Right now as I write these words, the “Who’s Who” of football names and minds are meeting in Indianapolis for the yearly NFL Combine. That naturally leaves me sitting here in my home writing about the upcoming group of three techniques (three techs). I have not been deemed worthy enough to view the “Underwear Olympics” in person, but that shall not deter me from my weekly declarations of reality. Now that I have successfully boosted my own ego, let us get into the meat of this group.
In the modern NFL, we are seeing a movement towards a more fluid and in many respects, position-less approach to roster building. Rather than have set positions requiring a particular skill set, teams are looking to add a skill set to the area of the field that coaches believe will garner the best results. With that in mind, three tech is a very specific skill set. Generally speaking, these players line up on the outside shoulder of the guard and are asked to be disruptors in the middle of the play.
The most classic example of this is Warren Sapp, but Aaron Donald has replicated his game impeccably. That is not to say that any of these players will have that level of impact, but they can be the equivalent of Geno Atkins or even Tom Johnson. What we are generally looking for is shorter players with fast feet, quick hands, and an ability to shoot the gap.
The Value Guys
James Looney, Cal
6’3″, 280 pounds
39 games, 131 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 7 sacks
You may recognize the last name of this prospect. This is the brother of Joe Looney who is an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys. Along with his brother, his father also played football at a high level. Those bloodlines are a valuable addition and show his inherent athleticism. What jumps off the screen first and foremost about Looney is his instinct. He simply seems to have an innate understanding of what is happening around him, especially against screen plays. That likely relates back to his bloodlines and his time around the game at an early age. Combine that with his natural athleticism and you can see some nice tools to work with as you mold his body.
Looney could really use an NFL strength training program, especially for his lower body. He also plays too high and his pad level gets him in trouble. In part, that could lead evaluators to think he would be a better 3-4 defensive end, but he does have some nice tools.
Projection: Round 5
RJ McIntosh, Miami
6’4″, 293 pounds
29 games, 103 tackles, 23 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 9 passes defended
Similarly to Looney, McIntosh is one of several high-level football players in his family. He has two younger brothers, the first plays for Notre Dame and the other will be part of the 2019 recruiting class. There are actually several similarities between Looney and McIntosh. They both are natural athletes, have some serious flexibility in the hips, maintain fast feet, and win by beating blockers with speed early in the down. One big difference is that McIntosh has become quite adept at batting balls down.
Again, like Looney, McIntosh could really use an NFL strength program for his lower half. My question for both of these players is quite simple. Are they too tall to play inside down after down? I think that is a legitimate worry and could push both of these prospects to other schemes. When you watch their games and see them get beaten up inside by squatty guards who operate in a phone booth, it does bring up red flags.
Projection: Round 4
The Enigma Guys
Folorunso Fatukasi, UCONN
6’4″, 315 pounds
44 games, 170 tackles, 21 TFL, 14 sacks
Due to both his tape and his size, I have really struggled to figure out an ideal spot for Foley. When I boiled it down to the basics, I realized his best professional comparison is Ndamukong Suh. He is not really built the way one would design a traditional three tech, but due to his overwhelming combination of size and speed, one could theoretically make him work inside. That said, I do think adding this guy to the mix requires some outside of the box thinking to maximize his impact down after down.
In some respects, he has a game similar to Jihad Ward although more refined since he has been around the game longer. Foley will also flash a spin move that could eventually become a significant weapon for him. In the end, there is a ton to like with his game. What worries me, is how stiff he is. It is almost as if he is one giant muscle that does not bend. By extension, he also does not flow laterally very well and due to that, he will lose his balance and get rocked.
Projection: Late round 3-4
Deadrin Senat, USF
6’1″, 301 pounds
42 games, 178 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 FF
Normally when I describe a three tech, I simply refer to them as bowling balls. That is literally how I would describe Deadrin Senat. Some may see his height and consider him too short for NFL standards, but Aaron Donald is only 6’1″. Part of the bowling ball description is his legs. He has a thick lower half, with a low center of gravity which can be crucial playing inside. Taller players can struggle inside because more often than not, offensive guards are also short and fire out of their stances very quickly while remaining compact. This outcome is referred to as “fighting in a phone booth”. Warren Sapp was exceptional because he could blow by these shorter guards and negate their leverage advantage. With that type of build, Senat can do the same.
I am actually quite high on him as a prospect and think he will be drafted much earlier than some projections I have seen from other sources. As is typical with traditional three techs, if Senat is stopped early, he can get squashed. That is the tradeoff in his style of play and coaches must realize that when they draft him. When I watch Senat I see Geno Atkins.
Projection: Round 4
The GIF Guys
Taven Bryan, UF
6’5″, 293 pounds
30 games, 62 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks
There are two names I constantly see associated with Taven Bryan and they are JJ Watt and Cam Jordan. Those are big-time names to be compared to. Luckily for you, the reader, I do not agree with such comparisons and I instead would compare him to Steve Emtman. For those who do not know Steve Emtman, he was a highly touted defensive end from the University of Washington and was drafted first overall by the Colts in 1992. Due to injuries, his career never really got going, but he did seal a victory with a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown. I guarantee it would have made a GIF.
I do not think Bryan will live up to the hype and in the end, if he develops into a decent starter, it would be due to good coaching. Bryan is a freakish athlete and is reportedly a high character guy but his tape is as impressive as it is frustrating. He simply lacks the instincts and feel for the position and because of that, he is vulnerable to all sorts of misdirection in many forms. He also seems to lose track of the play at times. Bryan would be an all Al Davis type of pick, but I think he is a flash in the pan.
