This is the article I was hoping to write ever since the draft process began. And I’ll be honest... when the Titans traded up and took Rashaan Evans with the 22nd overall pick Thursday night, I was less than thrilled.
It had nothing to do with who the pick was. It was about who the pick wasn’t.
I actually like Evans’ game quite a bit and think he absolutely belongs as a top-20 player in this draft. He’s a perfect fit for the style of defense the Titans are going to want to run (I’ll have more on that coming soon as well).
But Evans wasn’t the guy I wanted. That guy was Harold Landry, Boston College’s lightning quick edge rusher, who many had pegged as a top 10-15 talent in this draft. I wanted Landry at 22 so bad that I was actually upset for a moment about getting a top-20 player at a position of need who was also a perfect fit for the team.
So you can imagine how happy I was when Jon Robinson pushed all his chips in to the center of the table, traded up to 41 and selected Landry to go with Evans. Jon Robinson somehow managed to turn picks 25, 57, 89, and 125 in to two top-20 talents at the team’s two biggest need positions plus the 215th pick that they used to move up in the 5th round to grab Dane Cruikshank. Its pretty amazing to walk out of a draft with two of the top 20 players on your draft board when you started the draft outside the top 20.
I actually never thought Landry would even be a realistic option for the Titans in the 1st much less the 2nd — despite the constant mock drafts that had him pegged here — primarily because I felt pretty strongly that he was the best pure pass rusher in this draft class. Sure, Bradley Chubb is a more well-rounded edge defender with a steadier track record and no significant injury history to speak of, but Landry’s get-off, speed, and bend give him a ceiling that no one else in this class has. He has a chance to be truly special.
PRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Before we get in to the tape, let’s look at some numbers on Landry. He arrived at Boston College in 2014 after an interesting recruitment that will tell you a little bit about Landry the person. He was a little undersized, but very productive in his early high school years and his explosiveness caught the attention of Boston College scouts. They were the first FBS school to extend an offer and Landry committed. After a growth spurt and an outstanding start to his senior season, Landry suddenly had the attention of schools like Ohio State, Miami, and Tennessee. Landry briefly decommitted from Boston College, but quickly decided to stick with the coaches that had believed in him from the beginning.
He arrived at BC in 2014, but Landry played sparingly as a true freshman. His sophomore year saw him take over a role as a full time starter. While the sacks didn’t pile up right away — he finished with just 3.5 on the year — he did finish with a very strong 16 tackles for loss.
As a junior in 2016, he burst on to the national radar with an absurd season for the Eagles, racking up a school record and NCAA-leading 16.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. His 7 forced fumbles were the most by a single player since 2011. To top it off, he also chipped in 4 passes defended and 1 interception which he returned for 20 yards. However, for some reason, the NFL Draft Advisory Board only gave him a Day 2 grade and he decided to return to BC in hopes of playing his way in to the first round.
Things didn’t work out the way Landry hoped in his senior season. As the reigning NCAA sack king on an otherwise very mediocre Boston College team, he faced near-constant double teams and chips from opposing teams who were dedicated to keeping him from changing the game with one of his signature strip sacks.
On top of the extra attention from opposing offenses, Landry also battled a couple injuries throughout the 2017 season. It started in the Notre Dame game during the third week of the season when his snap count was suddenly reduced to essentially just playing on passing downs. After the game Boston College coaches said the decreased work load was intended to “keep him fresh”, but something about that explanation doesn’t pass the smell test. Many think he picked up an injury either in practice or early in that game that the team tried to keep quiet — college football doesn’t have the same strict injury reporting requirements that the NFL does and its not abnormal for teams to keep injuries to themselves to try to protect the player.
