Getting Defensive

Harry

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In the interest of full disclosure, I need to start this series by indicating I was COVID restricted all year and did not see a game in person. On the other hand, I have time plus DTV with Sportspac, so I was able to record tons of games, like in the old days. I also had a few evaluators send me some clips of key sections of full field films. So I did the best I could for you with those limitations. Of course these evals will be impacted by Pro Days & the Combine. BTW the NFL is on schedule to hold the Combine March 1-7. The expectation is the virus will have peaked well before then. So, here goes what I’ve seen.

The Cards defense has a hole in the middle of its D-line. They had hoped Phillips would be the answer. In part because of injury, Phillips has been a non-factor. Fotu was a reach to fill the gap and has flashed occasionally, but looks inconsistent at best.

Thus Jordan Davis is a player of great interest to many Cardinal fans. Literally a mountain of a man, he is an anchor of massive stature. Coming in at 6’6” and 360 lbs, he is quite a load to move. That size has made it very difficult to maintain peak condition. This lack of conditioning has limited Davis to about 25 snaps a game. The rumor is Georgia was unable to persuade him to improve his stamina. Many talent evaluators would tell you this rarely changes just because a player moves to the NFL. So do you want to use a first round pick on a part-time player? Oddly I’m betting someone will before the Cards select him. The reason is simple. Davis may well be the only serviceable DT in the draft. Don’t get me wrong. Other DTs, especially underclassmen, could well be elevated. The Cards would be taking a huge risk if they go that route in round 1.

Some people think Logan Hall can play inside. However I have him as an edge rusher. He could play inside but I don’t think he would be dominant. He is, however, aggressive. He uses a solid punch to put blockers off balance. He is also tenacious. Once he gains the advantage on a blocker he will continue to attack him, sometimes to the point of ignoring a ball carrier. This indicates a good motor and he will play until the whistle. He doesn’t bend well or show a good use of leverage. He has a tendency to lean forward and can be knocked off balance by a skilled blocker, so anchoring is a challenge. He doesn’t penetrate well when rushing inside. He seems to move to contact rather than trying to avoid it. He has value, but is not a Cardinal solution.

Then there’s Demarvin Leal. Recently arrested for marijuana possession, he’s another defensive end that has played inside on passing downs. On running downs he’s been typically moved to end. He gets by on athleticism, showing limited technique growth during his years in college. He does display good agility exhibiting a fluid change of direction. Leal has unusually long arms, which enable him to possess a good tackling radius. He has only moderate strength and can be manhandled. Leal would be better reviewed as a DE, but with such a deep edge pool and a shallow tackle pool it seems likely some team will try to tap his DT experience and use him inside. He might survive in a 4-3.

The second true tackle is likely Phidarian Mathis. He emerged at Alabama as s solid prospect. He’s strong and anchors well, offering enough power and agility to collapse a pocket. He has a quick first step that aids this process, but it’s not elite . This quickness also helps him stunt effectively. He has decent technique beyond bull rushes. He is decent at shedding blocks. He uses his strong hands to sweep aside would be blockers. He has a steady motor and seems very coachable.

So why do most have him in the second or third round. Well he’s not a natural bender and can be a bit stiff and upright, hurting his leverage. While he’s fairly quick, he’s not fast. He will seldom make plays other than in his assign area. If hit from the side he can be knocked off balance. While he’s generally agile, he not great at a quick change of direction. This makes him better in a one gap system. Like Davis he exhibits a tendency to wear down if the defense is on the field for a long drive. He’s a student of the game and hard to fool with play action. The Senior Bowl could be important to where he goes in the draft. I think he’s good enough to start but likely not be more than solid.

Devonte Wyatt likely has the quickest first step of any available tackle. Playing next to Davis on many plays certainly made his job easier. That said he’s polished technique-wise and likely would have been more prominent had he played elsewhere. He’s very agile with a great spin move. He uses leverage well, which enhances his above average strength. Unlike Davis he has good pursuit speed. Joseph would like him because he’s decent when asked to drop into coverage. He has fairly advanced moves, including one of college’s best swim moves. He uses his hands well and is effective shedding blockers. His arm length is okay but not good enough to give him a huge tackling radius. He wasn’t fluid when stunting. His motor was adequate but he seemed to take off some plays.

