Players often make their largest jump in performance between year 1 and year 2 in the NFL. If you don’t believe me, take it from the best coach in the NFL:
“That's where a lot of players, I'd say almost all players make a big jump- whether that is reflective in their status on the field, that's another question,” Belichick said of first-to-second year development, via ESPN’s Field Yates. “But just from a development as a football player, that second year is a big year. It's a great opportunity for them to take that first-year knowledge that they don't have as a rookie and be able to apply it in their job now.”
As Belichick points out, sophomore year guys know first-hand what to expect and what it takes to get through an NFL season. They also know the offense or defense, assuming a coaching change didn’t occur, and are able to focus on refining details rather than learning a brand new playbook install.
However, possibly the biggest reason second year players make leaps is that they are actually able to train for a football season during the offseason. Before their rookie years they spend that time training for the combine, which is much different than training for a football season, and traveling to do countless interviews with teams and media before suddenly getting dropped in to the middle of a brand new offense or defense. Derrick Henry pointed this out in a recent interview with Jim Wyatt:
“I’ve had more focus, not a lot of distractions,” Henry said of this offseason. “The draft process (last year), going here and going there. … I was at school (this year) working out Monday through Sunday and making sure I am better.”
I will get to Henry in another post, but I wanted to start this series off with the most mysterious of all the second year Titans: Kevin Dodd.
Dodd gets a lot of hate around here mainly due to the fact that he was largely invisible last season thanks to a lingering foot injury. He had what was termed at the time a “preventative surgery” in May 2016 shortly after being drafted and then struggled to recover from the surgery throughout training camp leading up to the regular season. He was eventually shut down in early December. We now know that a second foot surgery followed in January which has kept him out of OTAs and mini-camp so far this offseason. However, Dodd is reportedly back to running full speed and Mularkey expects him to be full-go by the start of training camp barring any freak accidents between now and then.
Mularkey on Dodd being ready for camp: "Highly likely unless he drops a weight on his foot. He should not be on my list." #Titans.— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) June 15, 2017
Dodd was the first of the Titans three 2nd round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, coming off the board at the top of the 2nd round, pick 33 overall. He was widely projected as a late 1st round type prospect and drew some comps to NFL stars like Michael Bennett. Stephen White at SB Nation wrote a great breakdown on Dodd prior to the draft which I would encourage you to check out here if you want a refresher on why Dodd was such a high draft pick. His tape from his senior year was awesome, especially late in the season.
Most draft analysts pegged him as a guy that would take some time to develop in the NFL since he only had one season as a starter at Clemson, and could use some refinement on technique. His athletic profile from the combine shows a guy who wins with size/strength, but isn’t particularly fast or quick for his position.
He participated in the 3 cone drill during the Clemson pro day and ran a rather pedestrian 7.32 second time there. His college tape does make him look quicker than his numbers would indicate, but his game is a power/technique game similar to Derrick Morgan more than a speed/explosiveness game like Brian Orakpo’s. In fact, Dodd compared very closely to Morgan’s measurables coming in to the league.
When researching this piece, I found that Dodd actually played a lot more snaps throughout the season than I remembered. We all remember the Lions game when he got the start in place of an injured Morgan (although he really rotated with David Bass in that game) and picked up his first NFL sack, but I didn’t recall that he saw the same percentage of snaps against Oakland the following week as well since Morgan probably wasn’t quite 100% that week. Here are his snap counts over the course of the 2016 season.
Dodd Snap Counts.csv
|Week||Opponent||Def Snaps||Percent of Total|
|Week||Opponent||Def Snaps||Percent of Total|
For the most part, Dodd was used to spell Derrick Morgan almost exclusively throughout the season. David Bass, and later in the season Aaron Wallace, were rotating with Orakpo as needed on the opposite side. I could not find a snap that featured Dodd, Orakpo, and Morgan all on the field at the same time, although that is something that Orakpo has mentioned could be a possibility this year.
There are several things that a good outside linebacker in a 3-4 must be able to do to be successful, but by far the most important aspect is getting after the passer. In the pre-draft piece that I mentioned above, the author points out that Dodd has a go-to pass rush move that was quite effective for him in college where he swipes the blocker’s hands away like a windshield wiper when his opponent goes to engage. Dodd leaned on that move very heavily at Clemson and most draft profiles pointed out that developing an array of pass rush moves to compliment that one very good move would be important for him to succeed in the NFL. That move continued to be Dodd’s favorite during his rookie season.
Here it is on his only sack from his rookie year against the Lions. You can pretty clearly see the move. He waits for the tackle to reach to grab him and then swipes at his hands to throw him off balance while dipping around the corner. It’s a great move and it works to perfection here. (It also helps when you have Jurrell Casey flying around the other side on a stunt to keep Stafford from escaping)
You see Dodd attempt to use this move A LOT in the tape. Here is another example from the same game. This time Lions right tackle Riley Reiff does a slightly better job of fighting it off, but it still gives him enough trouble that Dodd ends up flushing Stafford from the pocket and leads to an Orakpo sack.
Reiff really struggled against Dodd in this game and then he got paid over $10M a year by the Vikings this offseason, but we will get back to that game in a minute. Lets take a look at one more swipe move from Dodd, this time against Raiders right tackle Vadal Alexander.