He picked up an ankle injury at the end of Boston College’s game against Virginia Tech when a teammate landed on his lower leg as Landry was collecting his 3rd sack of the game. After trying to battle through the ankle for the next two games, he was finally shut down after aggravating the injury again against Virginia. If you buy the mystery injury theory against Notre Dame, you will see that his productivity tracks pretty closely with his health throughout the season. Take a look at his stats on a week-by-week basis:
- @ Northern Illinois: 6 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 sacks
- vs Wake Forest: 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
- vs Notre Dame: 1 tackle, 0 TFL, 0 sacks (possibly injured during game)
- @ Clemson: 8 tackes, 1 TFL, 0 sacks
- vs Central Michigan: 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
- vs Virginia Tech: 7 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks (suffered ankle injury at end of game)
- @ Louisville: 5 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 sacks
- @ Virginia: 1 tackle, 0.5 TFL, 0 sacks (re-aggravated ankle injury early in game)
Landry was pretty clearly less than 100% against Louisville and Virginia. Even if you don’t buy the Notre Dame mystery injury theory, he was healthy for 6 games at most in 2017. If you extrapolate his numbers over those 6 healthy games to a full 12 game season, you get 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks on the season. That’s still a far cry from his blistering 2016 pace, but its nothing to sneeze at either.
When you take Landry’s career stats and compare them to other top pass rushers in recent drafts, he stacks up pretty well. Here are the career stats for all the first round edge rushers drafted in the last three drafts.
Joey Bosa: 51 TFL, 26 sacks
Leonard Floyd: 26.5 TFL, 17 sacks
Shaq Lawson: 45.5 TFL, 20 sacks
Myles Garrett: 47 TFL, 31 sacks
Solomon Thomas: 24.5 TFL, 12 sacks
Derek Barnett: 52 TFL, 32 sacks
Charles Harris: 34.5 TFL, 18 sacks
Takk McKinley: 28 TFL, 16 sacks
Taco Charlton: 28 TFL, 19 sacks
T.J. Watt: 17 TFL, 11.5 sacks
Bradley Chubb: 54.5 TFL, 25 sacks
Marcus Davenport: 37.5 TFL, 21.5 sacks
Harold Landry: 48 TFL, 25 sacks
As you can see, Landry’s production outpaces this entire group outside of Bosa, Garrett, Barnett, and Chubb and he’s right on the heels of those top guys despite missing a good chunk of his senior season. To be fair, Bosa, Barnett, and Garrett all stayed just three years at their respective schools, but Landry was a bit of a late bloomer who didn’t truly get on the field until his sophomore year, unlike the others who played large snap volumes immediately as freshman. His freshman season contributed just 1.5 TFL and 0 sacks to that total, so in essence those stats are a 3 year total for him as well. Had Landry stayed healthy in 2017 and produced at the level he was early in the year, he would have ranked 1st in TFL with 56 and 3rd in sacks with 30 behind just Garrett and Barnett.
Landry’s production at the ACC level screams first round pick.
Landry’s measurables are maybe even more impressive as his production. Here is his spider graph from Mockdraftable.
As you can see, Landry is somewhat undersized for an edge player, but I actually think that can be a benefit at times — I’ll explain more later. His movement skills, however are undeniably elite. Especially his shuttle times and 3-cone time which measure agility and change of direction.
The 6.88 second 3-cone time is special and that’s the drill that most scouts and evaluators would tell you translates best to what an edge rusher is asked to do in a football game. Here’s the list of all the edge rushers in the history of the combine that have weighed in over 250 pounds, run the 40 in 4.64 seconds or better, and had a 6.88 second or better 3-cone at the combine: Connor Barwin, DeMarcus Ware, Harold Landry. That’s it.
Some of the comps for Landry are pretty lofty. The player you see him compared to most often is Vic Beasley, but I have also seen some even higher end guys. Former NFL scout Bucky Brooks says that “Landry reminds him a lot of Von Miller when he was at Texas A&M.” For Landry’s part he says that he models his game after Miller and Raiders star Khalil Mack. Physically, Landry certainly lives in the same neighborhood as Miller and Mack.
