Much has been made about the defensive versatility the Patriots possess in their front seven this season.
It’s apparent that Bill Belichick loves to have some leniency with his players up front. He’s praised Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich and Jamie Collins for their positional versatility, which allows him to put the best 11 players on the field even if those players aren’t playing their “best” positions.

I received a question on Twitter on Tuesday asking which players in the front seven fit best in a 4-3 versus a 3-4. The Patriots have the ability to run more 3-4 looks this season after staying in a 4-3 base for much of 2011 and 2012 due to the versatility across the board.

This was an impossible question to answer in 140 characters or even over a span of tweets, so I figured I could flesh it out into it’s own post. I decided to go through every player, look at what positions they can play and then decide what their strongest position would be.

To give a quick refresher on all the different positions as simply as possible: in a 4-3, the seven-technique defensive end is an edge defender. The right-side end will be more of a traditional pass rusher (think Jared Allen), while the left-side end will be bigger and more of an edge-setting run stopper (Chris Long). A three-technique defensive tackle is more of an interior rusher (Geno Atkins), while the one-technique defensive tackle is more of a run stopper (Vince Wilfork). The weak-side linebacker will be smaller, faster and better in coverage (Derrick Brooks), the middle linebacker should possess the best overall ability (Brian Urlacher) and a strong-side linebacker will be the biggest, best run stopper and hopefully have some blitzing ability (Von Miller).

In a 3-4, a five-technique defensive end should be able to set the edge against the run while getting some penetration inside (J.J. Watt). The five-technique is like a mix between a left defensive end and three-tech defensive tackle. The nose tackle is essentially the same as the one-technique DT above (Wilfork). There are two outside linebackers — one will be like the right defensive end above (DeMarcus Ware), while the other will be similar to a strong-side linebacker (Ahmad Brooks of San Francisco). The two inside linebackers are like middle and weak-side linebackers (Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman).

Really, the differences between the two alignments can be overblown. They are all similar roles, except edge rusher will be standing up and the defensive line will be shifted.