A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

By now you've heard that last night, the Eagles and Texans agreed to a
deal that will see linebacker DeMeco Ryans in Midnight Green so long as
he passes a physical. However, because Ryans is under contract and
consequently wasn't among the top names being covered in "What Will the
Eagles Do at Linebacker" stories for the past month, and he's played in
the AFC South for his entire career, many Philadelphians won't know much
about him. 

So who is DeMeco Ryans, why was he suddenly available, and where does he fit into the Eagles defense?

A second-round draft pick out of Alabama, Ryans became the middle linebacker for the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2006. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and was voted to a pair of Pro Bowls over the first four years of his NFL career. Then, in 2010, Ryans ruptured his Achilles tendon. He missed the final 10 games of the season, and for the first time ever, serious injury cast doubt on his future.

Once the lockout ended, Ryans rejoined the team in 2011, but the Texans defense was not the way he left it. Wade Phillips had been appointed defensive coordinator, and along with Stay Puft came his signature 3-4 scheme. Despite starting 16 games for the fifth time in six seasons, DeMeco's numbers dipped dramatically in 2011. He registered roughly half the number of tackles he averaged in years past, and, statistically speaking, appeared to be a non-factor overall.

Based on limited information, one might conclude Ryans wasn't a fit in Phillips's version of the 3-4. At worst, the assumption will be Ryans never fully recovered from injury.

Sure, DeMeco Ryans started all 16 games in 2011. What that doesn't tell you is he only participated in 58% of Houston's defensive snaps last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ryans was a three-down linebacker prior to 2011, appearing in 99% of the club's defensive plays in '08 and '09. He was solid, both while defending the run, and in coverage. He never came off the field.

There is some concern that guy is not the player who the Eagles acquired in their trade with the Texans. To be fair, that might be true. Ryans may never be quite the player he was when he entered the league six years ago. Time takes its toll in the NFL, and an Achilles injury is of particular concern, even in this day and age. Just ask Ryan Howard.

The indication from John McClain -- he of the Houston Chronicle, not the Nakatomi Plaza -- is Ryans was utilized as a "one-down inside player" in Phillips's 3-4. That seems to mesh with PFF's snap count, though it doesn't exactly answer, 'why was his playing time reduced so drastically?'

McClain, and others, maintain Ryans's skillset was "wasted" as a weakside interior linebacker in the new Texans defense. Only one interior linebacker is used in certain passing sets, and Ryans gave way to Brian Cushing in the dime. Cushing, meanwhile, earned a second-team All-Pro nod for his strong play last season.

Long story short, there wasn't necessarily a quality issue there. Houston's motivation to part with Ryans was based on the bottom line. Ryans will earn nearly $6 million in 2012. That's way too much for a part-time player, but becomes a lot easier to swallow when he's your starting middle linebacker.

The Inquirer's Jeff McLane believes the Eagles see Ryans for what he was before the injury, an every-down player. That's great news if true, but there are also reservations that he's lost a step since the Achilles.

It's a risk the Eagles are prepared to take. Their problems at linebacker are well documented, and with Stephen Tulloch re-signed in Detroit, there does not appear to be a better player available in free agency. Curtis Lofton, arguably the best remaining option, doesn't have near the accolades Ryans does, and many believe he's merely a two-down player who will wind up grossly overpaid.

Ryans also comes with less overall risk than the rest of the free agent marketplace. While he is signed through 2015, his salary is not guaranteed. If things don't work out, he's gone, a one-year rental. If he excels, chances are both sides will want to restructure next spring.

When you consider all the Eagles really gave up in the deal was a fourth-round pick, which they've used to uncover such gems as Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton in recent years, they really didn't lose much of anything at all.

And just for the record, this trade does not preclude the Eagles from drafting another linebacker within the first few rounds this April. The defense still lacks a presence on the strongside in particular, and the diminutive Brian Rolle doesn't have everybody convinced on the opposite end.

Yet for the first time in awhile, there is reason to feel somewhat at ease about their linebacker situation. This doesn't feel like trading for Ernie Sims, an athletic freak with no football IQ; or Takeo Spikes, a journeyman veteran treading water in the NFL; or Will Witherspoon, a desperation, mid-season move, fit be damned.

If DeMeco Ryans is three-quarters the player he was two years ago, he's at least a huge upgrade on the Eagles. At best, he's a Pro-Bowl MIKE in the NFC. I look forward to finding out.

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. ... It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. ... Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz's Rookie of the Year odds took a hit, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds shortened and the Vikings' lengthened after Sunday's 21-10 win.

The Eagles are 33/1 to win it all, a week after being listed by Bovada at 50/1. The Vikings, meanwhile, went from 7/1 to 9/1. They still have the third-shortest Super Bowl odds in the NFL and are two spots ahead of the Cowboys (14/1). 

Wentz, who had his worst statistical game against Minnesota, is now 9/1 to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Last Wednesday, he was 6/1.

Wentz trails Cowboys studs Ezekiel Elliott (2/5) and Dak Prescott (11/5) on that leaderboard.

As far as this week, Wentz is favored to throw for more yards than Prescott. Wentz is 5/7 to outgain Prescott through the air in Week 8, while Prescott is 1/1 to outgain Wentz.

Elliott's over/under rushing total against the Eagles is 99.5. He's rushed for 130-plus yards in each of his last four games, and the odds are 3/1 that he'll reach that number again this week. 

The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Washington's Matt Jones (16 for 135).

Elliott is also now on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Dickerson had 1,808 in 1983; Elliott is on pace for 1,875. Will Elliott break that 33-year-old mark? A "yes" bet pays 2/1; a "no" bet pays 1/3.