Every year, a few NFL Draft prospects stand out to me as underrated players that can be very successful NFL players. I try and do film studies on them. Last year, the player I liked the most was Sheldon Richardson, who ended up going to the New York Jets. Here is the study I did on him:
This year, a prospect who I think is underrated by many is BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy. He is being pigeon-holed into a 3-4 outside linebacker because he was a productive pass rusher. I think the opposite is true, as his biggest weakness is pass rushing. Let's break down, as always, what to look for when scouting a linebacker. In particular, this is what I look for in a 4-3 linebacker.
First thing I look for is where the guy lines up. Is he outside or inside? Many college players play both inside and outside linebacker, so that doesn't really concern me too much either way. Secondly, I look to see how far off the line of scrimmage the 'backer sets up. A definite positive is when a linebacker can set up shop all over place, whether it be 10 yards back, or right in an offensive lineman's face. It adds a bit of gamesmanship to the equation, and that type of versatility really opens up the playbook.
POST-SNAP: RUN DEFENSE
A big part of the evaluation process (and indeed, the most important) is "instincts." But nobody ever really defines what that means. Every year, you hear people saying, "Oh, this guy is much more instinctual than that guy." I see a player's instincts as the time it takes to not only read and diagnose a play, but start reacting to it. You can physically compare the read and react abilities between different linebackers from the time the ball is snapped (in this case, handoff for a run play) to when they start their first movement towards the ball. An "instinctual" linebacker may even be able to diagnose the play as a run just from the set up of the offensive line. Those extra one or two steps are absolutely critical because it allows the linebacker to anticipate and plug up the seam that the line would create.
One phrase I use is "navigating the 'wash.' What is the "wash", exactly? Basically just all the mosh that goes on at the LOS. It's the linebacker's duty to disengage from any blocks that might emerge from there, avoid any other blocks, go through the battles raging between defensive and offensive lines and locate the ball carrier. If he has the vision and movement to do that fluidly and consistently, it's a big plus.
After the linebacker reads and reacts, the next thing to look for when defending the run is "closing speed." That is essentially from the time they make their first step to towards the ball carrier, to impact. On tape, this is probably the easiest to see. When you talk about linebackers being missiles, it's because of their closing speed. It's the reason why everyone was so infatuated with Vontaze Burfict. He's got great closing speed and it's one of the most visible aspects of the game.
Finally, you look for tackling technique. Can you drive the runner back? How do you tackle? Do you drive through the player and wrap up? Or do you lean in with the shoulder and go for the big hit? Tackling is technically coachable, but after playing a certain way forever, it's difficult to change. Therefore, tackling technique is a priority.
POST SNAP: PASS COVERAGE
When a linebacker goes back into coverage, if it's zone, what I'm looking for the most is zone discipline. Does he have the sideline-to-sideline range? What that means is he can transition laterally smooth enough to cover his area. I'm looking for him to take away a spot for the quarterback to throw. It's not being unaggressive, it's playing smart, and to be a Giants' linebacker, that's a must.
In man coverage, it's all about speed and hip fluidity. When covering someone, like a tight end, for example, I'm looking for how and when the linebacker turns around and flips his hips. If he's too early turning around, he'll get beat when the receiver makes his break because the linebacker has his back to him. If he waits too long, he gives the receiver the option when to get into his break and gives him extra time to get free. A well-timed switch allows the linebacker to keep the receiver within sight, as well as minimizing the distance to help break up a potential pass.
Finally, look for the basic things in coverage. Does he keep his hands up? Does he have ball skills and good body control? These last two aren't absolutely necessary, but they certainly don't hurt.
POST SNAP: PASS RUSH
Finally, the big thing with rushing the passer is the ability to detect and back off the passer if you sense a screen or run play. You don't like guys vacating their area to rush the passer willy nilly. They have to be cognizant of the situation. Apart from that, apply the same ideas about closing speed and tackling technique.
I'll be doing this study a little differently. Along with going with the times and analyzing each play, I'll try and use a 'ProFootballFocus' grading system to come up with the player's overall grade for that game, so you guys can see not only where my thoughts are, but how exactly I'd quantify their performance on a play-to-play basis.
Just like PFF, this grading system goes with a maximum possible score of +2.0 for a play, to a lowest possible score of -2.0. Also just like PFF, if the player does what an "average (read: mid-round)" prospect does, that counts as a 0.0. I can guarantee, I'd never give a +2.0, nor would I give a -2.0, it'd just have to be the worst or best play ever. In any case, I've said enough about that, so let's get on with it!
