Defensive Prototypes: 3-Technique

Mike Renner examines the 3-techniques, often pointed to as the attacking interior defenders.

| 2 years ago

Defensive Prototypes: 3-Technique

prototypes-3techThe 3-technique is the most glamorous of all the interior alignments. By definition a 3-tech (or under tackle) is any player aligned on the outside shoulder of a guard. What makes it such a coveted position? He generally has free rein to get upfield and create disruption. Unlike a 0- or 1-, the 3-tech is tougher to double team simply by alignment and therefore can make more plays on ball carriers in the running game and get to the quarterback faster on pass plays.

The reason they face fewer double teams is that in a typical under front, the 3-technique aligns to the weak side with a defensive end outside of the weakside tackle. This means the tackle can’t double down and the center has a long way to go to try and execute a double team.

The one quality most associated with the 3-technique position is quickness. Defensive coordinators want their 3-techniques playing in the offensive backfield and there is no better way to do this than with a swift first step.

The heights of 3-techniques vary wildly across the board, although shorter tackles are often pigeonholed as 3’s. The one thing they do have in common, though, is weight. It’s rare to see one tip the scales at over 300 pounds as holding up to double teams cedes priority to agility.



3tech thumb

3-Tech, Click to Enlarge

The position has seen an evolution of sorts in recent years. In the past it was associated almost exclusively with pure 4-3 under teams, but more and more we are seeing 3-4 and multiple front teams find a way to get their most talented interior rusher at the 3-technique. Calais Campbell is typically thought of as being a prototypical base 3-4 end, a 5-technique, but the Cardinals lineman spent over half of his snaps in 2014 as a 3-tech.

The 3-technique tackle really started to gain steam as a popular term with the Buccaneers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s under head coach Tony Dungy. In the Bucs 4-3 under fronts, Warren Sapp played there and racked up hall of fame statistics doing it. Today, Gerald McCoy carries on that tradition as well as anyone in the NFL as he’s routinely in opposing teams backfields.

Two of the linemen that played the highest percentage of snaps at the 3-technique hail from similar systems. Geno Atkins and Sharrif Floyd both took over 70% of their snaps at the position and both play in Mike Zimmer-inspired 4-3 schemes. Zimmer likes to have his interior linemen at the 1- and 3-techniques on almost every play, with defined roles for each.

A couple of breakout players round out our prototypes as Tyrone Crawford and Aaron Donald were both primarily 3-techniques for the Cowboys and Rams, respectively. Crawford spent his first year in the league as a 3-4 end before tearing his Achilles in 2013 and then moving to tackle last season. Donald was hailed as a “3-technique only” coming out of college with his small stature and elite quickness. The Rams didn’t test that theory as he lined up at 3-technique 63.3% of the time and was our top-graded defensive tackle as a result.


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| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Chris


  • Thomas Hicks


    • asdf

      not a 3 technique

    • Malachi

      is a nose, in a 3-4 too, kyle williams plays more under tech

  • Jason Pevitt

    I appreciate this series but can we please fix the graphs? They’re actually disgusting. Use some professional quality (i.e. the line graphs are ugly but I can live with it because I see you guys want to get as many guys in there as possible while avoiding the clunkiness of a dodged bar graph with 5 guys). The proportions are just so off. The only time they’re readable is when blown up to the point that they’re unwieldy. Seriously, fifteen minutes spent on them and even I could have them looking almost as good fivethirtyeight’s.

  • Jason Pevitt

    Also no Suh? Interesting. I didn’t think he got moved around as much as he apparently did.

    • Mike Renner

      While Suh excels as a 3-tech, he only spent 41% of his snaps there.

      • Jason Pevitt

        Any way we’ll be able to see his distribution? Curious to see if he played more outside as a 4 or 5 tech or inside at the 1-0

        • Mike Renner

          If we did a prototype for versatility Suh would be featured, but he lined up in too many spots to fit into this series. That said he took about half his snaps in the B gap, 40% of his snaps between the guards, and the rest at 4-tech and outward.

          • Jason Pevitt

            gotcha, about what I figured. Thanks!

  • LightsOut85

    Is there a reason Campbell’s line (specifically past 5-tech) is different than the original graph (of various DLs – but in relation to JJ Watt) that was tweeted out? In that, 5-tech was the last he had any snaps at.

    Looking at it again, on the original graph, Campbell had roughly 10% at 5-tech, which is his % for 6/7 here.

  • Ramiroquaaii

    Flletcher Cox?! He’s becoming a elite disruptive player in the last season.

  • Dalen Erickson

    Crawford is an ANIMAL. Expect him to be one of the better 3 techs in the league in 15 ESPECIALLY under Marinellis tutelage