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.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).