Logan Ryan was the first free agent profile that I wrote here a little over a month ago. I started with Ryan because I thought he was the most likely player of all the available free agents to be signed by Tennessee. You can read that profile here. Now that he is officially a Titan let’s take another look at what he brings to the table and how he might fit in to Dick LeBeau’s defense.
Logan Ryan is a two-time Super Bowl champion corner who ranks in the top 10 in the league in interceptions since entering the NFL and has finished 11th and 14th among all corners the last two years according to PFF. While he may not have been the splashy name, he was the most accomplished corner on the free agent market this year by a pretty wide margin and the Titans got him on what appears to be a very team-friendly deal at 3 years, $30M with $12M of that guaranteed. He just turned 26 years old which means his 3 year deal will be paying for his prime years with an option to extend him if he's still playing well at the end of the 2019 season.
I believe that Ryan is underrated due to the fact that he played in New England and all Pats players outside of Brady and Gronk tend to get dismissed by the media as a product of Belichick’s system. While the Patriots certainly have a system that works, it's not as if they sprinkle magic dust on the players before they hit the field (although knowing the Pats they've probably tried that). The players still have to go out on the field and make plays and Ryan has done that consistently over 4 seasons there.
Ryan is known as a “disruptor” in the secondary as Jon Robinson discovered when he was scouting him for the Patriots back in 2013:
“I liked him as a player, skill-set wise, I thought he would be a contributor/part-time starter. I did a breakdown of him and four-five of the other defensive backs that were in that second-third-fourth-round projected area and he was the top 'disruptor' on the ball -- caused fumbles, pass breakups, interceptions. I did an Excel document and a heat [map], with numbers and kind of did a ranking, with weighted values. It really just kind of crystallized my opinion of the player.”
Ryan’s first 4 years in the league have proven Robinson’s draft analytics correct as his 13 interceptions since 2013 tie for 7th in the NFL over that time frame despite the fact that he has only been a full-time starter for the last two seasons. Ryan takes pride in not just getting his hands on the ball, but creating turnovers. During his excellent recent interview with the guys from Midday 180, which you can find here, Ryan talks about how he stays after practice with the wide receivers to work the Jugs machine and catch at least 100 extra balls per day to improve his hands. For a Titans defense that struggled to create impact plays in 2016, Ryan’s ability to create turnovers will be critical.
Logan Ryan also is a perfect representation of what Jon Robinson and Mike Mularkey have said they want in a Titan: Tough, Coachable, Smart, and Team First. Pats wide receiver Julian Edelman practices against Ryan every day and recently described him as “an annoying mouse” in an interview leading up to the Super Bowl. Here is more of what Edelman had to say about practicing against his teammate:
“Logan’s so instinctive,” Edelman said. “He’s so smart, and he’s a really good player. He’s developed into a really good player. We can’t give any signals, because he knows all our signals. You can’t say anything, because he knows all of what we say. When you go against Logan, you have to make up fake signals, so it’s a real true one-on-one.”
When researching Ryan those same words came up time and time again: “instinctive”, “smart”, “competitive”. Another teammate of Ryan’s in New England, Devin McCourty, called Ryan “one of the smartest players we've got on defense, he studies film like no other”. When asked to describe what’s made him so successful in the NFL, here is what Ryan had to say about himself:
"I think my combine numbers compared to other guys are probably average. I'm not 6-2. I'm not 4.2 (in the 40)," Ryan said. "That's just not how I am. I'm a guy who studies hard, plays hard and competes, plays against the quarterback, tries to get interceptions, and takes calculated risks. That's what has gotten me success in the league and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
As Ryan said, "all the answers are in the film."
"You just have to be willing to search and find it," he said. "(The answers) come up. It stays true, because that's who guys are. Everything we do is documented on film. You can watch it. So it's in there, just not everybody wants to do the work and find it."
His maniacal study habits will only help the young corners on our roster as well. We recently heard about the impact that Rashad Johnson reportedly had on Sims this past season with showing him how to study and learn in the film room. With the Titans still expected to take a young corner in the draft, having Ryan around to mentor guys like Sims, Reed, and whichever draft picks come in will be huge for the Titans.
Unlike some of the other corners and free agents available this offseason, durability is not a concern for Logan Ryan. He has played in all 64 regular season games during his career, and only even showed up on the injury report once (2015 Week 3 with a shoulder injury).
Ryan’s game on the field is versatile. He has played well both as a boundary corner as well as inside covering the slot and is one of the best tacklers among corners in the NFL. In fact, he finished as the Patriots leading tackler on the season in 2016. Ryan also is one of the best blitzing corners out of a slot position which gives LeBeau another option to fire at the quarterback in his exotic blitz schemes.
Let’s take a look at some of the traits Ryan brings with him. We will start with what may be Ryan’s best attribute on the field, tackling. You just don’t see him miss tackles whether in the secondary or at the line of scrimmage in run support. In fact, he has missed just 13 tackles in his 4 year career which is pretty incredible for a guy who has 244 career tackles (including postseason).
