Inspired by EliManCrushing's piece on Mike Pouncey, I wanted to present my argument FOR Akeem Ayers. I've been beating the drum for the New York Giants to pick him since forever, and I feel that I should back it up. Regardless, I'm convinced that the pick won't be Ayers (it'll be OL - Pouncey, Castonzo, etc.).
This is not to convince anyone that Ayers is a better prospect than Pouncey (two different positions, two different needs). This is merely to allay any concerns if he DOES end up being the pick, come April 28th.Reported Strengths: Scheme versatility, pass coverage, reading passing offense, pass rushing
Reported Weaknesses: Run defense, "soft", "instincts," "athleticism" (scouting reports and comments)
I watched a bunch of UCLA games last year, and Ayers has had great games (like against Kansas St.) and poor games (like against Oregon). There's tape of both available on youtube, if you'd like to look it up. I'm going to reference his game against Stanford, however, and break down some of that tape because I feel that it represents a microcosm of what Ayers brings to the table as a potential pick. Let me remind you as well, Stanford is no slouch, they're headed by the top overall prospect in the nation, Andrew Luck. Here's the link:
Play 1 (0:00-0:14): Ayers is set slightly off the line. Drops back in zone coverage, diagnoses the run play, and runs all the way to the other side of the field to get a hit on the running back. What it shows: Excellent motor and athleticism to move across the field to lay a hit.
Play 2 (0:14-0:25): Again, Ayers is set slightly off the line, but this time, his assignment is to rush the passer on a blitz. He was unblocked and was able to make a tackle-for-loss against the running back. What it shows: Not much, except that Ayers is a good tackler (which he is; has good technique).
Play 3 (0:26-0:45): Ayers is finally in the typical LB position and immediately rushes down on the strong side. He overcomes a block, and though he doesn't make the tackle, his pursuit forces the RB to bounce to the outside, preventing the big play. What it shows: Shows basically what the reports say in terms of run defense. Ayers will not be an elite run defender at the next level as he can't make that extreme lateral cut to take down the RB (then again, there are very very few that could make that play), but it also shows that he has plenty of athleticism to take on a low block and recover quick enough to make a positive impact on the play.
Play 4 (0:46-0:57): Ayers has his hand on the ground in a 3-man defensive front, and is able to get some pressure, but not in time to rattle the passer. What it shows: Ayers uses more of his natural athleticism than technique. He shows some power in being able to drive back two blockers, but uses a bull rush and can't get to the QB in time,.
Play 5 (0:58-1:08): Ayers is back off the line standing up, and initially is in coverage over the WR. He diagnoses the run play, but cannot get off the block in time to make the tackle before the 1st down. What it shows: Granted, this wasn't his fault somewhat, as his job was the seal off the edge and stay in coverage. However it does show that Ayers does struggle somewhat in shedding blocks.
Play 6 (1:08-1:18): Ayers is in the LB spot and runs up to make the tackle, but is effectively blocked out of the play. What it shows: This was somewhat of a goof, by Ayers, but I'm pretty sure that's a hold on the offensive lineman that took him down.
Play 7 (1:19-1:33): Now this is a nice play. Ayers comes up from the LB spot to make a nice tackle on the RB after a short gain. What it shows: This is the potential that Ayers has. He has the ability to navigate the "wash" to make a textbook tackle on the RB, who happened to run on the OTHER SIDE. That showcases Ayers lateral agility and deceptive speed, not to mention, contradicting the fact that Ayers "let's the play come to him and is soft and doesn't swarm to the ball."
Play 8 (1:34-1:44): Ayers maintains his edge and makes a play on the running back in his direction. What it shows: Ayers again struggles somewhat to shed his blocks, but is athletic enough to make a play on the RB that tries to run by.
Play 9 (1:45-1:58): This time, he's up at the LOS and goes back in coverage. The player in his zone makes the catch. What it shows: Even though it was not Ayers' man, it shows his smooth backpedal and fluid hips as he is able to turn around and tackle the WR. This was more a testament to a beautiful pass splitting the coverage more than Ayers' pass coverage.
