Most fans had their sights set on Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch as the high end MLB options, Ryans wasn't even on the radar. But in typical Eagles style, the Eagles made a move that nobody saw coming.
On the surface of things, we got a very good deal. The Eagles traded what essentially amounts to a fourth round pick for a 27 year old linebacker that has been quite prolific in the early part of his career. He's been nominated to the Pro Bowl twice, he's been an All-Pro once and he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2006. Ryans is bringing a pretty impressive resume to the table.
But now you're probably wondering, why did the Texans let him go for such a low price? The answer is two fold.
The first reason is that their general manager, Rick Smith, screwed up. Rick Smith didn't plan for the future and he's having to purge the roster because of cap struggles (Link). Because they're up against the salary cap the Texans have had to part ways with Mario Williams, Eric Winston, Matt Leinart, Lawrence Vickers, Mike Briesel and DeMeco Ryans. We got a great deal with a team that is having to give up players for bargain bin prices.
The second reason is that the Texans switched to a 3-4 defense last year. For those of you who don't know, 3-4 defenses require larger, "thumper" type players who can take on blockers. That is not the sort of player that DeMeco Ryans is. DeMeco Ryans is not so much a "thumper" as he is a slippery, efficient guy with fantastic instincts. He simply didn't fit what the Texans did anymore and when you combine that with the fact that he is expensive, the Texans didn't have much leverage in this situation.
The Texans couldn't afford to keep him anymore but as the saying goes, one man's trash (Ryans is by no means trash by the way, it's just a phrase) is another man's treasure. The Eagles are getting a fantastic player (if fully healthy) who fits what they'd like to do perfectly.
The prevailing thought process about the Eagles linebacker situation is that they need a big thumper inside who can mash. It's why people were slobbering over Vontaze Burfict until they realized he was a horrible football player. But I'd argue that those people are wrong; I'd argue that anticipation and instincts are far more important than being big and strong (but that doesn't hurt). In the wide nine, things move fast for the linebackers; they're not given much protection from the defensive line so they have to be able to read and process information faster. Any mistake is amplified; if a player attacks the wrong gap or over pursues, it can have more consequences in the wide nine system. The linebackers need to see things faster and they need to trust what they see. Enter DeMeco Ryans.
Here are two DeMeco Ryans scouting reports from when he left college.
Strong Points: Ability to read and react / First step reaction and instincts / Ability to step up and both take on or slip blocks on the inside. Leverage on blocks (doesn’t linger on blocks) / Lateral Movement and range / Angles to the ball / Good use of the sidelines / Explosive tackler (good to secure – flexible hips, knees and ankles) / Backside close and effort / Blitz timing and overall skills / Outside run ability and playing range / Pass drops (depth and movement) / Zone awareness / Ball reaction and hands to secure the football / Has the speed and hips to effectively man up with a back down the field / Durability and consistent in his game to game play / Play speed and special teams potential Weak Points: Is well proportioned, but I wouldn’t consider him an imposing figure physically (medium frame athlete with thin, smooth, high knotted calves, big wrist, biceps, and a solid bubble) / Good but not exceptional weight room and playing strength / Was muscled some by big people on the inside (who isn’t) / Saw what I considered some change of speed in his secondary pursuit.
Positives: Has a well-built, compact frame with good muscle development, tight waist and excellent quickness … Smooth and flexible in reverse, showing the change of direction agility and lateral movement to string plays wide … Plays with natural instincts and very good field position (rarely caught out of position) … Uses his initial burst well to slip past blockers when attempting to plug the inside rush lanes … Best when operating in pursuit, as he is sudden closing on the ball and takes good angles working in space … Shows very good hand usage to mirror and reroute tight ends in the short area … Has enough speed to stay on the hip of the receiver on deep routes … Compensates for a lack of ideal size with good upper body strength … Knows how to use his hand extension to separate, shed and keep blockers from attacking his body … Sidesteps low blocks well, showing the balance to avoid trash while maintaining acceleration to the ball … Classic wrap-up tackler who explodes into ball carriers, driving hard with his legs to bring the opponent down … His ability to take angles in pursuit allows him to get to plays other linebackers can't make … Has the loose hips and foot speed to shadow receivers in man coverage and also is very alert to schemes, doing a nice job of handling the switch-off when operating in zone coverage … Does a very good job of tracking the ball in flight and changes directions instantly to redirect and attack the ball … Fluid in his pass drops and keeps his head on a swivel to maintain eye contact with the ball … Solid contributor on special teams, showing the make-up and desire to get down field and break up the wedge. Negatives: Could use at least another ten pounds of bulk on his frame … His lack of bulk will sometimes cause him to struggle shedding blocks when working in-line (gets engulfed by the larger linemen) … Not used much as a blitzer and can get caught up by inside trash, but shows the foot speed to close when given a free lane … Lacks natural hands for the interception (only one theft in his career), letting the ball absorb into his body rather than extend, pluck and snatch.
And those traits (in bold) clearly translated to the NFL. In 70 NFL games in the Texans' 4-3 defense he averaged over 8 tackles per game (572 total), clearly his instincts and tackling ability carried over from Alabama. In 2009 and 2010 DeMeco Ryans was top ten in the NFL in stop rate. And despite recovering from a torn achilles in 2010, Ryans was good in coverage in 2011. Ryans played 6.1 snaps per target last year (third in the NFL which means he was targeted A LOT) but he only allowed a reception every 12.5 cover snaps (15th in the NFL which means he held up nicely). Last year Ryans only allowed a 51.2% completion percentage when targeted and he only allowed 1 TD all year. And despite playing in a scheme he didn't particularly fit in and coming off a torn achilles, Ryans was still rated as the 20th best inside linebacker in the NFL last year by ProFootballFocus. So imagine how good he's going to be in a scheme he's more comfortable in and when he's 100% recovered from his injury.
Oh and by all accounts he's a heck of a leader too. Just look at the reactions from Texans players, they were devastated that their guy was being shipped out of town. Brian Cushing went so far as to say that he wouldn't be the player he is today if it weren't for DeMeco. And if you get the time, check out the NFL Films clip of him being mic'd up, it's quite impressive. He'll undoubtedly be the best vocal leader we've had since Dawkins left for the Mile High city.
We just clogged up the gaping hole in the middle of our defense. Welcome to the Eagles DeMeco.