Per @PFF_NateJahnke, Newly signed Titans CB Logan Ryan has only missed 13 tackles in his entire career. An underrated run defending corner.— LeadingNFL ™ (@LeadingNFL) March 10, 2017
Here is an example of him in coverage making a good tackle to stop Larry Fitzgerald short of the sticks on a 3rd down play. You can see Ryan’s awareness on this play as he starts trying to pull Fitzgerald down you can tell he knows exactly where the line to gain is.
The next play will show an example of him on what appears to be a run blitz crashing down inside and making the stop for no gain.
Next is a play from last month’s Super Bowl where Ryan is lined up over the tight end and ends up reading and flowing to the ball like an inside linebacker.
Another of Ryan’s best attributes is his ability to blitz off the edge. He shows excellent timing and takes good angles to the quarterback. Here he comes off the edge from a slot position and gets to Goff.
Here is another snap from the same game. Ryan comes from the other side this time and forces an incomplete pass.
Here he gets to Tannehill quickly off the edge and gets a strip sack. This is one of the benefits to playing Ryan in the slot in addition to taking more advantage of his abilities stopping the running game. Ryan tied for the 5th most pass rush attempts in the NFL among corners which shows just how much the Patriots thought of his blitzing.
But tackling and blitzing isn’t what the Titans paid $10M per year for. If you’re going to be a top corner in the NFL you have to be able to cover. Ryan is not going to be confused with Patrick Peterson, but he still rates as one of the better cover corners in the NFL thanks to his physical play. Ryan excels in man coverage as he is able to re-route receivers and make plays on the ball. Here is an example of him in press man coverage against Jeremy Kerley. He gets his hands on him quickly and keeps Kerley from getting a free release, then breaks and makes a great play on the ball.
The plays above all featured Ryan playing in the slot, but he’s not “just” a slot corner. As football fans it has beaten in to our heads by commentators for years that the Patriots love to use opponent specific game plans that change from week to week. You can see this in their usage of Ryan over the past two years. Ryan typically was charged with one of two jobs: slot corner to keep him near the middle of the field where his open field tackling and blitzing can be maximized; or as a physical receiver specialist following the opponent’s big receiver all over the field. The second job saw him follow DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, DeVante Parker, and Demaryius Thomas last year as this excellent article on Ryan points out. He excels against these bigger receivers due to his competitive and physical nature. Here you can see him matched up with Hopkins on the outside. He gets a great jam as Hopkins tries to cross his face and breaks up the pass. Ryan was really good against Hopkins in their two matchups last year which bodes extremely well for his Titans career.
Here he is working against another talented physical receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. He runs this route right with Fitzgerald and nearly comes away with an interception.
Ryan doesn’t have great speed for a NFL corner and he will readily admit that, but he’s fast enough that running with most receivers is not an issue. Here he is in a bail technique on the outside and you can see him sticking Kearse’s back pocket stride for stride before almost coming up with the interception again.
Here he is matched up with the best receiver in the game right now. Yes, Julio makes this catch, but if Ryan has this kind of coverage on any other receiver in the NFL, this is pass is incomplete.
Ryan’s ball skills are something he takes a ton of pride in as mentioned above. Here he is making a great diving interception off a tipped ball.
I saved this GIF for last because it combines (almost) everything I like about Logan Ryan. He is working against Emmanuel Sanders on an island, coming off motion. Ryan mirrors with Sanders, gets his hands on him to disrupt the route, and then cuts off the angle to make a play on the ball.
Logan Ryan’s game couldn’t be a better fit for what the Titans want to be. In his very first public statement as GM last January, Jon Robinson described what he wants in his players:
We want tough players, we want coachable players, we want smart players, and most importantly we want players with a team-first attitude. My role here is to ensure that we find those players.
I am confident that Ryan checks each of those 4 boxes. His work ethic in the film room and on the practice field will set a great example for our young corners and future draft picks. I would expect to see the Titans use Ryan in a similar role to the one he performed with the Patriots. I think we will see him match up with the DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, and Donte Moncrief type receivers in our division while also spending a good amount of time covering the slot. My guess is that you will see Ryan as one of the two starting corners in our base personnel and then bumping inside when we go to nickel or other sub-packages. Do not let people tell you that playing slot corner is “easier” than playing outside corner. In today’s NFL many teams like to put their best receiver in the slot to give them more room to work as described further in this article. If the season started tomorrow I would assume that our nickel defense would feature Sims and McCourty as the boundary corners and Ryan playing in the slot.
Moving forward I think the Titans would be wise to target a corner who can run and mirror with the smaller, speedier receivers like T.Y. Hilton, Marqise Lee, and Will Fuller since Ryan will struggle with those types of receivers if asked to cover them on a regular basis. This is part of why I think Marshon Lattimore would be the perfect fit for us, but the corner class is deep and a Fabian Moreau, Adoree Jackson, or Jalen Myrick could also fit this role.
Logan Ryan is going to make a big difference in our secondary in 2017. I would highly suggest reading the articles linked and the listening to the Midday 180 interview with Ryan. He’s going to become a fan favorite quickly I believe.