Landry vs Miller & Mack
|Weight||252 lbs||246 lbs||251 lbs|
|Arm Length||32 7/8"||33 1/2"||33 1/4"|
|Hand Size||9 3/8"||9 1/4"||10 1/4"|
|40 Yard Dash||4.64s||4.53s||4.65s|
|10 Yard Split||1.59s||1.57s||1.56s|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.19s||4.06s||4.18s|
|Bench Press||24 reps||21 reps||23 reps|
As good as Landry’s measurables are, they’re still a notch below Miller’s who is simply from another planet. However, he is extremely close to Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Mack has a slight edge on some explosiveness measures like vertical and broad jumps, but Landry has the advantage in the critical 3-Cone Drill. This is the class of athlete that Landry belongs in though and that’s a very good thing for the Titans considering the other two guys are the top two pass rushers in the NFL right now.
I went back and watched every piece of tape that I could find on Harold Landry from the past two seasons — partially because I wanted to be thorough, but also because it was just a lot of fun to watch — and here are my big takeaways from watching him play.
First, let’s start with what makes Landry so special as a prospect: his ability to speed rush and bend around the edge. This is a quote from Justin Melo’s excellent interview with Landry prior to the start of his 2017 season:
“I’m the type of guy that will beat you with speed until you stop me. With me being able to bend the corner, I know for a fact that tackles do not like guys that can get low to the ground. I wish there was a way for me to bend as low to the ground as motorcycles do when the rider’s knee touches the ground when they turn the corner. I want to be that flexible. I want to have that sort of ability to bend the corner. That’s definitely my number one move.”
This is what his dip move looks like and you can see how effective it can be. This is Landry’s fastball and he goes to it until tackles start cheating to stop it. Take a look first at the get-off and how quickly he covers 5 yards. Then he times his dip with the tackles punch which leaves his opponent punching at air as he bends down low while somehow still accelerating towards the quarterback. This is a special, rare gift. Landry is one of a very very very small number of pass rushers in the world who are capable of making this play.
Here is another view of the same play where you can better see what his dip does to the tackle’s punch.
Here is another example of the same move. There are LOTS of these in his tape. Again, note the get-off. I started the gif a little late on purpose just so you can see how much quicker he is off the ball than the rest of the defensive line. Once again he times the dip well and leaves the tackle grasping for ghosts. This move is the reason that I feel his height isn’t always a disadvantage. Landry’s shorter stature combined with his ability to bend allows him to make things hard for taller tackles. They suddenly have a smaller, fast-moving target to hit with their punch and when he bends low they lose any shot at gaining leverage.
Here he goes with it again. This time the quarterback feels him coming and steps up just in time to avoid the sack, but the pressure takes away the timing of the pass play and eventually leads to a 3rd down stop for the defense. Getting sacks is obviously the primary goal of pass rushers, but getting pressure can be nearly as valuable and Landry consistently does that even when he doesn’t get home.
Here’s another dip. This time the tackle sees it coming and tries to get low with Landry. However, Landry’s balance when he’s bending like this is outstanding and he is barely phased by the tackle’s contact on his way to a strip sack of Deshaun Watson, something that Titans fans hope to see a lot of over the next few years. As mentioned above, Landry forced 7 fumbles during his junior season. Only 3 players in NCAA history have forced more fumbles in a single season. He certainly has a knack for getting the ball out, something the Titans have generally struggled with over the past two seasons.
Like I said, there are a TON of these to choose from, but I’m going to give you one more. Watch how quickly he beats this tackle. The quarterback had absolutely no shot here as Landry is on him immediately once he hit the top of his drop.
From the same game, here’s another dip move resulting in another sack. The 2nd angle here really shows the technique well as he dips that inside shoulder, nearly dragging his hand on the ground, and then rips it up as he turns the corner.
And once again in that same Wake Forest game. This was a clutch sack too as BC was trying to hold off a late comeback attempt from Wake in the final game of the 2016 regular season. The tackle is beat again, but this time the back tries to get over to help, but he’s too late and Landry is able to get enough of the quarterback to get him on the ground and Boston College went on to get the win.
