About 3 months ago, I took a long look at the top two OLB prospects in this year's draft. Those players are Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr. I still believe that Mack and Barr are the top two at their position, and there is a popular belief that there is a steep drop-off in talent between them and the next tier. If you ask me, Ryan Shazier is not far behind them, but it's unlikely that the Lions select him unless they reach at #10, or they happen to trade back up into the first round. Two more guys that should be considered when the Lions are on the clock in the 2nd round are Georgia Tech OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, and BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy. Our very own Sean Yuille already touched on Attaochu's skill-set and why he'd fit with the Lions, so I figured I'd dig a little deeper on Van Noy, since there seems to be a lot of buzz around him on POD.
Van Noy had a solid career at BYU, racking up 54 tackles for a loss over his last 3 years. He had a slightly off-year in 2013 regarding sacks, but was pretty consistent in terms of tackles overall. The high number of sacks in 2012 could have something to do with Ezekial Ansah grabbing most of the attention on the opposite side of Van Noy.
Ansah and Van Noy were roommates at BYU, and Ziggy had nothing but good things to say about Van Noy, calling him the best player on BYU's defense in 2012. Van Noy replied with, "He better say that since I taught him how to play."
Below is Van Noy's spider graph. You can see that he didn't have a very good performance at the combine.
Van Noy has been widely considered as a jack-of-all-trades linebacker. He doesn't have that elite athleticism, but he's an incredibly smart player who does all the little things right on the field. If there were a way to measure football instincts, he would be flying off the charts. This is what makes him a top 50 prospect in my eyes.
The Little Things
This play is a perfect example of Van Noy doing the little things to help his team. In real time it may not look like much. But after seeing the replay, and listening to the announcers, you realize how big of an impact Van Noy really makes on this play. Initially, Van Noy bursts off the line and gets stood up by the 2nd TE to the right. However, he's able to spin to the outside, forcing the RB to run into a wall, rather than bouncing off to the outside for a possible TD.
What jumps out at you the most about Van Noy is how intelligent he is and how well he recognizes and reacts to plays. He is one of the most instinctive players in this draft, and while he doesn't have a very high ceiling, he probably has one of the highest floors out there.
Here, Van Noy lines up as if he's a slot corner. After the ball is snapped, he takes an angle towards the QB, but as he's running he keeps his eyes locked on the QB. Once the QB turns to his right, Van Noy immediately recognizes that it's a screen play, and changes his direction towards the receiver. As he blankets the receiver, he knows that by now there's at least one or two of his teammates backing him up, so he can make his move to pressure the QB. This ends in the QB throwing the ball away. Van Noy ends up turning an easy screen on 2nd and short into a wasted play.
Another example of Van Noy recognizing and blowing up a screen play on 3rd and 14. He always has his eyes on the QB, and when the QB turns his feet, Van Noy is already shuffling towards the target. The Lions already have DeAndre Levy nicknamed "The Screen Killer". Imagine both Levy and Van Noy covering both sides of the line.
On 3rd and 7 against Virginia, Van Noy drops back in zone coverage again. The play develops and the QB realizes all of his receivers are covered, so he turns to dump it off to his RB. Once again, Van Noy reacts quickly and is there to stop the RB for a short gain and force a punt. If you watch the play closely, you can compare Van Noy to the ROLB in coverage. Van Noy keeps his eyes on the QB the whole time, while the ROLB takes his eyes off for a moment, and reacts a little slower. They both end up there at about the same time, yet Van Noy was about 5 yards further from the play when it started to develop.
There is very little film of Van Noy in man-coverage, so it's hard to say whether he will develop into a solid coverage linebacker. However, he is great in zone coverage, and tipped quite a few passes at BYU.
At a crucial point in the game against Virginia, Van Noy drops back into zone coverage again. He sits in the middle of the field following the QB's eyes, and gets his right hand on the ball to tip it up in the air and give his teammates a chance at an interception. Unfortunately, the ball stays with Virginia, and they end up scoring on that same drive and win the game.
