Coming off a 2013 where he started all 16 games while recording 127 tackles and four sacks, DeMeco Ryans appeared to have a productive season and emerge as the unquestioned leader of the Philadelphia Eagles‘ defense. Statistics can be deceiving.
Ryans was signed in 2010 as stout run defender in the middle of the Eagles’ 4-3 defense. The team has since moved to a 3-4 scheme, and has miscast Ryans as a “Mike” inside linebacker. The Mike is the Swiss Army Knife of the defense. On any given play, Mike ‘backers must blitz, drop into coverage, play the run, and/or spy on the quarterback. With so much required of the position, speed-strength freaks like Patrick Willis are ideal 3-4 Mike linebackers. In 2013, Ryans proved that, not only is he not in the same class as Willis, but his skill set is incompatible with the demands of the position.
While he appeared productive on paper in 2013, Ryans looked like a square peg in a round hole on the field. The Eagles’ defensive captain was actually a liability against the run and the pass as he graded out second to last, ahead of only the 38-year-old London Fletcher, on Pro Football Focus’ 3-4 inside linebacker rankings.
Lacking elite athleticism, Ryans would likely be a productive “Ted” inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. The Ted is a space eater, occupying blockers and freeing up the Mike to make plays. However, Ryans will not be moving to Ted position in 2014, because the Eagles are content with former second round pick, Mychal Kendricks, who showed gradual improvement as last season progressed. Kendricks played almost every snap in the second half of the season and was particularly outstanding against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13 and the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15. Kendricks is sure to be a popular defensive breakout candidate heading into 2014.
With few positions to upgrade heading into this offseason, acquiring a more impactful Mike ‘backer will be one of the Eagle’ top priorities. Slated to earn a non-guaranteed $6.9 million next season, rumors have surfaced that Ryans will be asked to take a pay cut in order to return to the Eagles in 2014. Rather than restructuring his contract, the Eagles are more likely to release Ryans and replace him with a playmaker who can truly “rock the Mike” via free agency or the NFL Draft.