Here is the last sack of Landry’s college career. You can see some of the stuff that teams were trying to do to slow him down at this point of his career on this play. Notice the H-back lined up to his side and the jet sweep motion — both are mechanisms to try to help Virginia Tech’s right tackle against Landry’s speed rush. It’s still not enough to save him on this play though as Landry blows by the tackle, takes out the receiver running the jet sweep action, and still manages to haul down the quarterback all while his teammate is landing on his ankle (this is when he suffered the ankle injury that cost him the end of his season).
Here’s another example of teams attempting (and failing) to take Landry out of the game. They’re asking the H-back here to chip Landry on the way out in to his route, but Landry runs right by both him and the right tackle and gets the strip sack. You can really see that elite 3-Cone time at work here as he runs the ring with incredible speed.
Landry’s speed dip is definitely his go-to move — and rightfully so — but he does show some other stuff on tape. Here is a little push-pull move against Clemson’s right tackle. Landry gets to Watson’s arm as he’s trying to release the pass, leading to a dangerous deflected pass.
Here is another play from the same game. This time he catches the right tackle cheating to try to take away the outside speed rush and makes a quick move inside, drawing the eyes of Watson down, and ultimately forcing a throwaway.
Here’s another counter move from Landry. He doesn’t get the jump that he usually does here and that gives the tackle a chance to set against the speed move, so instead Landry converts to a power move through the tackle’s inside shoulder and ends up getting his hand on the quarterback’s arm as he releases, forcing the interception.
Here’s another forced interception by Landry. This time he’s working inside as part of a ET twist. Not only does his presence free up the tackle, but Landry is able to chop and get skinny through the gap on his way to the quarterback, again forcing an easy interception. These are plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet for Landry, but are even more valuable than sacks.
One more inside move. Again, you can see the tackle cheating to set against the speed rush, but Landry loops inside with a rip move and flushes the quarterback out of the pocket. Landry needs to continue to develop his counter moves, but he does have them. With his explosion and speed rush off the edge, he should be able to set up some really good counters off that speed. That’s what makes guys like Von Miller special. It’s impossible for most tackles to deal with Miller’s speed rush without selling out to stop it, but that leaves them exposed to the rest of his moves. I would love for Rashaan Evans to teach Landry his spin move, because that could be lethal with Landry’s skill set.
When Landry doesn’t win with his initial move, he shows good effort to continue to try to get free and affect the play. Here is an example of that as he twice takes away the quarterback’s running lanes to the right before chasing him down from behind when he escapes left.
While he was primarily asked to rush from the edge position in college, Boston College did occasionally line him up inside and let him rush against centers and guards. He was really effective when used in that role as well. Here is an example. It’s almost unfair how quickly Landry gets off the ball and you can see him take a swipe at the ball as the center is trying to push him by the quarterback before his teammates clean up the sack.
Pass rushing is Landry’s calling card and his ability to get-off and bend the edge should translate to the next level. He’s the kind of guy that will be particularly effective when Nissan Stadium is loud, giving him an extra head start against opposing tackles struggling to hear the snap count.
There are opportunities for him to improve his game though. He could be better with his hand usage and counters, but those are things that are extremely coachable. Mike Vrabel is known for his work with edge rushers like Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus from his time in Houston and I’m sure he can’t wait to get his hands on Landry along with outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen. It’s easy to see Landry instantly becoming an impact pass rusher for the Titans in 2018.
While pass rushing is Landry’s specialty, he’s not a liability against the run either. At Boston College he primarily played as a defensive end in a four man front, though he did stand up as an outside linebacker in odd fronts from time to time as well. His best work as a run defender came when he as asked to be a true edge defender similar to the way he will likely be used in the Titans 3-4 base defense. Here is a good example of that. While Landry is in a 4-point stance rather than standing up, this is effectively an odd man front from BC with Landry acting as the edge setter. He does a nice job of keeping outside leverage against the tackle and then peaks inside when he sees the back trying to cut up field, giving his teammates time to close in and get the TFL.
