Teams using 3-4 might struggle to fill needs
March 15, 2005) -- The popular opinion a month before the NFL draft is that there is no clear-cut No. 1 prospect worthy of the spot.
Time will tell if that is true. With two quarterbacks, an excellent wide receiver, three premier running backs and maybe even a top corner, a top candidate will emerge.
If I were involved with the 49ers and considering trading out of the top spot -- which, by the way, every team that has ever held the top spot has considered doing somewhere along in the process -- I also would start negotiations with a number of the top prospects and let them know there is no way my team enters the draft without my pick signed. The pressure might appear to be on the club because there is no Eli Manning or Michael Vick in this draft, but it is also on the players. If one of them wants to jump over the other athletes and become the top pick in the NFL, he will step up and make a deal.
So the logjam at the top can be sorted out with some early negotiations. But there is another log jam brewing in this draft, and it's worth looking at as the free-agent market starts to slow down.
The top three teams in this draft -- San Francisco, Miami and Cleveland, as well as Dallas at No. 11 -- all are considering a switch to the 3-4 defense. That means they all are looking for the same type of players for their front seven. The Chargers (No. 12) and the Texans (No. 13) also use a 3-4 and are looking to bolster their defenses. Six of the top 13 teams drafting have 3-4 defense on their minds, but not all of them are going to be able to satisfy their need for defensive talent.
Big, two-gap defensive linemen; big, strong inside linebackers who can play over guards; and outside linebackers who can rush the passer from a two-point stance are out there in this draft, but the supply of quality players is far from a bottomless pit. Compounding the restrictions on that particular talent pool is there are few free agents available who have played in a 3-4 defense. Teams starting from scratch have got to secure enough talent in the draft or the experiment is doomed to failure.
As Bill Parcells said to me two weeks ago when we discussed the 3-4 and 4-3 packages, "One of the two packages has to be the foundation, and it's not wise to get into one if you don't have the personnel to do it."
Romeo Crennel and Nick Saban might both be thought of as Bill Belichick disciples, but never forget that Belichick comes from the Parcells school of defense. In the end, all of these teams are looking for the same type of players. Will there be enough for the 49ers, Dolphins, Browns and Cowboys to switch? Will there be enough for the Texans and Chargers to improve?
Let's take a look at the teams at the top of this draft with 3-4 aspirations and see if they have the critical nose tackle; the big, two-gap defensive ends; the inside linebacker to meet force with force when the uncovered guard comes out at him; and, of course, the outside linebacker who can have the impact on the pass rush like Lawrence Taylor did back in Parcells' glory days with the Giants.
The secondary concerns remain the same no matter which front the team plays, so the construction concerns are all about the front seven players. The nose tackle should be in the 330-pound range (i.e. Ted Washington), the outside linebacker needs to have great pass rush skills and some pass coverage skills (i.e. Mike Vrabel), the inside linebacker needs to be close to 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds (i.e. Ted Johnson) and the defensive ends need to be close to 6-5 and 300 pounds (i.e. Richard Seymour).