Travis Jones is a poor man’s Jordan Davis. At 6’5” & 333 lbs, he takes up more that his share of space. He’s sometimes just a fixed obstacle, but can be effective in shutting down an inside run game. Jones has quick feet and repositions easily. He’s strong, but neither fast nor agile. He tries to bully would be blockers and does have a good punch, showing fast hands. He has better than average upper body strength. He is so strong. His power enables him to split blockers and make plays against double teams. He plays hard and has had some success with a bull rush at collapsing the pocket. Stronger NFL blockers will likely make that move ineffective. His real ability is in disrupting the opposition’s attempt to run. He anchors effectively and can stack blockers. He is a wrap up tackler but lacks a big tackle radius. He reads play action effectively and is hard to fake out of position. He has not been an impact player as a pass rusher. He also lacks rusher technique, but since he is coachable this area could improve, especially against QBs that are not mobile. He loves to play the game.

If by some miracle Jones dropped to round 3, I’d consider even moving up to take him. I think the others are gone by round 2. He’s likely just a role player, but would be useful against a team focused on running the ball. He’s not likely a 3 down player but he does have value.
 

TheCardFan

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Looking forward to your breakdown of CB's.

Serious question - because I don't know:

Does our talent on D (specifically lack of a dominate NT and our two young LB's) lend itself better to a switch to 4-3?

The biggest weakness of a 3-4 is supposedly runs up the middle and we can certainly agree that has been a problem with us. Any chance that gets better with a different 3-4 DC?
 

JeffGollin

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Our most glaring problem - we lost a majority of one-on-one battles, especially during the 2nd half of the season.

Why we lost so many matchup batles was the combination of our players not developing as fast as their opponents and the FO and coaches not evaluating our own players well enough.

We will have to coach "smarter" to establish ourselves as a consistent winner, but we can't hire and fire coaches blindly. (We will need the golden combination of a smart coaching staff from top to bottom and a bit of blind luck (steep stairs to climb to reach the playoffs in the next few years).

NFL coaches function in pretty fast company these days. Out-performing them will entail luck as well as smarts (& a bit more patience on the part of the fan base).
 

abcard

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Harry, thanks for taking the time to do this. What do you think of Ridgeway from Arkansas?
 

reebokalone2001

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And how about DJ Davidson from ASU in late rounds? He played well against the inside run and was disruptive in rushing the middle as a Sun Devil. Thanks.
 

az jam

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Harry, love your draft analysis. Please continue it through the off season. You have excellent insight into the players skill sets and how they will fit into the Cardinal's needs.
 

Russ Smith

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On Davis the 25 snaps a game is hard to project because a big reason he only played 25 snaps a game is that Georgia only played 2 close games all season, Clemson and the first Bama game. When you're up 40 points your run stuffer isn't playing. He'll play more in the NFL

In the first 6 games he played 155 snaps, Georgia allowed 4 "explosive plays" which came out to an average of 2.72 yards per play when Davis was in the game. After 8 games opponents were averaging 1.9 yards per carry when he was on the field, over 3 when he wasn't. I don't know where that stat finished up.

He's a late bloomer he was a basketball player who eventually decided football was his future. For his size he's remarkably athletic, if you can get him at 340 he's a perennial pro bowler IMO.

And I still think he'll be off the board when we pick. Right now i want a WR or CB or Edge as the priority.
 

football karma

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Right now i want a WR or CB or Edge as the priority.

last six weeks of the season?

the Cards were getting beaten, often badly, on both lines of scrimmage

I am a believer that to have any chance, K1 has to be kept clean. Look at Brady yesterday in the first half --

so -- to me the priority is offensive line and its reasonably deep, with a few good OT or IOL guys available at 23
 

DVontel

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last six weeks of the season?

the Cards were getting beaten, often badly, on both lines of scrimmage

I am a believer that to have any chance, K1 has to be kept clean. Look at Brady yesterday in the first half --

so -- to me the priority is offensive line and its reasonably deep, with a few good OT or IOL guys available at 23
I think that was also a product of not having weapons. Evans is really good, but creating separation isn’t his forte & was a big reason why Brady was only good at the end imo.
 