Here is another example of him edge-setting. This time he’s in a 2-point stance, playing as a true stand up outside linebacker. This is more of what he’ll be asked to do against the run in base fronts for the Titans. He does a good job of locking out and keeping the blocker from getting in to his body while working towards the sideline and eventually making the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Landry’s quickness creates problems for opposing running games too. Here he plays matador with the right tackle before making the stop in the backfield.
He’s at his most dangerous when he’s on the backside of a running play as you can see on this play. Wake Forest is trying to kick him out with a split block from the H-back, but Landry beats the H-back to the spot and tackles the back immediately upon getting the hand off. He’s entirely too quick to leave unblocked, even on the backside of a play.
Where Landry got in trouble against the run was when he was asked to play inside. When he was playing as a true defensive end in even fronts, Boston College often liked to run slants against the run. This is where Landry’s height hurts him as he struggles to see around his blocker to find the ball. He gets caught up inside here and doesn’t see the back until it’s too late.
Here is another example. While Landry does a good job of stoning the pulling guard at the line of scrimmage, he isn’t able to disengage from the block in time to make a play. To be fair, this touchdown isn’t really Landry’s fault — his linebackers couldn’t have played this worse — but he needs to work on his ability to disengage from blocks quickly.
Landry is a smart, instinctive player who was well-coached in college. His position coach was new Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. Here he shows great awareness recognizing the RPO, drifting in to the path of the throw, and then batting it down.
Here is another example of his smarts and athleticism. Maryland is trying to run a little tunnel screen. The right tackle is supposed to be chopping Landry to get his hands down, but Landry is able to read the play, stay up, and then pluck the ball out of the air with one hand.
Landry is a high motor guy, and not just when it comes to chasing sacks. Here you can see him chasing down a screen from behind and delivering a big hit when he gets there.
I’ll end the film review section the way we started it with one last sack. This time Maryland hilariously tries to block him with a tight end so Landry predictably beats him like a drum and finishes the play. You can see a little more hand usage with this one as he rips around the edge.
I think Landry has a chance to go down as THE steal of the 2018 NFL Draft. His production, athleticism, and film all put him in a class with the top edge rushers in the NFL today. I believed Landry would be gone far before pick pick 25 and he probably should have been. The two knocks that you hear most reporters throw out as possible reasons for the slip are his injury and the fact that he profiles as a bit of “tweener”, but I don’t think either of those reasons should concern Titans fans specifically.
First, his injury was a sprained ankle caused by a teammate landing on his leg. It wasn’t some terrible knee injury or career threatening situation. It wasn’t part of a chronic, recurring pattern of injuries either. Outside of the ankle in 2017, he hasn’t missed any time for injury during his college career. The report from Tom Pelissero indicated that some teams had flagged him for back/knee concerns, but if the Titans were considering picking him at 25 — which Jon Robinson has said to be true — that tells me the Titans medical team had no such issue with their evaluation of Landry when he came in for a visit in Nashville.
The “tweener” thing is just ridiculous to some degree because if Landry is a tweener, then so are Khalil Mack and Von Miller. They seem to have turned out OK. I could maybe understand a 4-3 team being a little concerned about him playing defensive end on run downs, but in the Titans 3-4 he is going to be asked to set the edge in the run game which is something he does very well. Even if he does turn out to be somewhat suspect against the run — I don’t think he will, but for the sake of argument — his ability to rush the passer will far outweigh that negative.
Mike Vrabel said that he doesn’t expect Landry to come in and be an understudy for anybody, he wants him to compete. However, the Titans are in a perfect spot with Landry to be able to use him as a pass rush specialist early while he works his way in to a spot where he’s ready to take over as a starter either this season or the next. Orakpo and Morgan are still strong starters and having a highly capable backup could help reduce their burden and keep them fresher later in to the season which is another added benefit. I think Landry could have a massive impact right away for this team and it would not shock me at all for Landry to lead the Titans in sacks in 2018 and be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Pretty good for the 41st overall pick.