Welcome back to another edition of Grinding The Tape! This week, we will be focusing in on free agent addition Logan Ryan. Ryan was added to the Bucs roster following his release from the New York Giants in a cost-cutting move. The Bucs pounced on the opportunity to bring in an experienced and versatile player who can help the defense in multiple ways. Today, we will look at what those ways are as well as what the best use of Ryan may be in 2022.

For my evaluation, I watched five games from last year. Those were New York’s games against Denver, New Orleans, Kansas City, Atlanta, and the Los Angeles Rams. In addition, I watched a 2019 game of his against Denver from back when he was with Tennessee.

Ryan’s Career In Three Phases

Ryan was originally drafted out of Rutgers in the third round of the 2013 draft by the New England Patriots. He was not seen as a very gifted athlete, as his size, speed, and explosive measurements all yielded poor to average test results. However, there was one area of his testing that he measured very well in. His short shuttle time of 4.06 seconds and three-cone time of 6.69 were both considered great displays of lateral agility. Most scouting reports on Ryan noted he was very physical, using his hands well while also displaying sound tackling technique.

After being drafted, Ryan spent two seasons as a part-time corner. During this time, he spent the majority of his snaps as a boundary defender. This continued into his third year, which is when he became a full-time starter.

However, beginning in 2016, Ryan began to play more predominantly in the slot. That season, he logged 51.1% of his snaps inside. That transition coincided with the best Pro Football Focus coverage grade of his career. This trend would continue from 2017-2019 with Tennessee. His effectiveness continued to be solid, with PFF grades of 67.6, 71.6, and 64.9 over the three-year span.

In 2020, Ryan signed with the Giants and with it came another position change. Ryan moved to free safety. Over his two years with the G-Men, Ryan’s slot usage fell from the low 60% mark in Tennessee to around 20%. Meanwhile, his usage at free safety jumped all the way up to around 50%. During this time, Ryan logged two of his three lowest-graded seasons per PFF at 64.1 and 60.4, respectively. Given his experience at those different positions within the secondary, Ryan has a unique skill set that should allow him to feel comfortable all over the defensive backfield in Tampa Bay. But where can his talents be optimized? Let’s take a look.

Ryan At His Best

As mentioned earlier, Ryan did not test very well athletically coming into the NFL. With a smaller frame and a lack of long speed, he isn’t a prototypical outside boundary corner. But what he does well is move laterally, tackle and process information. Here are a few examples of those skills on display.

Here, Ryan is located at the top of your screen, close to the line of scrimmage. He comes down to the box as the outside receiver comes in motion. As the play begins, the slot receiver drives up on Ryan to seal the outside with a block. Ryan is able to get his hands on the receiver, twist him inside and move off the block. He then slips behind the pulling lineman and makes the tackle, holding Denver to a minimal gain.

Here, you see Ryan lined up as the deep safety. But watch how quickly he deciphers the offensive play. He’s moving toward the outside zone read before the ball is snapped. Then, as the play develops, he drives down with conviction to set the edge. This forces Alvin Kamara to try and reroute back inside, where the defensive lineman is able to finish the play.

Here, Ryan is the strong-side safety. As the play begins, he is in a backpedal. Ryan quickly sees the handoff and begins to come down on the play. Now, he is not the heat-seeking missile you may have become used to with Jordan Whitehead. There is no blow-up, lay-out, jaw-dropping hit. What you do see is a textbook breakdown followed by a form tackle, where he wraps up and brings the ball carrier to the ground.

Finally, I think this really encapsulates Ryan in his best form. Immediate recognition of the play fake. Calmly finds his assignment and makes a solid form tackle. He is even able to jar the ball out of the tight end’s hands and recover the fumble.

Ryan As A Deep Safety

Over the past two seasons, Ryan has played deep more often than not with the Giants. This has led to mixed results. There are two major reasons for this. First, he seems to lack a comfortability with deep zones where he has to read multiple routes coming at him. Secondly, his lack of deep speed limits his effectiveness in keeping speedier receivers in front of him. It isn’t all bad, though. Over the next few clips, let’s explore all of the aspects of Ryan’s game as a deep safety.

Starting with his limitations, you’ll see above that Ryan is the strong-side safety toward the top of your screen. He bites hard on the play-action and starts driving down on what he thinks is a run. By the time he notices the fake, the receiver has blown by him. Ryan lacks the recovery speed to catch back up. Patrick Mahomes never sees it, as he was working left to right in his progression, but if the play had read right to left, that’s most likely a touchdown. In a Bucs defense that tries to prevent big plays, Ryan can present a bit of a liability as a defender of last resort.

