As much as NFL defenses evolve over the years in terms of wrinkles within schemes and fronts, coaches and coordinators will typically have an athletic “profile” for each position that they look for when acquiring players for their system. So which players in the 2016 NFL Draft resemble the players that Rex Ryan has coached throughout his career? I decided to take a look at find out.
Having players with similar traits and athletic abilities at each position is important, because, in theory, it allows for the unit to continue running the same schemes in case of injury. The Philadelphia Eagles look for position-specific prototypes when evaluating players as well, as their VP of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz explained.
“This is a size/speed league. [Nick Saban and his staff at Alabama] believed the SEC was a size/speed league. There’s enough statistical data that will support that in terms of players that are playing at a high level. There’s a certain prototype. So there’s a certain prototype at each position. We try to build the same thing here, whether it’s at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, corner, safety. There’s a prototype, and there’s a model that fits what we do.”
Additionally, it allows teams to really narrow down the number of draft prospects the team has to evaluate each offseason. Instead of scouting a pool of thousands of players, having a profile of what you’re looking for allows you to break that pool of players down significantly.
The Green Bay Packers are intent on staying away from cornerbacks that are shorter than 5’10” and have followed that since Ted Thompson became General Manager in 2005.
So, let’s take a look at the players Rex Ryan has coached since he took over as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2005 and see if there are any trends. Additionally, we’ll look at prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft that fit the prototype that Ryan seems to covet on the defensive side of the ball.
Rex Ryan Nose Tackle Prototype
Rex Ryan’s defenses have relied on principles of the 3-4 over the last decade and the nose tackle position is extremely important when it comes to the overall success of the unit. Nose tackles don’t show up on the stat sheet, but they’re the ones occupying double teams at the point of attack and in turn, they allow the linebackers and other defensive linemen to make plays.
Rex Ryan’s defenses have always featured a big man in the middle, typically around 325-330 pounds that have great strength. Looking at the agility and speed numbers, it’s clear that the nose tackle’s role is to anchor and hold his ground, rather than penetrate the backfield.
So which players in the 2016 NFL Draft fit this mold?
Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler has awfully similar numbers to the average nose tackle that Rex has featured, as are Nebraska’s Vincent Valentine, Clemson’s D.J. Reader and Georgia’s Chris Mayes. UCLA’s Kenny Clark doesn’t meet the weight requirement, but he’s powerful, strong player at the point of attack that was a zero and one-technique nose tackle at UCLA.
Rex Ryan’s hybrid defense utilizes a variety of defensive tackles that have different body types and athletic profiles to fit their specific role. For instance, a five-technique defensive end (3-4 defensive end that aligns over an offensive tackle) needs to have more length and power to hold his own on the edge than a three-technique under tackle (defensive tackle that aligns between a guard and tackle) who’s quickness and agility is more important, as they are often the “disruptors” in the front.
Here’s some of the defensive linemen Rex Ryan has coached over the years.
As you can see, length and agility here is important, as each have at least 33” arms and tested well in the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone drills for their respective weights. These are important traits, as long arms allow the linemen to create space between themselves and the opposing offensive lineman, and the short area quickness helps them penetrate gaps.
Here’s the 2016 NFL Draft prospects that fit the profile of the defensive linemen Rex Ryan has had over the years, based on their numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine.
Nebraska’s Maliek Collins is very similar to the average defensive lineman that Rex is accustomed to, with nearly all of his tests lining up with the average. Texas’ Hassan Ridgeway has nearly identical height, weight, speed and strength, but his testing shows that he’s more agile in short areas and is more explosive, posting a 32” vertical leap and a 9’5” broad jump—both four inch increases over the average. Andrew Billings, who’s viewed as a first round pick doesn’t have the ideal height or length, and posted slower numbers in the shuttle, three-cone and vertical leap than the others.
One player that stood out in terms of testing was Mississippi State’s Chris Jones. Rex Ryan selected Muhammed Wilkerson in the first-round of the 2011 NFL Draft and he’s emerged into one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league, playing as a five technique and a three technique in sub-packages. Here’s how the two compare.