Projection: Late round 1
Nathan Shephard, Fort Hays
6’5″, 300 pounds
A classic example of a man amongst boys. Watching Shepard against division two competition was borderline comical at times. Almost every play going up against two offensive linemen, he would routinely dislodge one man and then throttle the next. It is reported that he gained over 100 pounds in his four years of college football. That tells me that this is a guy who is committed to getting better and takes his craft very seriously. It goes without saying that Shephard is a project type prospect primarily due to his lack of competition.
Strangely, he does flash a spin move that he uses inside, but I am not sure he will get away with it in the NFL. I do have reservations regarding his size and if his game will translate to being a three tech in the NFL. Realistically, he is more suited based on his body type to play as a 3-4 defensive end. It is hard to come up with a comparison player, but I absolutely would be inclined to give this kid a shot even as an oversized strongside defensive end.
Projection: Round 6
The Anderson Guys
Maurice Hurst, UM
6’2″, 280 pounds
41 games, 130 tackles, 32 TFL, 13.5 sacks
I jumped on the Maurice Hurst bandwagon early and have been very vocal about taking him in round one for the Raiders. Along with Marcus Davenport, who is in my Vegas Archive for the edge class, and Denzel Ward, who is in the cornerback’s Vegas archive, I have three round-one targets that I would be more than happy with. Hurst is about as close to the prototype three tech as you will find in this class, although he is slightly light. Keeping that in mind, the foot speed that he possesses is absurd. I have had several people comment to me that he gets enveloped with bigger offensive lineman. Absolutely he does, but most three techs do if they do not win immediately with their quick feet and hands. His agility is off the charts and has shown some sick instincts in the twist game.
Overall, Hurst is an outside-of-the-box thinker and it has allowed him to put together some quality production. He definitely needs to develop more rush moves with an emphasis on counter moves, but the Raiders have put together a staff that can develop that aspect of his game. Hurst could absolutely start day one for the Raiders or potentially split snaps inside with Mario Edwards, Jr. who could play three tech against the run game.
Projection: Mid round 1
Harrison Phillips, Stanford
6’3″, 295 pounds
31 games, 153 tackles, 29 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 3 FF
A little tidbit about me, I wrestled in high school and was actually decent at it, among other things. Because of this, it warms my heart when I see successful wrestlers find success in sports such as football. The offensive and defensive lines are built on the same basic principles that one finds in wrestling. Do you remember the movie “The Replacements”? There is a scene where Gene Hackman is talking about one of his scab offensive linemen who is a sumo wrestler, and he explains why he wants him. He says simply, “hands; they fight with their hands,” or something to the effect. Harrison has evil, destructive hands and when you combine that with his squatty figure, you have a fantastic combination.
Unlike other prospects, Phillips is not a freak athlete, and this can get him in trouble laterally. He also does not change direction well. With all of that in mind, what is the job of a three tech? To be a bowling ball and push the pocket vertically, and Phillips does that as well as anyone in this draft. Some will argue he is a nose tackle, but after careful consideration, I think he is best suited as a three tech. See pocket, destroy pocket. See guard, destroy guard. Simple.
Projection: Mid round 1
The Stud Guys
Vita Vea, UW
6’5″, 340 pounds
38 games, 99 tackles, 15 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed
It is very easy to compare Vea to Haloti Ngata. They are both massive and of Polynesian descent, which makes the comparison even more natural. Part of the comparison is to make the point that you could play Vea as a base 4-3 strongside defensive end and then slide him inside for pass rush situations, similar to what the Ravens did with Ngata. That seems completely pointless to me. If he is such a destructive force and is a natural pocket destroyer due to his strength and leverage, then why put him farther away from the ball to start the play? An offense could audible out of a run play designed to go that direction or use his lack of true foot-speed against him. If you were to keep Vea inside all game, he has the shortest path to the ball and is more likely to be in the thick of every play, which is where you want him.
Vea is a rare specimen and his game reflects that. I have zero issues with his game on any level. I do question whether or not he will have the desired outcome in the passing game and whether or not he has the ideal skill set for a defensive coordinator like Guenther. The downside for Vea is having an outcome similar to Star Lotulelei, which would make him a limited nose tackle, but even that is a serviceable player. When it is all said and done, Vea may be the safest player in the entire draft because his floor is the highest, but he also could have the lowest ceiling.
Projection: Mid round 1
Daron Payne, Alabama
6’2″, 308 pounds
35 games, 102 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks
There is no player in this draft that I spent more time wavering on their position more than Daron Payne. Eventually, I had to decide how I wanted to define his game and I settled on three tech. Subconsciously I was probably projecting some of Marcell Dareus’ game upon him, which is easy to do. Dareus played the three tech for Buffalo at times and although he eventually proved to be a better nose tackle, I could see a team manipulating the rules for their three tech to match Payne’s game.
One example of a defense that would have an ideal set of rules for their three tech is Jack Del Rio’s old Jacksonville defense. That definitely does not translate to what Guenther is most likely going to do with this defense, but it is a helpful comparison to understand my thinking. Some credit is due to Payne for generating 27 pressures last season for Alabama. He clearly produced more pressure and wreaked more havoc in terms of his advanced statistics, which do not show up at first glance.
Ultimately, Payne is limited in his ability to use speed to collapse the pocket, but he can certainly destroy the outside shoulder of the guard and completely overwhelm a gap. When it comes to pass rush, he may be one of those defensive tackles who have to allow the quarterback to step up into his space rather than pounce on them. He is not an ideal fit, but he is an ideal mauler.
Projection: End round 1
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