Kyle Van Noy
Height: 6-3 Weight: 243 Arm Length: 31 5/8"
Kyle Van Noy vs Utah State 2013 (via JmpasqDraftjedi)
0:00-0:41 KVN lines up as an outside linebacker on the edge in a pass rushing set. He makes a pre-snap read, stays back, drifting to the far side, sees the quarterback's eyes and picks off the short pass by positioning himself in the passing lane. Then he takes it to the house. Shows instincts and athleticism. Wonderful play right off the bat. Grade: +1.6
0:42-0:49 Lines up on far side edge on LOS, reads play and tries collapsing in during the run, but the running back was going straight up the gut regardless and gets past him. Meh play, he could've gotten there faster. He helps clean up in the pile. Grade: +0.0
0:50-0:58 Lines up on far side edge, rushing all the way but gets stone-walled after making initial inside move by guard and gets rendered useless. Quarterback gets throw off quickly and that's that. Grade: -0.3
0:59-1:17 Far side edge, run play. Like the second play, KVN tries bending in and collapsing from that edge. Run play goes near side and KVN shows awesome backside pursuit and speed to catch up and get a hit on the running back. He dives for the tackle, but misses. He does, however, slow him down and allows for others to clean up. Strong play. Grade: +0.7
1:18-1:26 Near side edge, fakes the pass rush but is actually in man coverage with the tight end on a shallow crossing route. Gets beaten on inside edge but is able to stay with the player, though the quarterback doesn't throw to him. Van Noy might've gotten beaten on the play had the quarterback thrown it to his assignment and placed it in front. Grade: -0.4
1:27-1:34 Far side edge, run play, he slips the fullback and maintains his edge. The running back ran straight and then to the near side. I don't know if that was by design or if it was because Van Noy and friends beat their blocks and maintained contain. Either way, the fullback whiffed on KVN and he should get a little bit of credit for staying with his assignment. Grade: +0.1
1:35-1:46 Bad play by KVN here. Far side edge, as a passrusher he gets doubled right off the bat. Doesn't use any wiggle and simply hand fights the two blockers, giving the quarterback ample time to make a play. Grade: -0.5
1:47-2:03 Far side, overload and blitzing off the edge. Shows good bend to change directions from going upfield to going laterally. Running back got the ball on the run play as a halfback blastlast play between the LG and LT. Van Noy gets chipped a little by the H-back and barely misses on the run play. Almost nobody could make that play given how far away he started, but he came close. Grade: +0.0
2:04-2:11 Far side, drops back into zone coverage responsible for the shallow far side. Quarterback doesn't even look his way but he shows decent back pedal and gets to his zone quickly and efficiently. Grade: +0.0
2:12-2:22 Lined up over slot wide receiver. Comes off of him on a delayed pass rush. Doesn't get home but shows a good amount of straight line speed and a nice bit of wiggle as he eludes the first blocker to get picked up by the second. No quarterback hurry because it was a weird play that made him delay the blitz, but he showed some nice traits. Grade: +0.0
2:23-2:39 Lines up on far side edge, but hustles back in man coverage against the slot receiver. He actually catches up with him and the quarterback's protection breaks down pretty quickly and is forced to roll out and eventually take off and run on the opposite side. Credit KVN here for getting to his spot on time. Looked a little funky doing it, though. Grade: +0.3
2:40-3:01 Lined up over the slot. Recognizes the run play instantaneously and avoids a block from the wide receiver, gets in the backfield in a hurry and makes a fantastic tackle for loss against the running back. This is the type of play that you can get excited about - shows instincts and the closing speed to match that. Grade: +1.3
3:02-3:16 Near side edge, anticipates a run as he takes one step inside just as the QB uses play action. Recognizes immediately that its a fake, he steps back, fights through a block and gets a pressure on the QB as he is forced to release the ball. This is a nice play because again you see the quick recognition, but also the ability to fight through a block despite not having any momentum to aid him. Grade: +0.6
3:17-3:33 Near side, pass rush snap. Uses a spin move to break free of initial offensive tackle block, but gets picked up by the guard and doesn't get a pressure on the QB, but helps to push in the pocket. The quarterback runs and KVN disengages and gives chase, but when he dives, he whiffs. Grade: -0.5
3:34-3:42 Lines up over the slot, but moves in closer pre-snap after assignment goes in motion. Stays in as a zone cover guy. Reads and moves out to tackle the ball carrier, but stumbles. Gets back up and contributes to the tackle for minimal gain. He did lose a bit of contain as the running back was able to progress the ball in his zone. Grade: -0.2
3:43-4:07 Pure pass rushing snap off the far side. Easily gets a great jump and is right in the QB's face but his poor change of direction makes him pull an "Osi" and he over runs the target. This frees up his side since he vacated his edge and the quarterback runs for a nice gain and a first down. Bad play. Grade: -0.7
