Sunday, November 22, 2009

One Game Evaluation Of Ndamukong Suh

While reading several Tampa Bay Buccaneers message boards and blogs this year I have seen time and again different fans saying that we should select Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh with our first round pick. Now I will tell you up front that I am not one of those guys who breaks down the upcoming drafts round by round and tries to be a mini Mel Kiper. What I can do however is look at different players and assess their talent level and how it might transfer to the NFL, especially defensive linemen. So I decided to take a look and the young Mr. Suh and see what all the fuss was about.

Now I actually took a look at Suh earlier in the year when Nebraska played Baylor. In all honesty I didn't come away all that impressed but I figured maybe it had to do with the level of competition. Considering the fact that Kansas State is a pretty good team that was still in contention for a bowl game last night I expected to have a truer picture of him as a player. So I DVRed the game and went back last night and did a play by play evaluation of Suh. Now this is still just one game and for all I know he could play better or worse in any other given game, but I just want to put that caveat out there.

The first thing I want to point out is that the announcers for last night's game were having an absolute love fest over Suh. I am not sure I have ever seen a situation where what the announcers were saying were so out of touch with what was actually going on on the field. Its not that Suh had a bad game, he actually had a pretty good game. But what he didn't have was some kind of super human game like they were trying to make it out. It got so irritating to me that after awhile I had to turn the sound off. I will say this though, whomever Suh has doing his PR should be on every college player's speed dial.

Here are the stats as I recorded them from last night's game. He played 72 snaps including penalty plays. He had 6 solo tackles 2 assisted tackles and 1 sack. He also had to passes knocked down. On the down side I was generous by only giving him 3 loafs* and he had one missed tackle.

Here are my general thoughts about Suh.

This is a guy who is obviously strong and fast in a straight line but not all that physically imposing. His 6 foot 4 frame looks taller but he by his own admission is not 300 pounds. To me he looks like a guy who could stay where he is at weight wise and be a decent to better than average 3-4 end, or maybe take off about 10 pounds and be a 4-3 left end. He has long arms and he plays with pretty good leverage. When he wants to he shows flashes of having pass rush moves but at least for last night at least, they were few and far in between. He is obviously fast for a guy that size as he ran down several plays from behind. But he also is prone to taking plays off if the action isn't close to him. In a lot of ways I think playing beside Jared Crick may open him up to some criticisms about his effort as teams begin to break him down on film. I don't think Crick is near the athlete but he seems to go harder play in and play out.

There are a few things that I saw last night that would have me leaning away from drafting Suh in the top 10 picks in the first round as a 4-3 defensive tackle. For one I didn't see that explosive get off that you would like to have from your defensive lineman. Some of that is a function of the kind of defense Nebraska plays where their tackles aren't in very wide alignments most of the time. But even when he did get the opportunity to get in the gap and get off I just didn't see that explosive first step. I also did not see any consistent pass rush moves. That's not to say he can't be a great college pass rusher because he surely has been. But when you get to the NFL level just being bigger and faster than most of the guys blocking you won't be enough. Time after time I have seen big athletic guys get drafted and end up being busts because they didn't have any moves. Make no mistake about it, in the NFL defensive linemen, aside from the occasional 3-4 nose tackle, are judged by their ability to sack the quarterback. And I am just not sure Suh will come in and be able to do that, at least from the defensive tackle position. And with a top 10 pick you really want a guy, aside from a quarterback, who can come in and be productive from day one.

Last night I counted at least 6 times where Kansas State single blocked Suh on a pass and he got locked up. I counted at least 7 other times when he didn't even bother to make a pass rush move. He has a tendency to kind of drift all over the field and then if he sees the quarterback scramble try to take off and tackle him then. Now that is perfectly fine for college football but its something you can't do on a regular basis in the NFL.

Let me heavily caveat this assessment. Suh is without a doubt very athletic. For all I know he will go to the Senior Bowl and tear it up there and show the pass rush moves he isn't showing in games. And he might go to the combine, run a 4.7 and bench press 225 lbs 40 times. In that case most teams, probably including the Bucs, will feel compelled to take him in the top 10 or maybe even the top 5 regardless of what they have seen on film. And honestly the guy, where ever he gets drafted, may come into the league and get with a really good defensive line coach who teaches him moves and motivates him to play hard every play and he ends up tearing the league up. But as for me I have always been the type to judge a guy most heavily by how he plays on film. How tall, big, fast, strong, or well spoken are all secondary to me when it comes to evaluating talent. And from what I saw last night and in part of the Baylor game Suh is not a guy who is going to come in and tear it up as a defensive tackle in a 4-3.

