As we continue our look through the Defensive Line prototypes we come to the 5-technique, which has been suffering from a confused identity in common parlance.
When the draft rolls around we hear talk about the traditional 5-tech, the long, strong 3-4 defensive end who plays over the offensive tackle and dominates against the run. That player is actually a 4-tech in the most widely used naming system. The 5-tech actually lines up shaded to the outside of the offensive tackle.
The 4i, 4 and 5-tech alignments have tended to be lumped together through the years and collectively labeled as 5-tech players, but in truth the 5-tech is actually the least used of the three, with 4 and 4i accounting for approximately seven times the number of snaps 5-techniques were played in 2014.
In reality, because the league plays nickel on around 60% of defensive snaps in today’s NFL, every 3-4 defensive end is going to spend more time as a 3-tech than he is playing 4i, 4 or 5 because of the nature of pass-rushing sub-packages.
As we move further out from center the more we move from the realm of true interior players into that of hybrids, or players that ply their trade in defensive fronts that are more multiple than they are either 3-4 or 4-3. Each of the players to appear in this graph (click to enlarge) has a far higher spike at either 3-tech or outside of the 5-tech in the area usually occupied by 4-3 defensive ends and true edge-rushers. Some have higher spikes at both than they do at 5-tech, but these five players are the five with the highest percentage of their snaps at 5-tech in 2014.
Perhaps the two most interesting lines to focus on are those of J.J. Watt and Michael Bennett, because they are extremely close matches. If you are looking for an analogue of what Watt has evolved into, at least by alignment he is far closer to Bennett than he is a true interior presence like a 3-tech defensive tackle or 3-4 end.
Watt’s biggest spike, like Bennett’s, is well outside the tackle, and he has a relatively small spike inside at 3-tech, but both players do spend a significant amount of time lining up around the tackle across all of those various technique spots. They are inherently edge defenders that also move inside and adjust their alignment according to the defensive front on the play. Watt, it’s worth noting, also has a pretty significant spike at the 9-technique spot, the widest alignment possible and one usually reserved strictly for speed rushers and stand-up outside linebackers.
Muhammad Wilkerson is another interesting player to appear on the list. His graph shows lower peaks than any of the other players because he is the most versatile in terms of his alignment. Wilkerson essentially has been moving all over the line and playing everywhere for the Jets. They seem happy to stall on his contract and plan for a future without him, but they might be wise to seriously consider how many players can realistically replace his versatility and ability to play all across the line.
Corey Redding is the player with the biggest spike at 5, thanks largely to the Rex Ryan-inspired hybrid defense that the Indianapolis Colts run. Even Redding plays far more as a 3-tech defensive tackle than he does at 5-tech. Finally Ray McDonald, playing in San Francisco’s pretty traditional 3-4 defense, was one of the highest percentage players aligned at 5-tech in 2014.
The 5-tech might not be exactly what you thought it was, but perhaps the most interesting point in all of this is that the entire position of 3-4 defensive end is dissolving the more the league is forced to defend the passing attack of offenses with nickel and dime defensive packages.
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