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What Makes a Good Defensive Lineman in Football? Part 1

When you are handicapping NFL football teams, you need to be able to handicap individual players.  While a team may be more than the sum of its parts (the gestalt principle applies), each of those parts needs to function for the whole to be effective.  An NFL team needs a strong defense to do well on the field, especially when they get to the playoffs.  Here are some of the important qualities to look for in a good defensive lineman.


  • Size.  This is one of the more obvious characteristics to look for, and one which is quite easy to assess since it is simply a physical trait and has nothing to do with skill.  Generally speaking, the bigger, the better.  You want a good defensive lineman to weigh 260 pounds or more.  This provides a significant and immediate advantage.
  • Toughness.  Defensive linemen typically play 16 or more games over the course of a single season.  In each of those games, they may perform around 70 plays.  That means that they are going to be blocked or hit thousands of times before the season is over!  For a defensive player to continue to perform well, he needs to have incredible toughness.  He literally needs to be able to take all the abuse that is thrown at him.  Weaker players will injure easily and may underperform the rest of the season or be forced to sit out games. 
  • Speed.  This is one of the more overlooked traits that NFL defenders need.  When most people think about NFL defense, they think about size and strength.  But speed and quickness are huge musts.  Defenders need to be able to spring into action as quickly as a sprinter off the starting block when the ball is snapped. 
  • Strength.  It is especially important that defenders have strong arms and hands.  This enables a defender to keep an offensive lineman quite literally at arm’s length.  This reduces the likelihood of neck injuries and makes it possible to throw an offender.  This is another helpful trait which is actually often overlooked.  When most people think about defender strength, they are thinking of whole-body strength and the ability to survive and deliver impacts through brute force.  But strong arms and hands provide an important buffer.


Now you know some of the most important characteristics and skills to look for in an NFL defensive lineman.  This is not the full list, however, so be sure to also read Part 2 of our series on What Makes a Good Defensive Lineman in Football? Once you have a good understanding of what a defending player needs to perform well over the course of a season, you will find it much easier to handicap both players and teams and predict the outcomes of games.  Remember, though, none of these traits exist in isolation.  A team not only needs great defending players, but an excellent defensive strategy as well which plays to the defenders’ strengths!



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