Just to give you a comparison, in the one season I worked as a graduate assistant at USF coaching the defensive ends, we happened to earn our first bowl bid in school history. That of course was the good news. The bad news however was that we would be playing North Carolina State. At the time NC State almost literally had an NFL defensive line, with Manny Lawson and Mario Williams playing defensive end. I hadn't really seen them play that year so I decided to sit in with the offensive coaches one day just to check out their defensive line. Mario Williams sold me in that one day of watching film that he should be taken with the first pick in the draft. The guy was huge with long arms but he wasn't fat at all. As a matter of fact as I said at the time he really just looked like a regular sized linebacker just blown up to about 6 ft 6. But what was most impressive about him at the time was his range of pass rush moves. I mean this guy was knocking hands down, doing rip moves, doing arm overs. Hell he even broke out a spin move a couple of times. He was literally unblockable and NC State moved him all around the defensive line. There wasn't a position he couldn't pass rush from and I mean in a dominant way.

I simply don't see that when I watch Ndamankuh Suh. I see a guy who is athletic and strong and can make plays when he wants to. But I don't see dominance jumping off the screen where you just can't take your eyes off that guy.

Now another major reason why I am not sold on the Bucs selecting Suh is that the design of their defense is such right now that he doesn't really fit what they are looking for inside. If you look at Jim Bates' years at Miami which is what people bring up when they defend his scheme, what he had there was two really really big tackles who were essentially no name guys but could attract double teams. If you know who Larry Chester and Tim Bowens are more power to you, but I doubt most people do. And neither of those guys were top 10 picks I might add.

Here is what Bates had on that defense. He had two tremendously gifted pass rushers at defensive end in Adewale Ogunleye and Jason Taylor. He had two tremendously gifted physical cover corners in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. He had a ball hawking safety in Brock Marion. And he had very physical and fast linebackers in Zack Thomas, Marlion Greenwood and Derrick Rodgers.

Interestingly enough, none of his linebackers were much bigger than the guys we have now. However I will say that they came down hill a lot more than we do now against the run.

But I digress.

The point is, if we are going to draft a defensive tackle high I would rather see us go after Mount Cody out of Alabama as he is a big guy who will demand a double team and keep offensive lineman off our linebackers. But you don't draft a guy like Cody that high. You wait till later rounds and find him or a guy like him and plug him in. If we are going to be picking in the top 10 I still think we would be much better off picking a defensive back or a linebacker or maybe even a pass rushing defensive end. Those are the guys who are expected to make big plays in Bates' defense and so those are the guys we should put a premium on finding.

Ndamakong Suh may make sense for a lot of teams to take that high, but I just don't see how he fits in here.

* A loaf is a term most coaches use to grade a player down on their effort. When a player either is not busting their but to the ball or there is a noticeable change in speed during their pursuit to the ball then they are given a loaf because the coaches expected better. Suh doesn't come out of the game and plays a lot of plays, I will give him that. However there were quite a few times where it appeared he wasn't busting his tail to get to the ball. Because looks can be decieving I tried not to give him a loaf unless it was just blatant, but if I was actually his coach I probably would have given him several more.


  1. Honest piece and Suh taking plays off has been one of the few valid criticisms throughout his career. He has improved immensely this season and I believe you really downplayed him being double teamed on almost every play but still performing at an elite level.

    Nebraska's offense has been horrible this season, which has caused the defense to carry the team on its back. This is led by Suh's ability to either make plays or set up his teammates because of the double teams that he forces teams in.

    Go watch Nebraska games against Va Tech, OU, and Missouri. Suh was dominant and worthy of a high NFL pick. His knack or skill for deflecting passes and blocking kicks are amazing feats as well. I see Suh as an outside DL in a 3/4. His power and speed are a lethal combination that will make it hard for NFL OL to block him one on one.

    Solid piece. I enjoyed your perspective.

  2. I'd be interested to see what your take is on Gerald McCoy. I was on the Suh bandwagon, but your analysis is making me think twice.

    The problem I have with your analysis of who else they could take is that there just aren't any elite DEs, CBs, or LBs that deserve a Top 5 pick (which the Bucs will most likely have).

    There DL as a whole is obviously not up to par. That should be our first order of business in the draft: a DE and a DT.

    Oh, and do you think Eric Berry (or any safety) is worth a top 5 pick?

  3. What do you have to say about Suh after watching the Big 12 Championship in which he tore up McCoy... tossed him around like a rag doll and one-arm tackled him while being held on a double team?