DVontel

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Every team remaining lacks a really good OLine overall imo, but they have at least 2 game-breakers in their receiving options.
 
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DVontel

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Also, these playoffs(& even previous ones) should tell you that you need pass-rush & at least two game-breaking receiving options to get you far. Outside of the Rams, no team has a standout CB, & that standout CB on the Rams has arguably the greatest defensive player of all time also with one of the greatest edge rushers of all time.

At our range, I’ll be pissed if we go CB.


It’s Jermaine Johnson, WR, or bust imo
 
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Russ Smith

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last six weeks of the season?

the Cards were getting beaten, often badly, on both lines of scrimmage

I am a believer that to have any chance, K1 has to be kept clean. Look at Brady yesterday in the first half --

so -- to me the priority is offensive line and its reasonably deep, with a few good OT or IOL guys available at 23
I don't disagree but apparently this is not a great OL draft so you will be drafting guards after the first round. There are 3 guys projected first round at T, one at C and one guy who can play anywhere that I really like Kenyon Green from A&M he's actually projected to possibly be on the board when we pick and many see him as a G in the NFL. Again the problem in this draft is we might not have a QB taken in the top 20 picks, so where you usually have 3-5 spots filled with QB's those spots this year will suck up all the OL, CB and edge guys.

Unfortunately my top WR Drake London is moving up the draft mocks right now many have him in the top 15 I was hoping his injury might get him to slide to us but it would appear even if he doesn't run a great 40 or even run at the combine scouts don't care. he was a 2 sport star, basketball, he's just starting to tap his potential and he was brilliant at USC, with crappy Qb's, this year until he got hurt. Big body kid who highpoints the ball and runs after the catch, perfect replacement for AJ Green, but not going to be there it appears.
 

Russ Smith

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Every team remaining lacks a really good OLine overall imo, but they have at least 2 game-breakers in their receiving options.

One of the things I saw in the buffalo game and the announcer(Romo kept saying it) all the pressure was coming off the edge so when they needed more time, they just chipped the edge rushers. The problem we had and then TB had is that Aaron Donald just wreaks havoc in the middle. Brady was doing a very good job of moving in the pocket but Donald had him completely flummoxed too. he wasn't panicking and throwing a picksix like Kyler did but the point is NFL teams have figured out you can deal with pressure off the edge with chips and great QB's who step up in the pocket, when the pressure comes up the middle too, it's a whole different thing. That's why the Rams defense looked so good.

Take away the 2 fumbls by Akers and that game never gets close.
 

BritCard

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I'm not drafting a DE/DT. They take too long to be impactful in the NFL. Even very good ones like Quinnen Williams struggle early. We don;t have time for guys that might be good in a couple of years.

Staying in reality, I don't think the Cards invest in this area considering their cap constraints. They hope Watt stays healthy. Their hands with tied with Philips so they hope he stays healthy and improves. And that late season improvement from Allen sticks while crossing their fingers on Fotu, Dogbe and Lawrence.

Just don't see much happening here, they don't have any flexibility but if they did there are a tonne of guys on the market that could do a better job than a rookie.
 

Russ Smith

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I'm not drafting a DE/DT. They take too long to be impactful in the NFL. Even very good ones like Quinnen Williams struggle early. We don;t have time for guys that might be good in a couple of years.

Staying in reality, I don't think the Cards invest in this area considering their cap constraints. They hope Watt stays healthy. Their hands with tied with Philips so they hope he stays healthy and improves. And that late season improvement from Allen sticks while crossing their fingers on Fotu, Dogbe and Lawrence.

Just don't see much happening here, they don't have any flexibility but if they did there are a tonne of guys on the market that could do a better job than a rookie.


The problem with our group is Fotu is really the only guy you can expect to improve as a run defender. If JJ somehow plays a full season that goes out the window but Phillips is NOT a run defender, Lawrence is but I just don't think he'll ever be very good, he's a role player. Dogbe just haven't seen much from him to suggest he's about to break out. So the best chance our run defense improves next year is Watt is healthy, and Simmons and Zaven have the light come on. That's why I would at least consider taking a dominant interior guy. Watt made everyone else better because he drew 2 blockers, run defense is often just math and having guys who can get off a block and make a play. Watt made that easier because they had 1 less blocker.