Close to the goal line, Ryan is the single-high safety. As the routes develop, he has to decide whether to stick as the overhang on the inside slot receiver or let him cross in front and maintain inside leverage on the remaining two receivers to his right. Ryan elects the former and provides additional help for a very well-covered slot receiver. This leaves an easy hole to exploit for the outside receiver coming in on the post.

Ryan In The Slot

This was probably my favorite play to watch during my entire film study. This encapsulates the best Ryan has to offer. He begins in the slot, and as the boundary receiver motions in to create a stack, you can see Ryan communicate with his teammate on how to align to defend the formation. As the ball is snapped, the two defenders seamlessly pass off their receivers. Ryan stays with the motioning outside receiver as he breaks on a short hitch, while Ryan’s teammate releases with the slot receiver running the out route. Both routes are covered well and the result is an incompletion.

Ryan looks most comfortable playing underneath zone coverage. As a slot defender in Todd Bowles’ scheme, this would be something he would do a lot. Watch here as he moves from the box on the weak side of the play to initially carry responsibility for the boundary receiver. As the receiver carries vertically, Ryan passes him off to the deep zone. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback and reacts quickly to the check-down to the back.

Blitzing From The Slot

Now, here is where he can be really fun. Bucs fans are familiar with Ronde Barber. He is perhaps the greatest slot corner of all time. Part of the reason for this was Barber’s ability to blitz from the corner and create pressure and sacks. If you were a fan of that part of his game, you are going to love Ryan. He has produced a PFF pass-rushing grade above 70 in three of the past four years. In the clip above, you can see why. Ryan releases on his blitz quickly. He is able to round the right tackle with ease and work back to the quarterback to contribute for the sack. In a Bucs defense that loves to send pressure from unexpected places, Ryan is an ideal fit.

How about one more (because it is just so fun)? Again, immediate downhill drive. This time, the pressure is schemed up perfectly and Ryan comes in as the free rusher. His timing is fantastic, and he causes Joe Flacco to get rid of the ball well before his receiver’s route can develop. The result is a near interception that ultimately is a third-down incompletion. Drive over.

Okay, I promise this is the last one. Another blitz from the slot. This time, it’s off of a press look. Ryan trails the edge rusher until he engages with the right tackle. He then transitions inside to a wide open “B” gap, causing Matt Ryan to have to get rid of the ball immediately.

How Can The Bucs Best Utilize Ryan?

After watching Ryan, I am of the opinion he is best and most comfortable as a slot defender. This is where he can combine his greatest strengths and limit his biggest opportunities. It allows him to blitz and set the edge in the run game. It also showcases his physicality against would-be blocking receivers.

The slot provides him with ample opportunity to play underneath zones, where his lateral mobility is leveraged the most and his communication skills can help him put teammates in the best position to succeed. Finally, it limits his exposure against long speed. These all represent opportunities for the Bucs to allow him to challenge Sean Murphy-Bunting for the starting nickel role.

Ryan’s addition to the Bucs defense helps make up for some of the loss of Jordan Whitehead as a run defender. I think this can allow the Bucs to keep Mike Edwards on the field more without much of a drop-off in run defense. A secondary that features Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean as outside corners with Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Edwards as deep safeties is a talented group that has the potential to be an amazing play-making group. And all of that could be unlocked with Ryan as the nickel corner.

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About the Author: Joshua Queipo

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Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
1 month ago

Throw in a healthy K. Neal and the backend can throw a lot of different looks with different personnel (eg. big nickel, dime defenses, etc). Now what to do about the front seven as reinforcements are needed IMVHO.

Spitfire
Spitfire
1 month ago

That’s what I was hoping for with him. Winfield and Edwards can team up as FS, Ryan in as Nickel instead of SMB, the Neal and Winfield Jr can play SS as needed.

drdneast
drdneast
1 month ago

The Bucs responded to SMB’s subpar play last year by picking up Ryan. He has the whole season to get his play back on course or he will be looking for a job next year.

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
Reply to  drdneast
1 month ago

They also traded up to draft McCollum too in this years draft.
Dean has an injury history but Dean is trending upwards and has a good working relationship with HC Bowles. I anticipate Dean starting opposite of Davis. I prefer to see Ryan at nickel and let Edwards platoon with Neal at Strong safety. SMB is a young man with lots of energy but clearly lacks focus. Still, SMB in certain dime packages has value for this squad.