Play 10 (1:59-2:10): This is probably the play that makes me want to have Ayers in Big Blue next season. Ayers is coming up to blitz, but backs off and makes a play on Andrew Luck. What it shows: Anybody questioning Ayers' "instincts" or "intelligence" please look at this play. Ayers is clearly rushing the passer, however, he diagnosed the play, and stayed in his zone. If he had rushed, Luck could have passed to number 8, who was curling back, because there would be nobody covering the zone underneath. Ayers comes back, gives Luck nowhere to throw, and comes up with forcing him out for marginal yardage. Beautiful play by Ayers.
Play 11 (2:11-2:20): Ayers is taking up the MLB spot here and runs straight to meet the RB head on. What this shows: Again, the tape shows that Ayers struggles shedding blocks, but still manages to make the tackle.
Play 12 (2:21-2:31): Ayers has his hand on the ground, and makes his away across the line of scrimmage to make the tackle on the RB. What this shows: The RB was able to get the 1st down, but once again, Ayers navigates his way from being the furthest away from the play to making the tackle. It shows fluidity and agility, but most of all, it shows his motor.
Play 13 (2:32-2:43): This is probably the worst play that Ayers makes all night. He cannot disengage his blocker to get to the RB to make the play. What this shows: What's already been confirmed. Ayers has trouble shedding OL blocks.
Play 14 (2:44-2:58): Similar play to the last one, this time though, Ayers fares a little bit better disengaging his block. What this shows: See, play 13.
Play 15 (2:59-3:08): Ayers stacks up in the wash and makes the play against the run with a violent tackle. What this shows: That was a nasty tackle and anybody saying that he doesn't have the fire can just look to this play.
What this confirms is that if Akeem Ayers joins New York next season, he instantly becomes the most talented and athletic LB on our team. His versatility, whether it is playing close to the line, with his hand on the ground, or in the standard SLB position, is what defines Ayers and is what gives him virtually unlimited upside. He is absolutely perfect for Fewell's Tampa-2 defense. Why? Because this versatility allows Fewell to mold him however he sees fit.
Our very own Rorschach44 described Ayers as a "WILL in a SAM's body." Well, my friends, at 6-foot-4 258 pounds, with the ability to run a 4.68, that is EXACTLY what we need. His zone pass coverage is SECOND-TO-NONE in this draft class. He is a strong pass rusher, arguably the best one that fits in a 4-3 defense. While he is not as aggressive as, say, Martez Wilson or Bruce Carter, he has an incredible motor. He does not give up on plays and was the defensive MVP and team captain of UCLA. He has very fast reaction time and can diagnose PASSING plays well.
His biggest weakness, that is the strength to shed blocks, is correctable, as he has a frame where he can add more bulk if need be. Put him next to Goff, who is supremely underrated by the rest of the league in terms of run defense, and he provides the safety valve in pass coverage. He has the agility to be very successful in run blitzes, with the intelligence to know when to back off. Put him behind our defensive line and he has the tools to lock down coverage and let our safeties play back, and instantly improve the secondary.
My view is that the Giants do not have that one missing link on defense in order to be a truly shut down group. One may argue that one player can't make that much of a difference, especially as a LB in a 4-3. I think they can. A prospect with Ayers' size and agility (not speed; agility is much more important for a LB and Ayers in all drills looked the most fluid at the combine) combined with his intelligence in zone coverage can boost both the secondary and give more free reign on the defensive front.
I truly do believe that if you want that difference maker (and I think Ayers is the top 4-3 LB in the draft), then you take him, do not settle. Ayers has that ability to be the difference maker, and that's why I'll be ecstatic if his name is called for the 19th pick in the draft.
EDIT: I'd also like to allay those athleticism concerns by pulling out some measurables for you guys, and comparing them to JPP (who was hailed as an "athletic freak" that could have played 3-4 OLB)
JPP - 6'5 265lbs
AA - 6'4 258lbs
40 yd. Dash
JPP - 4.67
AA - 4.68
JPP - 19
AA - 22
JPP - 9'7
JPP - 30.5"
AA - 31"