. Must have quickness, agility and balance, strength or a scheme that highlights his abilities. Must have smarts, but doesn't need to have a quarterback's intelligence. Must be able to think and adjust quickly. Must have good hands, arms and shoulders. Must have upper body strength. Strong legs are important, but strong upper body is more important. Must be flash of quickness when ball is snapped to the time when lineman gets to the ball carrier. The quicker a lineman gets his hands on opposition, or does something to elude opposition, the more of an advantage he has. Must have explosion off ball. Must not waste time getting hands off ground and to the body of the opposition, or to a move that allows him to elude and get to the quarterback or running back. Pass rushers must be able to hand-fight a guard, tackle, fullback or halfback to block them or play off their block. Must be able to do anything to get to ball carrier. Must have pursuit and stamina. Must be competitive.

Razzano: "There are minor differences in the defensive linemen positions. The pass-rushing man outside has to have more ability to run, chase and contain. The interior linemen, in contrast, should be a little bigger and quicker with better and stronger use of the hands."

Analysis of a current or recent Bill: Aaron Schobel – Good in pursuit, has strong upper body and is good defending against the run, but needs to improve hand-fighting to get free, make tackles and harass quarterback.

Linebackers

Must be at least 6'1" or 6'2" and 230 to 235 pounds because there is just too much NFL bulk in front of him. Size is more important for an inside or middle linebacker than for an outside linebacker. Weakside linebacker must be able to cover and does not to be as heavy as middle or strongside linebacker. Weakside linebacker must be able to pursue and blitz and do all the things a middle linebacker can do. Inside linebackers must be able to get upfield. When he tackles someone five or six yards down the field, something is wrong. He must be able to quickly get inside so a center or guard can't block him or drive him back, thereby allowing him to make tackles more freely. Must be mentally strong. Must have stamina because he runs all over the field. Must explode into tackle. Must be able to ward off blockers. Must be able to get ball carrier down consistently.

Razzano: "In a linebacker, scouts should look for the ability to take on, stabilize, neutralize, or even avoid the offensive linemen – while getting to the ball. That is the major consideration – getting to the ball. A linebacker may be big and fast enough but still have a problem getting to the ball because he's not smart enough to read the offense. A lot of that is instinctive. A linebacker must be able to read the offense and find the ball just as a quarterback has to read the defense and get the ball to the wide receiver. It is important for linebackers to read, read quickly and read accurately … Look to see if linebacker gets bogged down in traffic … Look to see how often the lienbacker is tied up on a blitz from the inside or gets to the ball carrier when coming from the outside. Watch to see if he gets in clean, or if he's blocked, how he reacts to that. Can he free himself?"

Analysis of a current or recent Bill: MLB London Fletcher – Excellent speed and pursuit, and he explodes into tackles, but does not have ideal height for defending short passes over the middle. Should be better with defensive tackle Sam Adams taking up more space in front of him than Ron Edwards.

Defensive backs

Cornerbacks should be 5'10" or 5'11". Safeties must be bigger because they usually play inside. Cornerbacks can be smaller if they're good in coverage. Speed is a must. Must be able to keep up with receivers who run the 40 in 4.4 or 4.5 seconds. Must be smarter than in the past because of new defensive complexities. Cornerback must have good quickness, agility and balance. Competitiveness, stamina, strength and explosion are important, especially at safety. Safeties must have intelligence because they coordinate the defensive backfield. Strong safety must be a better hitter than the free safety. Must be able to read plays. Must be able to come up and make tackle in run support. A good coverage player cannot be mechanical. Must have good hands. Must have closing quickness once ball is thrown. Scouts have to determine why the DB gets to the ball. Does he have exceptional closing quickness or does he just like to gamble? Must be able to cover a lot of ground to make a play.

Razzano: "Here's what to look for: a defensive back who is getting to the ball, batting it down, intercepting it now and then, showing proper support and good reaction to the ball. Defensive backs do a lot of tackling too. Sometimes too much, in fact. Again, the safeties are supposed to be the hitters, while the corners must be able to stop someone. There are a few NFL corners who simply don't like to tackle, even though that's what they're getting paid to do."

Analysis of a current or recent Bill: Antoine Winfield – Good coverage player who is fearless in run support, but doesn't gamble as much and doesn't get many interceptions. He is better at breaking up passes than bringing them in himself.


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