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Updated July 2, 2010
This is a continuation of Tier 5 in the Positional Value Pyramid
. The fourth position in Tier 5 is the 3-4 inside linebacker.
3-4 Inside Linebacker Positional Analysis
: The responsibilities of the 3-4 outside linebacker is primarily rushing the quarterback as well as covering some range in the flats and stopping the outside run. However, the 3-4 inside linebacker is simply less valuable because this position doesn't do much in terms of rushing the quarterback.
Yes, the 3-4 inside linebacker is occasionally asked to blitz, but the primary responsibility of the 3-4 inside linebacker is to stop the run. He needs to be able to drop back in coverage for pass defense, but he doesn't have to cover as much ground as the 4-3 inside linebacker and since there are two 3-4 inside linebackers there if neither rushes the quarterback.
The 3-4 inside linebacker MUST be able to stack and shed at the point of attack. He has to occasionally go up against a guard or center if they get to the second level, and he must have the bulk and strength to absorb the block. The 3-4 inside linebacker also has to be very disciplined with his gaps and he needs very good instincts to sniff out runs. He needs to be able to work through trash to tackle the ball-carrier.
The general idea behind the conventional 3-4 defense is the defense line absorbs all of the blockers, the outside linebackers rush the quarterback, and the inside linebackers stop the run and are able to drop in coverage.
Scarcity - 2
: This is a "low 2" on the grading scale. It isn't very hard to find 3-4 inside linebackers since they don't have to be as athletic or fluid as 4-3 inside linebackers. All you really need are players who have good instincts and can tackle. Athleticism is important, but you don't need elite athleticism at this position.
Effectiveness - 2
: This position is supposed to stop the run as well as cover some ground in pass defense. However, this position doesn't rate very highly in the "playmaking" category when compared to other positions.
Money - 2
: Karlos Dansby recently received $43 million from the Dolphins, but some will say they overpaid for a 3-4 inside linebacker. This position receives an average salary for the most part.
Durability - 3
: Players can have very productive careers in their mid 30s at 3-4 inside linebacker. Ray Lewis, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau can all attest to this. Maybe 3-4 inside linebackers just have some sort of mental toughness that enables them to have longer careers, but it also needs to be noted that this position doesn't need amazing speed to be productive.
The fifth position in Tier 5 is interior offensive linemen (guards and centers).
Interior Offensive Line Positional Analysis
: I grouped guards and centers together simply because there isn't much difference in value between the two positions.
Guards and centers do have pass blocking responsibilities, obviously, but the bread and butter from this position is getting a push in the run game. You need players here who can execute good technique, get to the second level and drive block. They need to be athletic and tough.
There is some difference depending on what you what here from a skill set standpoint, but this varies from team to team and scheme to scheme. Zone-blocking linemen are expected to be lighter and more athletic because they have to cover more ground and do a lot of pulling and trapping. Man-to-man blocking linemen are tougher to find because they need to be athletic, but size is also very important here too.
Centers need to be the key cog on the offensive line in terms of leadership. They are the line general. They pick up the quality of play from their teammates and they assist the quarterback in pass protection most of the time.
You will notice below that interior linemen got two 3s on the grading scale, but the reason the position wasn't higher was simply because of their effectiveness isn't nearly as important in relation to other positions.
Scarcity - 2
: This is a "low 2" on the grading scale. You can find quality centers and guards in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, and if you want an elite prospect at these positions you will have to surrender a first-round pick unless you're lucky.
Effectiveness - 2
: Interior offensive linemen have roles as pass protectors in picking up blitzes and not allowing pressure, but their biggest responsibility is creating running lanes.
Money - 3
: These positions are very cheap. Steve Hutchinson did receive $49 million from the Vikings, but he's regarded as the best guard of the past 10-15 years. Elite guards and centers make between $5 and $6 million per year. Average players at these positions are very cheap.
: Guards and centers can have extremely long careers. Kevin Mawae is coming off a great year for the Titans. Great centers can last into their late 30s. Bruce Matthews had a very long career with the Titans as well.
