|Class:||Junior||40 time:||4.75 (est)|
For years in the NFL, the role of 5-tech defensive ends in 3-4 defenses was simply this: take up blockers, fill the gap and stop the run.
But now, the position is evolving into one where they’re assuming more of the responsibilities of an end in a 4-3 (ie. getting to the quarterback), in addition to being a rock in the run game. J.J. Watt is an excellent example of the shifting paradigm that is the modern 3-4 end — one who both stuffs the run (23 TFL’s in ’12) and gets to the QB (20.5 sacks in ’12).
Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end for Notre Dame, is showing flashes of this rare blend of skills to be a perfect fit in the new wave of 3-4 ends. Not only did he stuff the run (13 TFL’s in ’12), but also got to the QB (12 sacks in ’12). Not only is he a great fit as a 5-tech in a 3-4, but he also has the ability to excel as a 3-tech in a 4-3.
- Elite size/strength/speed combination (see 77-yard fumble returned for a touchdown vs. Navy for further proof of speed).
- Great length overall and good body control.
- Projects as a high-level prospect for both a 5-tech defensive end in a 3-4, as well as a 3-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3.
- Great athlete with good on-field awareness. Makes terrific reads on read-option plays.
- Very good use of hands while pass rushing. Strong repertoire of rushing moves.
- Does a fantastic job of splitting double-teams, absolutely necessary for a defensive linemen in an odd front.
- Regularly sheds single blockers to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
- Has gained a lot of weight since coming to Notre Dame and still carries it very well — very proportionate build and powerful frame.
- Strong base versus the run and does a good job minding his gap responsibilities.
- Takes good angles in getting to the quarterback and always keeps his feet moving.
- Good technique and strength helps mask some explosion deficiencies.
- Doesn’t have an explosive first-step. Pops off the line rather than explodes.
- Often comes off too high and exposes his chest to blockers.
- Doesn’t necessarily have elite lateral quickness down the line, but is very strong in pursuit.
- Hasn’t shown a reliable and regularly effective counter-move inside.
- Needs to be more consistent with using his full repertoire of pass rush moves — too often focuses on just a few strong moves.
- Is his weight gain the last few years indicative of weight gain in the future?
- Doesn’t always provide a strong punch.
- Sometimes gives away stunts with his stance.
- Doesn’t appear to be a natural edge rusher who can really run the arc.
I’m expecting more big things from Tuitt after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2012. Will he top last year’s 12 sacks? That might be a challenge with more game-planning for him by offenses this go around, but he’s certainly got the talent for it, and he’s playing alongside fellow elite prospects (like NG Louis Nix III). Barring injury, he should be in the running for multiple postseason awards, including All-American status again.
What makes Tuitt so valuable in the draft is simple: both 3-4 teams and 4-3 teams are going to be intrigued by his skill set. I honestly think his brightest future is at 3-tech in a 4-3, but I have no doubt how effective he can be as a 5-tech in a 3-4. I just think he has a brighter future rushing from the interior than off the edge.
If he shows the kind of improvement he made from 2011 to 2012 into 2013, he could very easily be the second defensive lineman taken in the 2014 NFL Draft (after Jadeveon Clowney).
2014 NFL Draft Projection: Mid First Round