4:08-4:16 Lines up near side in a pass rush set, fails initial punch so tries sweeping inside. As he moves in, ball is already thrown and he shows good hustle to get near the play but he really didn't contribute. Grade: -0.1
4:17-4:41 Near side, playing run all the way. Diagnoses the read-option and his assignment is the QB. Shows tremendous backside pursuit and gets the quarterback down on the opposite sideline for a loss. Athleticism and range on display. Grade: +1.0
4:42-5:07 Near side, pass rushing. Great first step allows him to instantly run past the offensive tackle and cause a QB hurry, but over runs the play a little once the tackle gets some help and the quarterback is allowed to advance on his side. It was a good and bad play by KVN, so he'll get a neutral grade on this one. Grade: +0.0
5:08-5:28 Far side lined up against the slot receiver in zone coverage. As the ball is snapped, his target makes a quick in cut and KVN is not fooled into chasing him as he maintains discipline. He switches on to the late incoming target who gets the ball and is stopped instantly by KVN and friends. Good play because of the discipline he showed. Grade: +0.4
5:29-5:40 Tremendous run defense here. Lined up far side, Van Noy sheds the block by the tight end and then gets engaged by the fullback. Freeze frame the video here if you can. He sheds that block as well and is already in the backfield before the running back can even make his initial cut. The back has no choice but to cut and go laterally where he is cleaned up by other edge players for a marginal run. Grade: +0.7
5:41-5:53 Near side edge, fakes the rush and steps back in shallow coverage. Seems to be taken a little off guard by the offense rolling his side and it takes him a little bit of time to get out to the flat where the receiver made the catch. He's a bit late to the tackle too. Not a terrible play, but not a positive one. Grade: -0.5
5:54-6:05 Near side, backpedals into his zone on a coverage play. Nobody enters his zone and he stays disciplined. Throw doesn't come near him but he makes his way to the catch anyway. Decent awareness, and a nice backpedal, but that's all we can really say about this one. Grade: +0.1
6:06-6:20 Near side, run play all the way. Sheds the block immediately and gets around the runner and tackles him near the ankles simultaneously with teammate for minimal gain. Strong play by KVN. Grade: +0.4
6:21-6:33 Lined up as inside linebacker, pass rush up the gut. Sandwiched between center and guard and hit down. No impact on the play and the opponent gets off a nice gain on a pass to the flat. Grade: -0.2
6:34-6:47 Lined up over the slot and takes on man coverage versus the receiver. Watch the quarterback's eyes on this play. He thinks its a mismatch between his receiver, who takes a nice in-cut at the beginning of the play versus Van Noy, a linebacker. Van Noy disrupts the receiver on his route and forces the QB to hold on to the ball to roll the other way and make a riskier (albeit successful) deeper throw. Grade: +0.4
6:48-7:02 KVN lines up in the slot again in man coverage. He hesitates for a second and allows his opponent to get past him on an out and up route. He somehow has the speed to catch up to him and gets close enough on his inside hip to force the quarterback to throw a perfect pass (which it is not) on the outside shoulder of the receiver. End result is incomplete pass. Positive points here for his athleticism, negative points for his hesitancy and allowing to get beaten. Grade: -0.2
7:03-7:12 Near side edge, drives upfield on a pass rush set but the play was set ahead of him and to his opposite side so he made no impact. Grade: +0.0.
7:13-7:24 Near side edge, as a pass-rusher. Gets beaten to the spot by the offensive lineman and is double teamed. Knowing he won't get there, he stands back like Jason Pierre-Paul does very often, and gets vertical to bat down the pass. Nicely done. Grade: +0.3
7:25-7:36 Near side edge, outside, more as a stand up 9 tech crashes in. It's a run play and again shows beautiful backside athleticism to come and get involved in the play to help stop for minimal gain. Grade: +0.5
7:37-7:48 Don't know what he was doing here. Looked like he was in coverage and got engaged by the blocker and could not get disengaged. Might have been holding but you have to shed that. Allows player to get around him and get big gain. All around bad play. Grade: -1.0
7:49-7:54 In man coverage against slot receiver that breaks outside in flat. Good initial coverage, but as ball is thrown back in, he switches pretty effortlessly and is around the play, though he doesn't affect it. Still, sight read and transition skills looked decent there. Grade: +0.2
7:55-8:04 Near side, pass rush snap. Realizes he can't win initially so tries to navigate wash to find opening, but by the time he gets over center, quick pass is already thrown for an incompletion. Grade: +0.0
8:05-8:16 In zone coverage over the slot. Stays disciplined in shallow far side but is really just out of the play. Not much else to say about this. Grade: +0.0
8:17-8:25 Far side, bulls his way into the LOS on a run play. Sheds his blocker and re-directs the running back after getting into the backfield. Loses sight of the runner, eventually, and dives away from him which was kind of weird. Grade: -0.2
