LEO concepts, run defense and Bruce Irvin

Bruce Irvin is on a diet of three quarterbacks a day

Thomas Beekers wrote an interesting piece at Field Gulls today, discussing the LEO position and how it relates to run defense in Seattle’s scheme. It’s a subject I have a lot of time for, because I’ve long stressed the impact on run defense if you’re going to use a floating specialist on the defensive line. It doesn’t really matter who you play on that side, at 250-265lbs you’re giving something up against the run. A lot of potential LEO candidates that were talked about in the 2011 draft class, in my opinion, were never considerations because their run defense was so poor. Trying to find someone who can limit the damage on running downs and provide a spectacular pass rush isn’t easy and it’s why there’s more to the LEO than simply a lack of size and decent speed off the edge.

Beeker’s evidence shows that teams didn’t target Chris Clemons, who was the designated LEO rusher for the Seahawks and enjoyed a career year for sacks in 2010. Opposing teams ran to the left as often as the right and didn’t utilise the lack of size on one side of the defensive line. To some extent I think that’s testament to Clemons but I’m loathe to be overly positive about his performance against the run, because it would be false praise. However, he wasn’t awful and alongside his sack production really the Seahawks went some way to justifying their scheme and usage of the LEO at least for 2010.

As I touched on earlier, when scouting players in the 2011 draft I found very few top-end LEO pass rush candidates that I wanted to put in Seattle’s system. My favorite by a long stretch was Jabaal Sheard who ended up in Cleveland. Not only did he have the necessary strength and surprising run defense potential for a guy playing at 264lbs, but he had the speed off the edge and a repertoire to keep things interesting. In many ways, he could be the ideal LEO rusher. Brooks Reed was another candidate with similar abilities and higher up the board, Aldon Smith could’ve slotted into the role.

The likes of Von Miller, Robert Quinn, Justin Houston, and Adrian Clayborn didn’t appear to be as logical options because of that needed combination of speed + strength, although I understand the team did like Clayborn even if he was never a likely draft pick for the Seahawks.

Looking ahead to the 2011 draft, one player I’ve often spoken about on this blog that excites me a lot is West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin. He played last year as a third-down specialist and earned 14 sacks in limited playing time as a former JUCO transfer. This year, he’s expected to take on a larger role. At 235lbs he’s too small to play as part of a front four, yet there’s so much potential there if he could add 15lbs. We’ll need to see what weight he’s playing at when the season starts and he may already have added weight for his new extended role. Even at 235lbs, he flashed the kind of surprising strength that sparked my interest in Sheard but Irvin’s a much more explosive pass rusher.

He often talks about ‘Beast Mode’ on Twitter and certainly Irvin plays the game the same way as Marshawn Lynch. It’s not just about pure speed and power either, Irvin has elite hand usage and a complete repertoire of moves. There really are no limits to his potential and it’s encouraging to see him flat out beat a guy off the edge with speed on one down, then engage a lineman on the next play before cutting inside and attacking the middle.

Here’s another video compilation courtesy of TMB Draft featuring plays against NC State, Connecticut and Maryland. Irvin has big-time potential and could lead the nation in sacks this year. He is the one LEO candidate I’m pushing this summer and absolutely he has a lot of potential to compete in Seattle’s scheme.


  1. Cliff

    At the end of the video they give him a early 3rd round grade but based off his potential i think it should be higher. I think if he makes some improvements to his game as he should from playing more and if he gains a few pounds like he should have during the offseason he could go in the first round no problem. If his does gain say 15lbs where would you put him in the draft?

    Also do you think 3-4 teams would draft him as a rush OLB or is he strictly a 4-3 DE to you?

    • Rob

      Hi Cliff,

      I think TMB Draft have been modes with all of their projections so far, for example I think Matt Barkley got a mid/late first round grade and others received mid-round grades.

      The thing with Irvin is that I believe he’s perfectly suited to Seattle’s scheme and therefore warrants high value, but he doesn’t fit in hardly any other defensive scheme. Can he play 3-4 OLB? As a pass rusher yes, but he’ll need to prove he can cope with coverage responsibilities and certainly he’s not asked to do any of that at WVU. In an orthodox 4-3 he’s too small at 235lbs to cope with run defense.

      If he adds the 15lbs and maintains his level of explosion, then it opens up a world of possibilities. 4-3 teams won’t rule him out because he does have surprising strength and he’ll be bigger to comabt pro-lineman. 3-4 teams will be intrigued by his athleticism and will test him out in coverage.

      If he continues to play at 235lbs he’ll remain a specialist or potential 4-3 linebacker convert and that’ll hit his value. Seattle wouldn’t over draft the guy despite the ideal scheme fit if they know others won’t touch him too early.

      I will say this though – production gets attention and boosts stock. If he gets another 14-15 sacks to go with his 2010 production, teams will be very interested early. He has top-15 athletic talent, but could be a steal later.

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