The sixth position in Tier 5 is the tight end.
Tight End Positional Analysis: The most overrated position in the NFL is probably tight end. Yes, it is nice to have a very good tight end because he can be a weapon in the passing game, but the position simply isn't dynamic.
The tight end is expected to stretch the seams and do some damage after the catch, but tight ends generally simply lack the game-breaking speed of wide receivers to get huge chunks of yardage. We can't expect tight ends to be Vernon Davis or Antonio Gates. Tight ends need to have very consistent hands. They are expected to do some in-line blocking, but this seems to be less and less of a responsibility over the last 20 years in the NFL.
Tight ends are becoming a slot receiver in some sense if you look at what roles Dallas Clark and Chris Cooley play for their teams.
Because tight ends are generally 6-4 to 6-6, they can make a big difference on the goal line for their team due to a height advantage over linebackers and defensive backs.
Scarcity - 1: This is a dime-a-dozen position. You can find a very good tight end in the second to fourth rounds of the NFL Draft. It's not too difficult to find a productive tight end via trade or free agency.
Effectiveness - 2: This is a "low 2" on the grading scale. Tight ends catch the ball a little bit, but they don't generate a lot of yardage and their role as blockers isn't ridiculously important.
Money - 2: Brent Celek recently received $34 million from the Eagles over eight years. Pretty average money for one of the top 8-10 tight ends in the league.
Durability - 2: Tight ends generally don't last into their late 30s.
The seventh and last position in Tier 5 is the No. 3 Wide Receiver.
No. 3 Wide Receiver Positional Analysis: The No. 3 receiver in the NFL is also generally referred to as the slot receiver because they line up in the slot position just a few yards away from the tight end or offensive tackle. This position would be in Tier 6, but because there have been more and more three-receiver sets in the NFL due to the spread offense this position has gained value.
Slot receivers must have consistent hands. They need to be sure route runners. Most importantly, they need to be able to do damage after the catch. This isn't an explosive position, and these players aren't expected to score a lot of touchdowns. No. 3 receivers are supposed to be very reliable like No. 2 receivers, but the main difference is they play a less-explosive role as a pass catcher than No. 2 receivers do. Because the position typically only runs short and intermediate routes, it has less value than a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver who tends to do more downfield receiving and be a huge threat in the deep third.
No. 3 receivers also generally lack some size, but this is OK because they don't need to be 6-4, 220 anyway.
Scarcity - 1: It isn't hard to find slot receivers at all. The position doesn't require a lot of speed or size. All you really need is a receiver who can catch the football, run routes and get some yards after the catch.
Effectiveness - 2: This is a "low 2" on the grading scale. Slot receivers don't put up a lot of stats, but they do play a more critical role than ever in the NFL's history due to the spread offense.
Money - 3: Slot receivers are very, very cheap. The best slot receiver in the NFL, Wes Welker, received less than $4 million per season from the Patriots three years ago.
Durability - 2: The position needs some speed, but you don't have to be Joey Galloway in his prime. Therefore, even slot receivers tend to wear down in their mid 30s.
We only have one more tier to go in the Positional Value Pyramid, and I will also release a spreadsheet that condenses all the information for quick reference.
Introduction to the Positional Value Pyramid
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 1 - Quarterbacks
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 2 - Left Tackles, Right Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks, Rush Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 3 - Defensive Tackles, No. 1 Wide Receivers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 1 - Safeties, Nose Tackles, Left Ends, 4-3 Inside Linebackers
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 4 Part 2 - Running Backs, Right Tackles
NFL Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 1 - No. 2 Wide Receivers, 3-4 Ends, Weakside Linebackers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 5 Part 2 - 3-4 Inside Linebacker, Interior Offensive Linemen, Tight End, No. 3 Wide Receivers
Positional Value Pyramid: Tier 6 - Strongside Linebackers, Kickers, Punters
Positional Value Pyramid Spreadsheets
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