8:26-8:35 Lines up as inside linebacker and covers the shallow middle zone. Holds his own but no traffic comes his way and the QB is forced to throw it away after holding on to it for some time. Grade: +0.1
8:36-8:45 Pass rush snap off the near side, takes a nice inside jump move but the quarterback is too fast for him to generate any pressure as he got engaged by interior offensive linemen and bounced off them. Liked his initial move here to avoid tackle, though. Grade: +0.1
8:46-8:53 Near side, pass rushing though I believe he anticipated run. Takes on two blockers and gets near the quarterback but not near enough to generate pressure. Mediocre play. Grade: -0.2
8:54-9:03 Near side, gets a really nice jump on a pass rush set, but the OT recovers nicely and pushes him past the quarterback, who rushes and throws an off target pass. Looked like he generated a pressure there even though it shouldn't have. Grade: +0.2
9:04-9:16 "Meh" play here. Pass rush set on near side, engages the offensive tackle immediately on a bull rush but clear that isn't his strong suit. Gets stonewalled after a nice initial push. Grade: -0.3
9:17-9:28 Nice play here as an inside linebacker. Gets shallow middle and again denies the QB his initial target which was the slot receiver on a crossing pattern. KVN sticks with him and forces another look which results in an overall win on this play by BYU. Grade: +0.4
9:29-9:40 Lines up far side, tries to pass rush, doesn't win immediately so tries to navigate inside. By the time he's still moving, the pass is thrown for an incompletion. Grade: +0.0
GAME CHARTING AND STATS
Total Snaps: 41
Total Overall Grade: +3.6
Pass Rush Snaps: 15
Pass Rush Grade: -1.8
Run Defense Snaps: 12
Run Defense Grade: +4.2
Coverage Snaps: 14
Coverage Grade: +1.2
QB Hurries: 4
QB Hits: 0
I chose this game because I deemed it out of five 2013 Van Noy games that I've seen (Virginia, Texas, Georgia Tech, Washington), this was right smack dab in the middle. He did better against Georgia Tech and Texas, and worse in Virginia and Washington, though I'd say he did pretty well in all of them.
As you can see by my grades, he didn't have a great pass-rushing game, scoring a -1.8. However, he did pretty well in coverage, and monstrously well vs.the run. He was consistently solid against the run each and every time, and he had a big play in coverage, amongst tiny solid plays and a few miscues. For reference on Van Noy's +3.6, the best non-rush linebacker this year as rated by Pro Football Focus was Lavonte David, who scored a +26.4 for the year.
Watch some of the other games, however, and you'll see that for a 4-3 outside linebacker, he's more than adequate as a pass rusher. Some GIFs to highlight this.
I think he's ultimately a 4-3 SAM, and a darn good one at that. He knows how to stack the edge and maintain contain, and he showed that off here. He's decisive and instinctual and you saw that with your very own eyes in this video breakdown. He didn't really get a great chance to show off his block shedding ability, but he's got that, too. Pop on tape of the Texas or Washington games and you'll see that he is strong in that regard. He's very quick and has active hands, as seen here:
He consistently picked the right gaps in his run defense, and showed a solid ability to stay disciplined in zone coverage. While he's not a pure pass rusher, he shows enough to be a good blitzer for a 4-3 team. His range is excellent, and it's even superlative when you consider him to be a 4-3 strong side linebacker.
He's not without his warts. His change of direction skill is limited and his bend while pass rushing isn't above average. He has some inconsistencies when trying to tackle and while he's got a good motor, there are a few plays where he doesn't hustle at the end of the play. That needs to change. You can't really trust him with man coverage against faster tight ends and wide receivers, his transition skills aren't that good.
But that's all fixable if you play him at SAM. His pass rushing, once a weakness for a full-time rusher, is now considered above average. If he's a SAM, he's not going to be chasing Vernon Davis or Wes Welker. He will be in charge of covering the running backs who leak out into the flat, or against the secondary tight end that might go run a route. He's more than capable of that, which was a weakness the Giants had this year. How many times did Keith Rivers or Spencer Paysinger give up long gains to a running back leaking out on a delay? KVN takes care of that.
With his downhill style of play against the run and his ability to shed blocks, he's a perfect fit at SAM. He looks like an upgraded Spencer Paysinger to me, and that's why I really like him. He just fits so well and is athletic enough to be a true, balanced three-down linebacker for the New York Giants. My comparison for him would be K.J Wright.
I've got him down as a late-first round pick. He should be a candidate if the Giants trade down. If he somehow makes it to their second round pick, he's absolutely one of the best players available at a position of need. He'd be a core piece that would solidify the one position that Giants fans hunger for the most.