Up, Down or Stay: Outside of Iowa’s Epenesa, 2020 appears to be a down year for 5-techs

2020 NFL draft
NFL draft history

The top 5-technique defensive linemen in the 2020 NFL draft are A.J. Epenesa of Iowa, Marlon Davidson of Auburn, and …

And …

While this year’s crop of defensive ends and pass-rushing linebackers – Edge players – has some depth, the proverbial cupboard is almost bare when it comes to the 3-4 defensive ends, or 5-techs.

So, what exactly is a 5-tech? Let Pro Football Focus explain:

“… (T)he position was a two-gap player, lining up directly over the offensive tackle and being responsible for the B and C gaps on his side of the formation. These players are typically long and stout with a skill set that allows them to stack big offensive tackles and shed them in order to make a play on the ball carrier. As the league has developed into more of a pass-happy landscape, the position has developed into one that plays the pass first and run second, and the amount of two-gapping done in today’s league is a fraction of what it was 10 or more years ago. These defensive ends are moved around across multiple techniques and are far more likely to be operating in one gap and looking to penetrate into the backfield.”

The prototype for this position, according to the 2017 PFF analysis, is Houston’s J.J. Watt, who’s 6-foot-5, 295 pounds with 34-inch arms.

And therein lies the problem for teams looking for a pass-rushing 5-tech in this year’s draft – there aren’t too many players who fit the bill.

Among the candidates, courtesy of Drafttek:

  • Epenesa (6-5, 275; 34-1/2 inch arms): Looked good to dominate at times last season when he kicked inside. Teams are looking at Epenesa as a possible 3-tech or defensive end in a 4-3 defense, too, so he would be an ideal pick for a team that runs a bit of both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.
  • Davidson (6-3, 303; 33”): Doesn’t have ideal length but checks the other boxes. Davidson added weight prior to the Senior Bowl and was mostly used inside. Analysts said afterward that he was one of the most impressive linemen at the Senior Bowl.

  • James Lynch (6-4, 289; 31-7/8”), Baylor: You’d like your 5-techs to have longer arms, but Lynch also checks most of the boxes for this position.
  • McTelvim Agim (6-3, 309; 33-1/2”), Arkansas: Agim is an ascending prospect who had 14.5 sacks in four years, including a career-high 5 in 2019.
  • Larrell Murchison (6-2, 297; 32-5/8”), N.C. State: Doesn’t possess ideal measurements for the position and is more likely a better fit as a 3-tech.
  • Jason Strowbridge (6-4, 275; 32-3/8”), North Carolina: Good size for the position; as NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said, “appears to offer the necessary physical tools and demeanor to become a rotational 3-4 five-technique or 4-3 base end with eventual-starter potential.”

You may notice a theme, other than their size: There’s not a lot of Day 1 or Day 2 talent at the position.

Epenesa and Davidson are both seen as fringe first-rounders, with Epenesa as the higher-ranked prospect. And Lynch could hear his name called on Day 2.

As for the other 5-tech candidates: If your team needs one, you better draft him relatively early.

To be fair, teams that operate out of a 3-4 will draft defensive tackles who could slide over to the 5-tech. Raekwon Davis of Alabama (6-6, 311), Javon Kinlaw  of South Carolina (6-5, 324) and Derrick Brown (6-5, 326) of Auburn come to mind, as all fit the height prerequisite but are a little heavy for the position.

NFL draft analyst Marcus Mosher lists his top-5 5-techs as Epenesa, Davidson, Lynch, Davis and Strowbridge.

“This isn’t a particularly strong 5-tech class,” Mosher said in an interview with Fanspeak. “Even the guys at the top of the board don’t have a lot of experience playing the position, so it’s a lot of projecting.”

The wildcard out of this group is the top player, Epenesa.

“The top 5-technique in the class is A.J. Epensea from Iowa, who will have to move to that spot after running a 5.01 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine,” Mosher said. “He will likely need to put on 10-15 pounds to hold up on the outside, but given his power, he should be fine. Look for him to come off the board any time after the first 25 picks.

“After that, the group gets dicey. Marlon Davidson and James Lynch are both clunky fits as 5-techniques, but neither feel like ideal fits inside, either. Raekwon Davis has the most experience playing that spot, but the lack of production is concerning. It’s just not a strong group, and teams will likely be forced to overdraft this position in April.”

So when it comes to figuring out where to rank any of those players, keep in mind: Only the top 3 are considered Day 1 or Day 2 prospects, but even the 5-techs that are slotted for Day 3 will likely go earlier due to the sheer lack of quantity at the position.


Jake Rigdon (jake@sydwriting.com) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.

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