Underrated as a Pass Rusher
When you hear about the top pass rushers in this year's draft, you mostly hear names like Khalil Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, Dee Ford, and even Jeremiah Attaochu. I feel like Van Noy should be right up there with some of these guys, and he's often been overlooked. One of his knocks is his inability to use his hands to free himself from defenders. He does show some inconsistency there, but he makes up for it with a variety of pass rush moves. Being able to use your hands is a very coachable trait, so I wouldn't be too worried, because he does show some flashes of using his hands well.
Van Noy doesn't exactly jump out on the box score always. For instance, against Virginia, he only accounted for 4 total tackles (2.5 for a loss), and 1 pass deflection. That doesn't mean he's not making a big impact though, because he was all over the QB in this game, generating pressure after pressure. In the play above, Van Noy is going up against one of the top OT's in this year's draft class in UVA LT Morgan Moses. Moses is known for being a sound pass protector, but apparently Van Noy didn't get the memo. He bull rushes Moses off the snap and pushes him back a few feet, while using his hands to free himself and use his forward momentum to fall on the lower half of the QB and force him to almost throw an interception.
But what I really love about Van Noy is how great he is at setting up a spin or swim move. He is so good at making a jab step in one direction, only to spin/swim the opposite way, while the blocker is completely off balance.
Here, Van Noy finds himself in a pass rushing situation on 3rd and long. Off the snap, the LT reacts quickly to the outside expecting a speed rush, so Van Noy fakes the outside rush, and makes an incredibly quick spin inside, and almost goes untouched to the QB. Unfortunately for him, the QB is able to escape, but he makes an impact on the play anyway because he forces the QB to leave the pocket and force a 4th down regardless.
This play was the epitome of Kyle Van Noy's 2013 season. His ability to put himself in a position to make a play is superb, but he often failed to finish the play. I would have liked to have seen him make more plays in the backfield last year. He is a very exciting and frustrating player to watch at the same time.
Van Noy was also effective in the limited amount of plays where he rushed from the inside. In this particular play, he's about 2 yards off the LOS, and begins to rush at the LG. If you watch the play a few times over, you'll notice that he initially begins to take an angle towards the B-gap between the LT and LG. When he reaches the LG, he's leaning towards the outside, but he quickly swims left and catches the LG off balance. The LG has absolutely no chance at stopping Van Noy, and Van Noy faces another challenge with the blocking RB in his way. Instead, he punches him out of the way like a small child, and has a chance at sacking the QB. Once again, Van Noy fails to finish the play, and the QB has another chance at making a play on the run.
I've already mentioned Van Noy's ability to recognize plays quickly, but I'd like to put a little emphasis on how quick he really reacts to the ball.
This is one of my favorite plays from Van Noy. He avoids two blockers on his way to the backfield, and in a split-second of leaning one way and lifting his head up to find the ball carrier, he immediately changes directions and makes the tackle.
I'll admit, I didn't know a whole lot about Van Noy besides what I had heard from other people, and what I've heard from the media until about a week ago. Now, he's become one of my favorite prospects to watch on film.
Why We Should Draft Him
It's probably a reach to grab Van Noy at #10 overall, but if he is available in the 2nd round, the Lions have to consider him there. The Lions have a need at OLB and Van Noy is a guy who can step in and and do anything you want him to. He's an underrated pass rusher, a good run stopper, and he's no slouch in coverage. He's not athletically gifted, but he gets by on his superior instincts, and has one of the smarter defensive football minds in this draft. He would likely come in and win Ashlee Palmer's role as the strongside linebacker, and may see some more time than Palmer did last year. Van Noy provides an immediate upgrade to the OLB position for the Lions, and he will be reunited with his old college roommate, Ziggy Ansah.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
Some draft experts are finding it difficult to figure out exactly where Van Noy will fit. Is he a 4-3 OLB, a 3-4 OLB, or a 3-4 ILB? He is widely considered as a "tweener", and doesn't have the high upside as some other prospects do. He had an off year in terms of getting to the QB in 2013, so that may draw some concerns as well.
The Lions Select Series:
I'm only going to do one more of these before the draft. So now is everyone's last chance to suggest who my final write-up will be on. Thanks again for all of the kind words, and rec the post if you liked it. Don't forget to discuss below.