My First Pass at Building a Team: The Defensive Line

Introducing my RSP Writers Project defensive line. Photo by Alwyn Talbot

The Rookie Scouting Portfolio Football Writers Project is an all-star cast of football writers, former scouts, and draft analysts on the Internet. Their mission is to take a month to build a 53-man roster with a $160 million salary cap and present the team here. You can use the same information to build your own team (see the bottom of this post).

On Monday, I’m going to profile ESPN football analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson’s RSP Writers Project squad. Later next week, Joe Goodberry’s team will be next to debut. In the meantime, I’m sharing an initial pass at building a team. Two nights ago, I unveiled the skill positions of a first-draft team. Yesterday, I debuted my offensive line. Today, I’m unveiling my defensive line.

Remember, this is an initial draft and I will probably take a month to truly build my squad or build a second squad.  However, I think it is valuable and entertaining to display a thought process behind building a team. Readers will hopefully gain this insight when I display other writer’s teams, but they won’t get the same process as I can offer leading to the final product.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am already working on a second draft of the team that I’m unveiling this week. I can tell you there will be significant changes to key positions. However, I still think it is fun to show my initial version because it reveals a lot about building NFL teams. Why certain ideas are ingrained in the culture of coaches, general managers, scouts, and players.

If you didn’t read the past two posts, I went with unknowns and youth at the skill positions. Most of the players have no more than a year NFL experience. I spent a fair bit of my budget on a powerful, versatile offensive line that is strong at maintaining a pocket, picking up the blitz, and getting outside or the second level as a run blockers. My belief is that if I build a great offensive line that plays penalty-free football and pair them with a blue-chip prospect like Andrew Luck, I can find bargains at wide receiver, tight end, and running back that will perform as well or better than high-priced starters.

To some extent, we’ve seen this philosophy with the Texans in recent years, the Broncos during Mike Shanahan’s era, the Titans of the late `90s, and the Browns of the `80s under Marty Schottenheimer. Speaking of the Titans of the early Jeff Fisher era, he began his career with an athletic young Steve McNair, a great offensive line, a young, and a promising defense that grew into a statistically better unit than the Super Bowl Champion Ravens in that season.

While they also drafted Eddie George – a terrific power runner with receiving skills – they got by pretty well in their first year with Rodney Thomas, who had 947 yards and 5 scores and helped the team finish second in the AFC Central. Not bad for a team in flux. So with my writers project squad, I’m starting with youth and shooting for greatness.

My Defensive Line Philosophy

My (tome) publication is solely focused on skill players. And I’m generally known for my discussions of offense because of what I write about here as a fantasy football columnist. But when it came time to build a team, I wanted a defensive line that could generate pressure with a four-man rush.

Ideas for My Playbook

Go ahead and spread out my defense, my team is still going to get pressure and hit your quarterback in the mouth. I also wanted a rotation that has the flexibility to move around to get strong match ups, and the athleticism and stamina to run all day. As you can tell, my base scheme will be a 4-3. I know that the 3-4 has been the rage, but when these multiple personnel offense spread defenses it seems that the Giants and their rotation of pass rushers could handle Tom Brady well enough in two Super Bowls to limit the effectiveness of the scheme.

This defensive line has the power to play straight up. I have players that can bull rush or get outside with good speed. They have the flexibility to run stunts and twists or move all over the line. They can penetrate with great skill in the run game. It might be the unit I’m most excited about.

I have to say that if an offense isn’t spreading the field, they better have a road grading crew up front and a sledgehammer with speed at running back because they’re going to need 20-25 hard swings to make a dent. The reason is that I’m also thinking about incorporating some 46 concepts. As you’ll eventually see with my linebackers and defensive backs, I have some guys that might not see the field on every down, but they have skills when it comes to blitzing and playing special teams. Some of them could develop into future starters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The potential issue will be an overaggressive line that doesn’t maintain its gaps and play like a unit. They might be a little too aggressive at times and get caught out of position on running plays the could lead to big plays. But I’ll attribute it to inexperience and  I expect my coaching staff to help them see any errors in their ways. In the case of my star defensive lineman, I think he got the message this offseason.

