Scouting 4-3 DEs for Patriots means looking beyond just the pass rush

Revisiting notes by ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, originally posted in 2012, on how teams scout for players at each position, focusing on 4-3 defensive ends.

DESIRED TRAITS: This is the spot where teams often have their best pass-rusher. But the role of the 4-3 defensive end extends beyond the ability to reach the passer, as they are still accountable run defenders as well. Thus, it is important to identify a player with a combination of athleticism, strength and toughness who can be an edge setter on defense.

From an athleticism standpoint, teams target explosive players who can launch off the ball with a ferocious first step, as well as the short-area quickness to work in tight spaces. Straight-line speed is measured to help understand a player's ability to pursue down the line of scrimmage. Above average arm length is considered a plus for players at the position, as they are often engaged with long-armed offensive tackles.

It's important to capture not only how well a defensive end generates pressure, but also how he goes about getting to the quarterback. For some players, it's speed, others quickness; the very best have an arsenal that includes a blend of athleticism, technique and smarts to create pressure. As a run defender, it must be determined how strong of an anchor a defensive end has to take on blockers. He may face double teams, and those who can hold their ground and not be blown off the ball will succeed.

Finally, in a multiple scheme such as what the New England Patriots run, sometimes ends are asked to drop into coverage in more of a 3-4 outside linebacker type of role. This is another area where superior athleticism often shows up.

SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Given the athleticism of some defensive ends, they are able to play on all four core special teams and the field-goal block unit. As recently as 2015, the Patriots used top defensive end Chandler Jones on the wing as part of the field-goal protection unit.

PATRIOTS TAKE: After trading Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in March, the Patriots project to open the season with Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard as their top defensive ends, with free-agent signings Chris Long (Rams) and Shea McClellin (Bears) having also seen extended repetitions at the position in spring camps. Then there is a trio of younger players -- Geneo Grissom (2015 third-round pick), Trey Flowers (2015 fourth-round pick) and Rufus Johnson (second-year player) -- who have all flashed some form of promise but lack experience. In obvious passing situations, the Patriots will sometimes use their defensive ends as interior rushers, which was something Sheard did in 2015 that he hadn't previously in his career. That flexibility adds another layer for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to scheme with on a weekly basis as he consistently varies the unit's approach. Overall, this position appears well-stocked, with the primary unanswered question what the Patriots have with some of their younger options.