Breaking down Jordan Hicks for this piece was a lot of fun. When breaking down young players, I normally post quite a few negative plays of them. If you’ve read my work before you know I try to be very impartial and I simply breakdown what I see, there’s no point in doing this if I’m going to be biased.
It was really hard to find negative plays by Hicks though; he just didn’t make many. He didn’t play like a rookie middle linebacker at all, I barely ever saw any so called ‘rookie mistakes’ from him and he was really consistent. I wanted to go back and watch Hicks and see if he played as well as we all thought he did. I watched basically every snap of his so I have a pretty good feel for him as a player now.
I’ll post a few clips from games I watched and then summarize everything I saw at the end like I always do. Obviously I can’t post clips of every play, so I normally post an example of something that I see routinely.
Let’s begin with a basic play that just shows his instincts and athleticism perfectly. I decided to show this angle because it shows off his athleticism better but the other angle shows you how well he diagnoses this play. The second he sees the guard getting up the field he recognizes it’s a screen and gets to the receiver straight away. Yes, he fails to wrap up the ball carrier and this is something I saw a few times so he will need to work on his tackling in the offseason but I still love plays like this.
Hicks is really good in coverage, he’s not just athletic but he’s very instinctive in zone coverage and he always seems to have a feel for where the quarterback wants to go with the ball as you’ll see in the next few clips. Although he could have picked this ball off, it shows how well he’s reading Brees while staying close to the receivers around him and he makes a really athletic play on the ball.
Hicks misreads this play and he occasionally does get done by play-action but he’s certainly not the only rookie linebacker to get caught out by play-action a few times. However, I like this play because once again it just shows how quick and athletic he is. The tight end certainly should catch this ball but there’s no doubt Hicks puts pressure on him. Just ignore the result of the play though and keep your eyes on Hicks the whole time. Watch how quickly he changes direction and the acceleration he shows to recover, that’s impressive.
Hicks is right in the middle of the screen here and this is another good example of his athleticism and great coverage. He knows exactly where the tight end is going even when he’s behind him and he takes away this throw completely.
This is just another awesome play, he’s the guy in the middle of the screen to the right by the way. I feel like I keep pointing out how athletic he is and how instinctive he is in zone coverage but it’s because he is! Hicks basically takes away both of the quarterback’s main two reads here. He takes away the slot receiver first on the in route but he knows that once that receiver gets past him he’s running into another defenders zone so he comes off the slot receiver and quickly recognizes that the quarterback wants to throw the ball to the outside receiver on a deeper in and he gets right in front of the throwing lane. This forces the quarterback to throw it over him and there’s basically no chance of him completing this throw. If you look just before the quarterback releases it, the second read would have been open if Hicks had followed the slot receiver for just a second more. This is a great example of a player knowing his coverage and showing great awareness of what’s around him.
I’ll end talking about Hicks in coverage by showing some examples of Hicks in man coverage. This is against Chris Thompson who is a good receiver out the backfield. He initially beats Hicks but Hicks knows the situation and knows his main aim is to simply not let Thompson into the end zone. After staying close to him he accelerates and makes a great tackle, leaving the Redskins two yards short of the endzone.
This is a similar example to the last play and again it just shows smart football. It’s 3rd down and 10, Hicks doesn’t need to get aggressive and try and jump the route and end up getting beat by a double move or a wheel route so he plays it safe. Still, I love the aggressiveness and acceleration you see from him the second he sees Cousins throw it.
This is just perfect coverage, Brees sensibly decides to throw it way out in front because Hicks is in a great position to intercept the ball.
This was one of my favorite plays from last year. Yes, it’s a pretty rubbish throw and not a great route but I love the way he’s always looking at the quarterback and the second the balls thrown he shows that acceleration again and picks it off.
Lastly, I’ll show a clip of Hicks getting beat by Witten in man coverage because Hicks did really struggle to cover Witten in this game. That’s no real surprise though as Witten is excellent at getting open on these shorter routes and it’s hardly a shock that Hicks struggled to cover him. Despite struggling against Witten, overall Hicks is excellent in zone coverage and very good in man coverage too.
Let’s move on to Hicks in the running game now. A lot of what Hicks does is just smart football, if I could describe him in one word I would describe him as intelligent. He won’t make as many ‘flash’ plays as someone like a Mychal Kendricks but he’s extremely consistent at getting the job done. Hicks has to cover 2 gaps here and if he flies straight through one, the running back has a chance at escaping through the other gap. Hicks realizes this so he slows the running back down and is able to tackle him at the line of scrimmage. This gap awareness will be crucial when Hicks plays in Jim Schwartz wide 9 next year.
Here’s a pretty simple stop by Hicks but I like this play because it shows his ability to get off blocks while keeping his eyes in the backfield. He gets some help from Bennie Logan of course, who is just a beast.
Another smart play, Hicks avoids the Saints offensive lineman and is then tempted to fly through that big gap and try to make a play behind the line of scrimmage. In the end he sensibly decides not to and makes a great tackle on the running back who only gets around two yards.
Here’s another good play going downhill, Hicks does a great job getting low in order to avoid being blocked and is still able to make a play on the runner despite having an offensive lineman trying to block him. Hicks understands angles very well in the running game, he rarely finds himself overrunning the play or running directly into an offensive lineman. Even simple plays like this show an intelligent player.
Let’s end with my favorite play of the year by Hicks. He starts on the right side of the screen, now watch the difference between him and DeMeco. DeMeco can’t shed the block and ends up getting nowhere despite the runner going to his side. Hicks shows great athleticism and awareness to shed the first block and send the Cowboys offensive lineman falling to the turf. He keeps going and shows fantastic speed to make it all the way outside and then lays a big hit. This is the very definition of a sideline to sideline play by a linebacker.
I think Jordan Hicks is a stud. Honestly, I think I have a higher opinion of him now than I did before I wrote this piece. He is a perfect fit at linebacker for the modern day NFL and he is a true 3-down linebacker. Those guys aren’t easy to find. He’s very good both in coverage and downhill against the run too. His zone coverage particularly impressed me, he just looks so natural in coverage which is where so many inside linebackers struggle.
I don’t have any concerns about Hicks playing in Schwartz’ defensive scheme at all. The MLB in a wide 9 has to do a lot but I think Hicks can do it all. Hicks shows great gap awareness and this is something that will be crucial in Schwartz’ wide 9 scheme. Hicks is a true sideline to sideline linebacker and he also has the coverage ability to play the deep middle in a Tampa 2 which I expect Schwartz to use occasionally.
Hicks is incredibly instinctive and smart, he rarely takes a false step or overruns a play as he understands angles in the running game well which is really impressive considering he was a rookie. However, he isn’t perfect. His biggest weakness is sadly with injuries. Hicks missed a lot of time last year and also had injuries in college which was one reason why he fell to the 3rd round. On top of that, Hicks can’t rush the quarterback like someone like Mychal Kendricks can and Hicks did miss a few tackles too.
Hicks can learn to rush the passer better but in Schwartz’ scheme he may not blitz much anyway, I’m sure he can improve his tackling too which wasn’t bad but he did miss a few. I’m not concerned about Hicks’ weaknesses, the only one that genuinely worries me is his history with injuries. Fingers crossed that Hicks can stay healthy next year because I really think he will flourish as the MLB in Jim Schwartz’ defence.