I'm WR, edge or CB but if the good ones are all gone and I think they will be at CB, if Jordan Davis is on the board it's going to be hard for me to not say take him, it's a huge area of need and the kid is going to draw 2 blockers fairly regularly on run plays.
 

BritCard

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The problem with our group is Fotu is really the only guy you can expect to improve as a run defender. If JJ somehow plays a full season that goes out the window but Phillips is NOT a run defender, Lawrence is but I just don't think he'll ever be very good, he's a role player. Dogbe just haven't seen much from him to suggest he's about to break out. So the best chance our run defense improves next year is Watt is healthy, and Simmons and Zaven have the light come on. That's why I would at least consider taking a dominant interior guy. Watt made everyone else better because he drew 2 blockers, run defense is often just math and having guys who can get off a block and make a play. Watt made that easier because they had 1 less blocker.

I'm WR, edge or CB but if the good ones are all gone and I think they will be at CB, if Jordan Davis is on the board it's going to be hard for me to not say take him, it's a huge area of need and the kid is going to draw 2 blockers fairly regularly on run plays.

All of that is probably true, nevertheless they have no room to maneuver.

They can't get rid of Philips. Dogbe, Allen, Fotu and Lawrence will be on cheap deals. Watt isn't going anywhere and they only have $9m of cap space AFTER losing a crap tonne of starting players they need to replace.

Plus, I'd make the case that more of the issue with run defense is on the linebackers, not the DL.
 
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Harry

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Harry, thanks for taking the time to do this. What do you think of Ridgeway from Arkansas?
Before Arkansas he played at Illinois State. The transfer portal is going to result in several talented players, like Ridgeway, who have potential but are underdeveloped. He lacks the lower body strength and balanced footwork to be consistently an effective anchor without further development. He has a mediocre understanding of leverage so he’s not great at collapsing a pocket. He’s tall, 6’6”, and tends to ply to upright. He’s a little slow and wont make many plays in pursuit, though he’ll make the effort .
He has some aspects to build on. He has long arms with good hands, which he knows how to use. He decent at shedding blocks and plays tenaciously. He has some upper body strength and is a decent tackler, but only when he’s able to square up. He was a successful wrestler, which many talent evaluators endorse. He has a good motor and a positive outlook. He refused the opportunity to sit out the team’s bowl game but refused to do so.
He typically played straight up on the center rather than having gap responsibility. Arkansas used A rotational system plugging Ridgeway into run situations, so his durability may be a concern. Ridgeway is an overachiever, who would be a project at this point. He could develop, but is no sure thing. I didn’t include him because I don’t see him in the first 3 rounds. He will likely be drafted because of the player shortage at this position, making him an unlikely Cardinal selection. Of course, someone might reach and elevate him.
 

reebokalone2001

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All of that is probably true, nevertheless they have no room to maneuver.

They can't get rid of Philips. Dogbe, Allen, Fotu and Lawrence will be on cheap deals. Watt isn't going anywhere and they only have $9m of cap space AFTER losing a crap tonne of starting players they need to replace.

Plus, I'd make the case that more of the issue with run defense is on the linebackers, not the DL.
Really hope this does not give Keim an excuse to draft another first round ILB.
 
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Harry

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The problem with our group is Fotu is really the only guy you can expect to improve as a run defender. If JJ somehow plays a full season that goes out the window but Phillips is NOT a run defender, Lawrence is but I just don't think he'll ever be very good, he's a role player. Dogbe just haven't seen much from him to suggest he's about to break out. So the best chance our run defense improves next year is Watt is healthy, and Simmons and Zaven have the light come on. That's why I would at least consider taking a dominant interior guy. Watt made everyone else better because he drew 2 blockers, run defense is often just math and having guys who can get off a block and make a play. Watt made that easier because they had 1 less blocker.

