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American Football Skills

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Hi Guys,


After watching NFL for 2 and a bit seasons, I've come to appreciate the nuts and blots of the game more than the flash. Watching how safeties choose their markings and watching the direction of the o-line to collapse a particular side etc is ... hypnotic.


So , as a noob... I'd love to know from guys who've been students of the game for decades. What are the skill sets sought after for the varying positions? ie: what do LB's need that DL's don't have/use? Why is a player a Safety rather than a CB? Which skills are needed for which positions? It's fascinating to see someone like Eric Berry attack and try strip a player , where his team mate Marcus Peters seems to mainly try intercept?


Thanks for any responses(Even if you think I'm stupid)

God Bless,


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Well, defensive linemen need to occupy the blockers on most plays. They need strength and quickness. They make sure that the linebackers, who are faster, can go in and make the tackle, at least on running plays.

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Best way is to read the draft literature. But, briefly:

QB: best is accuracy and ability to read a defense, not go through motions (although the latter is a little hard to project to the NFL because college defenses are slower and simpler). Guys always get hopped up on arm strength, and it is important for certain throws in the NFL, but Chad Pennington (Jets) lasted a long time with a relative noodle. You want guys above six feet so they can see above the O-line - you can use a shorter quarterback like Doug Flutie, but you have to do things to open up vision lanes.

RB: speed and whatever the guy did in college, seriously. RBs don't get much better with age, not for running the ball (pass protection is a different story).

WR: You want speed and a guy that has ball skills, the ability to go up and take a pass from the defender. Height is desired but not important. Normally you fix the guy's route running in his first couple of years.

TE: you want everything in a tight end, really. The reason you don't see more great TEs is because guys with those skills are often NBA players, plus guys with big talent usually wind up playing other positions like defensive end. A great TE can play for 12+ seasons on speed and guile.

OL: fast feet on the outside and wingspan. On the interior you want to have a guy that can get under the tackle and move him out. The center often calls protections and is often the smartest guy on the field, that's why you see centers tend to be undersized.

DE: all about speed in today's NFL. But, he still has to be able to take on the tackle and not get run over, otherwise you'd bring a corner (and some teams do that).

DT: probably now all about speed too, but (this is fading knowledge) many teams still want a booger in there that can't be moved on a run play.

LB: really all about speed at this point. Basically a LB is a TE that can't catch. You would like the guy to be a solid tackler, you would like him to have some size, but a lot of teams run these Cover 2 Buc zone coverages where the MLB drops deep, and so you can't have a 280 pound guy like you did back in the 80s. I think the biggest skill that you see in LBs vs. any other position is the ability to extremely quickly react to the play and get to the ballcarrier. Some guys have that talent and burst and some at that position (in college) just don't. Most teams play one-gap, so there's no way really to put a LB in a box. Plus, teams used to use fullbacks more often, so the LB's job was to take on the fullback, basically that was his mark on a run look, to stuff the FB in the hole and let the other guys get the RB. No way a 250 pound LB is going to take on the 300 pound guards you see in today's game, so they just try and penetrate too.


DBs are interesting. A lot of times you see a corner move to safety when he gets old and can't run as well. You have two kinds of safeties: a player that used to be called the free safety and normally plays back, and a strong safety you bring down into the box. From what I read, David Fulcher was a tremendous box player, but a guy like John Lynch if you remember him was kind of the prototype strong safety: massively hard hitting, but you could run by him if you matched up well, you left him in the box on running downs and covered for him by playing zone defense. A safety in the box is basically a linebacker with a little more time to react to the run and pass, but they still match up against WRs, so beyond the speed, they need to be able to tackle a big RB or take on a TE. The safeties that play out of the box, frankly are not usually that good. Those players are normally chosen because they make good decisions about when to charge the LOS, jump a route, and when to bail out to the deep receiver, and aren't too slow.

What a cornerback really needs is agility more than speed. Corners in the NFL play a lot of zone in addition to man coverage, and zone is all about getting to a spot quickly. You can play corner for a long time if you have good instincts and play in a mostly-zone scheme (Ronde Barber). Great, shutdown type cornerbacks are rare nowadays because they are all made into WRs if they can catch. Plus, you can't jam a receiver like you used to be able to, so size in a corner has been heavily devalued. The Seahawks in recent years have gone to that physical scheme and been extremely successful, but remember their top 3 DBs are all young and highly talented. Most teams can't hold that combination for long due to having to pay their quarterback.

In regards to the type of corner, really it varies, it's all personality and individual skill, rarely is it scheme, from what I see. Some corners really like to gamble, some corners stay home. But, it's a hard skill to teach to have a corner "sense" when the receiver is going to make his break, and where. Plus the frequency where that matters is not that high, and where you actually see the impact on TV. A corner makes a great jump on a receiver, that can result in a sack, but more likely the QB will dump off if he's good. Only if the QB is hurried, not reading the receiver properly, or trying to jam the ball in e.g. to get the marker, will it result in a play you see on TV. Having guys like Josh Norman that are fast and can anticipate a route combination is not that common.

If you see interceptions vs. stripping, IMO, more likely that is a scheme thing or maybe lack of speed, IMO. To make a pick, you have to be in the lane, and to strip, you have to come from behind, and those are dictated by the coverage scheme for the most part. You can't pass a receiver up without somebody behind you covering it.


Remember, scheme is dictated by the personnel and the personnel is dictated by money, value, and rules. You can't win without a pricey QB, you can't defend because the QB and WRs have a skirt on, you can't pay a bunch of guys money because of the salary cap, and all the veterans with ball skills and still have speed are usually too expensive.

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