Skill Players

QBs: Andrew Luck, Josh Johnson, and Greg McElroy (Changes coming)

RBs: Bilal Powell, Cedric Peerman, Chad Spann, and Xavier Omon (Changes coming)

WRs: Randall Cobb, Greg Childs, Mohammad Sanu, Danny Coale, Travis Benjamin, and Tori Gurley (Changes coming)

TE/FB: James Casey, Kellen Davis, Taylor Thompson, Brady Ewing, Charles Clay, and Will Yeatman

LT:Michael Roos

LG: Andy Levitre

C: John Sullivan

RG: David DeCastro

RT: Brian Bulaga

Reserve OL: Will Montgomery (C) and Cordy Glenn (G/T)

My Defensive Line

DT/DE Ndamukong Suh

Suh had a disappointing year compared to his rookie season, but I believe he’s seen the light when it comes to playing smarter. He reminds me of a modern day Joe Greene in terms of power, speed, athleticism, and intensity. Just like Greene, I think Suh let his temper get the best of him early in his career. However, once Greene harnessed that energy and the rest of the line grew into its paws, the Steelers unit was among the best of all time.

I love Suh’s versatility. He’ll primarily play inside for my team, but if I find a match up with a tackle that I believe makes sense to exploit with Suh’s skills I’ll move him outside in specific situations. If there’s an injury, he can hold down the fort outside because of my depth in the middle.

The thing that makes me giddy is that Suh often requires double and triple teams, but not on this team. With my depth chart someone else who usually requires a double-team will likely get a juicy match up if Suh isn’t played straight-up. If my offense grows up fast, coaches will lose years from their lifespan just trying to game plan for this unit because if this defense can pin its ears back and rush the passer, Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson, and dare I say, Greg Williams, will be as giddy as school boys.

DT/FB Henry Melton

Melton will start next to Suh on the inside and play short yardage situations in the red zone as my fullback. The former University of Texas fullback is a freakish athlete and he’s coming into his own as a defensive tackle. He can penetrate with speed or power and he’s developing into a good pass rusher from the inside. I think he has elite upside and pairing him with Suh makes me want to

DT/DE Lamarr Houston

Although there’s good reason to believe Houston is better suited to play tackle in a 4-3 defense, he will start outside here. I’m thinking next to Suh and over left tackle. Although he’s not a sack monster at this point in his career, he’s an incredible athlete with the potential to become a double-digit guy. He’s a great run defender now, and a perfect guy to flip-flop with Suh at DT/DE as needed. This exchange of positions will happen enough that he’ll play plenty of tackle.

DE Brian Robison

I loved Robison’s game at Texas and I think he proved without a shadow of doubt that he has the all-around game as a starting DE in the NFL. He can come of the edge and strong against the run. He’s a tough, smart player on the rise and I think he’ll see a ton of one-on-one match ups in this system.

DE Brandon Graham

If Graham’s knee is healthy enough, he’s the type of athlete with the potential to get a speed rush off the edge and dominate. Having Graham as a change-up/reserve with starter upside is just silly-great – even if in reality he doesn’t make an impact this year in Philadelphia. Only Jason Pierre Paul was more talented in this draft class.

DT Corey Liuget

I think Liuget has a better chance to become a solid DT in a 4-3 rather than a DE in a 3-4. He needs to play with better control, but he’s young and gifted enough to provide depth inside.

Tomorrow: Linebackers

4 responses to “My First Pass at Building a Team: The Defensive Line”

  1. GREAT line, dude. I think Robison is terribly underrated – he almost made my team as a backup LDE but was a bit too pricey for me. I dig the versatility too; that’s kept the Giants pass rush alive through injuries and let them not rely on any one guy to make things happen.

  2. Love me two nasty DEs in a 4-3 scheme. It was the only way I could stop my friend in Madden. It looked like NFL teams are catching on (finally). There were a lot of em going in the first round this year. More busts because of forced picks?

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