Jones reminds me of Wilkerson coming out of Temple when I watch him, showing explosiveness and power off the ball while using his length to control and gain leverage on opposing linemen. He’s disruptive against the run and pass, and you can bet that Rex Ryan will be keeping an eye on Jones throughout the draft process.
Rex Ryan has used a wide variety of players as edge defenders within his multiple defensive scheme. His hybrid fronts typically feature one true pass rusher on the edge, with the opposite being a “SAM” on the strong-side that will rush the passer, set the edge against the run or drop into coverage. Here’s a look at the different EDGE players that Ryan has coached over the years.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much data from the older players that played under Rex in terms of length and bench press numbers, but there’s enough to get an idea of the athleticism that’s coveted. At first glance, explosion is the key factor to look at of the edge rushers. Aside from Calvin Pace (not selected by a Rex Ryan-led staff) who played more of a “SAM” role than a true pass rushing role, all of the players have a 10-yard split of 1.66 seconds or less, with broad jumps of nearly 10 feet. Having more three-cone times would be a huge help, but they aren’t available. Terrell Suggs seems to be an outlier here, in that he only ran the 40 and the 20-yard shuttle—testing poorly in both—but the edge players have good quickness and agiity for their sizes.
Here’s the 2016 NFL Draft prospects that match up closest to those that Rex Ryan has coached.
Maryland’s Yannik Ngakoue matches up almost perfectly with every measurable on the table. He’s a raw pass rusher, but the traits resemble those that Rex Ryan seems to be drawn to. Jordan Jenkins and Noah Spence are also interesting. Both had slower times in the 40-yard dash, but they made up for it with their agility drills and their vertical leaps and broad jumps.
Charles Tapper and Emmanuel Ogbah ridiculous combines, considering they weigh 271 and 273 pounds, respectively. Their measurable and testing numbers are similar to one of Rex Ryan’s favorite players with the Baltimore Ravens, Adalius Thomas, who he used all over the field—as a defensive lineman, a linebacker, a safety and even at cornerback. The Bills met with Tapper at the Combine.
Rex Ryan has coached some of the best inside linebackers in the league over the years, from Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, David Harris and Peter Boulware, among others. All of them are big, physical presences that set the tone for the defense. They all are dominant against the run but not really explosive in coverage. It will be interesting to see how, or if, Ryan adjusts his prototype for the inside linebacker position as offenses are taking away the fullback or second tight end in favor of another wide receiver.
Here are the inside linebackers Rex has coached over the years.
Demario Davis is the lightest inside linebacker that’s played under Ryan (Jeremiah George played both inside and outside) and was the most recent to be drafted under his staff. Aside from George, all posted fantastic times in the agility drills (20-yard shuttle and three-cone), which is impressive for their size while showing the importance on making plays inside the hashes. Aside from Preston Brown and David Harris—neither of which were drafted by a Rex Ryan-led staff—all of the inside linebackers had great vertical leaps and broad jumps, which measures explosiveness. Linebackers aren’t leaping high in the air or jumping as far as they can, but these drills measure the ability to explode off the snap and get downhill. It’s clear that these drills have significance.
Let’s take a look at the inside linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft class that most closely measure up with those that Rex Ryan has worked with.
What a coincidence. A Clemson player that fits the mold of a Rex Ryan inside linebacker. B.J. Goodson’s numbers at the Scouting Combine are nearly identical to those of the averages among inside linebackers that Ryan’s coached over the years. Joshua Perry is another interesting one. He’s heavier, but brings more versatility with similar athleticism that Ryan covets.
Reggie Ragland is one of the most highly touted inside linebackers in this year’s draft, but his short area quickness isn’t even close to what Ryan has used in the past, and his vertical/broad jump numbers fall extremely short as well—even farther away if you remove Preston Brown and David Harris from the data sheet.
West Virginia’s Nick Kwiatkoski and Oklahoma’s Devante Bond are interesting prospects for the Bills to consider as well.
Next week, I’ll take a look at the cornerbacks and safeties that have played under Rex Ryan over the years and see which 2016 NFL Draft Prospects fit his prototype.