It’s a nice move, but he needs to develop some counters. The only real counter I saw him use with any frequency in 2016 was a power bull rush. This is a nice natural complement to the swipe move since a tackle who is anticipating the swipe will be a little less likely to throw his weight in to a punch and gives Dodd a chance at overpowering him, like he does here against Browns right tackle Austin Pasztor. Dodd is 6’-5” tall and has 34” arms which makes him among the longest pass rushers in the NFL. Here he uses that length, combined with his strength to get pressure on this play. I would love to see this move more often from him. Again, Dodd doesn’t finish the sack here, but he creates one for Sean Spence.
Back to working on Reiff. This time Dodd goes power against him and is nearly able to push him back in to Stafford. The QB escapes and makes a nice play down field, but this was very nearly another sack either for Dodd or that Dodd created.
Here is one of the few examples I found of Dodd working with anything other than a swipe or bull rush. This time Reiff is cheating outside and Dodd tries to punch and swim back inside. It’s a good move and he beats Reiff, but luckily for the Lions both the running back and the right guard come over to help.
Also, while we are here, check out what Jurrell Casey does to poor Taylor Decker on the opposite side. Casey is unbelievable. The amount of times he flashed while I was watching Dodd was amazing. I kept getting distracted by him and it made this piece take twice as long to research. Case is the man.
OK, back to Dodd. Here he is against Reiff, AGAIN, getting pressure. Dodd was excellent in the Lions game.
Dodd is a very powerful guy. He has a heavy punch against the run game as we will see later, and he’s quite capable of just running a tackle back in to a quarterback as he does here against Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James creating pressure in the face of Ryan Tannehill.
Here is that power pass rush one more time against, you guessed it, Riley Reiff. Dodd throws the 6’-6”, 313 pound Reiff like a rag doll on this play.
While his ability to rush the passer is what will either make or break him in the NFL, stopping the run is also important for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Dodd was very strong against the run in 2016. The power he flashes in the pass rush shows up consistently against the run as tackles and tight ends have a hard time getting any sort of push against him. Here he is on an inside slant blowing up a dive in the backfield. Eric Ebron barely slows him down on his way to the ball carrier.
Again, a similar play here. Dodd is slanting from the snap and is able to push his blocker right back in to the cut back lane leaving nowhere for the back to go when Kevin Byard fills the hole.
Here Dodd has to take on a pulling Kelechi Osemele, quite possibly the most powerful blocker in the NFL, on a counter run and he stones Osemele in the hole and is able to turn the back right back in to the waiting arms of Avery Williamson. Dodd is a strong dude.
This next play is not a great play for the Titans defense, but Dodd does a great job. He pushes the tight end back while keeping his outside shoulder clean and turns Lamar Miller back inside. Unfortunately, Miller was able to slither through a crack and make a nice run, but Dodd did his job here.
One more time against the run. This time the Browns are running Terrelle Pryor out of the wildcat on what looks like an option. The key block on this play is pinning Dodd inside using a tackle-tight end double, but Dodd is able to split the double team and make the play on Pryor.
I didn’t see this next type of play very much in my review, but I would have liked to have seen it less: Kevin Dodd in pass coverage. Woof. Look, I get it. This is a side effect of the creative blitzes that we love from Dick LeBeau and you don’t want your defense to become predictable, but man do we need to limit the number of times Kevin Dodd is left covering a tight end one on one to whatever the absolute minimum is. Morgan can get away with it, Orakpo is even pretty good at it, but Dodd is very very bad. He just doesn’t have the foot speed to run with guys like Antonio Gates (even geriatric Antonio Gates).
Here he is left covering Gates man to man and the results are exactly as bad as you’d think. Gates is open pretty much immediately for an easy throw, catch, and run for 15 yards.
Here Dodd is lined up in man over Ryan Griffin of the Texans and he just runs right by him up the seam. Luckily for the Titans, his route carries him right in to the single high safety, but this is something I don’t want to see in 2017. (Also, Dodd in man coverage with Daimion Stafford as our single high safety??? What is going on with our personnel choices on this play???)
OK I’m gonna wait for you to stop laughing at that Osweiler throw...
...you good? No? OK, a few more minutes...
...OK, OK, I’ll wait for you to send it to your Browns friend...
And we’re back.
Dodd is, at the very least, a good run stopper and a responsible defender. For a guy who missed a lot of training camp, Dodd looked very comfortable in LeBeau’s defense and was consistently in the right position.
What he did to Riley Reiff in that Lions game should get you pretty excited. If he can develop a few more pass rush moves to go with his swipe move and bull rush I think he could be a productive pass rusher for the Titans. NFL tackles will figure out his go-to move and take it away from him. It will be up to him to develop counters and subtle deceptions to keep them off balance. Besides adding to his array of pass rush moves, I think he needs to work on his get off. Dodd doesn’t explode off the snap with the same quickness that guys like Orakpo and Morgan do. Part of me wonders how much that has to do with his foot bothering him all last season though since his college tape looks much quicker.
It will be interesting to see how LeBeau uses Dodd this year. As I mentioned, last year he was exclusively a like-for-like sub for Morgan. However, one of LeBeau’s favorite 3rd down personnel packages in 2016 featured a 4 man rush of Orakpo, Morgan, Casey, and Karl Klug. If Klug is slow recovering from his Achilles injury I could see Dodd sliding in to that spot on a regular basis. In fact, I could even see him rotating in to that mix more heavily even if Klug is healthy.
Overall I’m still bullish on Dodd as a long term piece for the Titans if he can get his foot issues behind him. Obviously that is a pretty big IF, but all indications are pointing to him being 100% to start camp next month which is huge. We still haven’t seen a 100% healthy Dodd in a Titans uniform so its entirely possible that he has another level that we haven’t seen yet. His progress will be something to track closely when camp opens.