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Draft Terminology: The "Three Technique" and the "Five Technique"

Every year as the draft approaches many media outlets either generate or regurgitate content that uses a lot of scouting terminology.

In a short series of posts, I'll explain what some of this terminology means. In this post, I'll cover the "3-technique" and the "5-technique" defensive linemen.

Isn't a technique just an approach or process used to accomplish something?

Normally, but not in this sense of the term. A defensive lineman's technique is simply where he lines up in a given defense.The "techniques" are numbered from the inside of the line out (mostly***). The numbers refer to a spot where the center of the defensive lineman's body ends up.

Lining up at a "zero technique" means the DL lines up right over the Center's nose. Moving outward, the even numbers mean lining up directly over an offensive lineman, so 2 is right over the guard, 4 over the tackle, and 6 over the tight end.

The odd numbers mean a DL lines up on the outside shoulder of a lineman. A 1-technique means lining up just to one side of the center, 3 technique on the outside shoulder of a guard, and 5 technique on the outside shoulder of a tackle. Lining up on the outside shoulder of the tight end is actually a 9 technique, and the inside shoulder of the TE is a 7 technique. Here is a diagram (h/t Trojan Football Analysis):


This is a little confusing as it not only breaks a pattern but also puts the 7 technique inside the 6 technique. Why is it this way? No one is really sure. To quote Paul Johnson, head coach at Georgia Tech:

No one knows why that is the case but Coach (Bear) Bryant numbered it that way and no one has the guts to change it.

So, as you can see a 3 technique is a defensive lineman who typically lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard. A 5 technique is a defensive lineman who typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. But when you read that a guy is a "best fit as a 3 technique" the term brings a bit of baggage with it--it is being used to try to explain what the player is good at doing from this alignment and what teams will ask him to do.

After all, I can line up at the 3-technique in an NFL defense, anyone can. But once the ball is snapped, I'd be snapped too (in half).

Of course, in the NFL and even college football, teams will move their players around and use more than one defensive front. For this and other reasons, players won't--and shouldn't--fit cleanly into these "types."

Defensive and Draft Connotations


In a "normal" 3-4 front, the defensive line is typically made up of a nose tackle and two defensive ends. Those defensive ends typically line up at a 5 technique. Usually when people talk about a 3-4 defense, or a "true" 3-4, they mean that each defensive lineman will be responsible for two gaps against running plays.

So when guys like Mike Mayock say "his best fit is as a 5 technique end" they mean that the player can play this position. Typically these guys are:

  • Near or over 300 lbs. 280 is small for a 5 tech. Romeo liked his DEs to be enormous (320+ lbs).
  • Physical and strong
  • Able to play two gaps versus the run; able to shoot their hands right up into an offensive tackle's chest, stand him up, and then shed his block and move to either side of him to make a tackle.
  • More intelligent or good at getting a read on what the offense is doing
  • Not necessarily extremely quick or athletic, though this can be a bonus


When it comes to 4-3 fronts, one defensive tackle is almost always in a 1 technique, and the other is almost always in a 3 technique on the other side of center. 4-3 linemen are typically responsible for one gap on any given running play, and are more responsible for generating a pass rush than linemen in a 3-4.

The 3-technique tackle is typically quicker than the 1 technique and has to deal with double teams less often. He is also more responsible for rushing the passer than the 1 technique. Typrically 3 technique tackles are:

  • Near or over 300 lbs.
  • Physical enough to control one gap versus the run against either a guard or a tackle
  • Quick off of the ball
  • Able to penetrate gaps between lineman and disrupt plays in the backfield. As opposed to stacking and shedding OL, he will be good at getting past the OL's block to one side or another.
  • Able to loop or "stunt" while rushing the passer

Of course, every defense is different and every player is different, but these "types" of player are usually what the draft experts are talking about when they use the terms "5 technique" and "3 technique." Given our personnel and what I expect to be our defensive scheme next year, I expect the Browns to be searching for a 3 technique DT. Ahtyba Rubin should be our 1-technique DT.

Up next: the Sam, Mike, and Will linebackers.

***There is a simplified version of this numbering system where the techniques start at 0 over the Center, then simply go up by 1 with the next shoulder of an OL. So a shoulder of the C is a 1-tech, inside shoulder of a OG is 2-tech, outside shoulder of OG is 3-tech, etc.