I'm WR, edge or CB but if the good ones are all gone and I think they will be at CB, if Jordan Davis is on the board it's going to be hard for me to not say take him, it's a huge area of need and the kid is going to draw 2 blockers fairly regularly on run plays.
It’s worth noting many defenders don’t max out until year 3.
 

Russ Smith

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All of that is probably true, nevertheless they have no room to maneuver.

They can't get rid of Philips. Dogbe, Allen, Fotu and Lawrence will be on cheap deals. Watt isn't going anywhere and they only have $9m of cap space AFTER losing a crap tonne of starting players they need to replace.

Plus, I'd make the case that more of the issue with run defense is on the linebackers, not the DL.

I think it's both, Watt made the run defense better because they had to assign 2 guys to him so the LB's had an easier time. I really think losing Watt not just hurt the run defense it hurt the pass because we had to move safeties into the box to help stop the run.

Better LB play will help so I sure hope Simmons and Zaven do get better, we clearly should NOT draft another LB

Everyone loves Jameson Williams but he actually scares me, great year at Bama but couldn't get on the field at OSU his first 2 years, 15 catches in 2 seasons. So was OSU just so loaded that a great WR couldn't get PT, or was this year sort of a case of him on a great team with a great QB so he got lots of single coverage? Plus he's coming off injury. he's very fast and we do need a take the top off kind of guy so you can make that argument for him
 

cardpa

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On Davis the 25 snaps a game is hard to project because a big reason he only played 25 snaps a game is that Georgia only played 2 close games all season, Clemson and the first Bama game. When you're up 40 points your run stuffer isn't playing. He'll play more in the NFL

In the first 6 games he played 155 snaps, Georgia allowed 4 "explosive plays" which came out to an average of 2.72 yards per play when Davis was in the game. After 8 games opponents were averaging 1.9 yards per carry when he was on the field, over 3 when he wasn't. I don't know where that stat finished up.

He's a late bloomer he was a basketball player who eventually decided football was his future. For his size he's remarkably athletic, if you can get him at 340 he's a perennial pro bowler IMO.

And I still think he'll be off the board when we pick. Right now i want a WR or CB or Edge as the priority.
I think Davis will decide his own future once he comes into the combine. If he shows up out of shape and even heavier than his playing weight his stock will drop like a rock. If he comes in at weight or below and in shape then he can write his ticket as a first round selection.
 
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Harry

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And how about DJ Davidson from ASU in late rounds? He played well against the inside run and was disruptive in rushing the middle as a Sun Devil. Thanks.
Davidson was selected for the Shrine game. Top prospects get Senior Bowl invites. Watch to see if the Senior Bowl picks him up later. He has the run stopper frame teams are looking to find. He has good upper body strength with a good tackle radius. He also has good lower body strength which enables him to drive back his targets. He knows low man wins, showing good use of leverage. When anchoring he often stacks up blockers so others can make the tackle He has good burst and speed, pursuing well even through traffic. He’ll even pursue downfield. He quarts up nicely to tackle even when moving down the line. When rushing the passer he does a good job of staying in his running lane to bottle up the QB, but he seldom is much of a factor in getting to the QB.
When he fails to stay square, he struggles to make tackles, so he will be most effective playing a one gap system. At times he struggles to shed strong blockers. He needs to address his use of hands to be more effective. He can be faked by good play action. He seems to tire on long drives and take plays off, so his motor is in question. He can be goaded into being overly aggressive. Essentially he’d be a late round project if the Cards want another. They already have quite a few.
 

Russ Smith

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I think Davis will decide his own future once he comes into the combine. If he shows up out of shape and even heavier than his playing weight his stock will drop like a rock. If he comes in at weight or below and in shape then he can write his ticket as a first round selection.

Oh clearly that's going to be his issue the combine and pro day what will he weigh.

In HS he ran a 4.98 40 and had a vertical of I think 26 inches. They did some Nike combine thing or something like that, he was 360 pounds when he did that!

if he shows up for an NFL combine at 340 and puts up numbers like that lock 1st round. if he's 360 and doesn't do well in the drills he'll fall.

Georgia has a bunch of kids I like this year, him, Pickens, Dalvin Cooks brother.
 

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