Pittsburgh’s defense from 2019 was a lot of fun to watch, thanks to two players in particular who stand out as possible targets in the 2021 class.
There’s a lot to like about defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman and safety Paris Ford.
Twyman is listed at 6-2 and 290lbs so he’s relatively undersized to play inside. He also doesn’t really have much scope to get above 300lbs — so you’re going to have to compensate size for impact. Frankly, this is the type of player Seattle has needed for some time.
We’ll need to see how he matches up in terms of arm length. With the way he plays, that’ll be important. His hand use is very good and is the most attractive aspect of his game alongside his athleticism. Being able to keep his frame clean and disengage at the next level will be crucial to his potential success, so that’s something to keep in mind when measurements are taken next year.
However, he had 10.5 sacks in 2019 and 12 TFL’s. There aren’t many defensive tackles putting up those numbers in college.
As mentioned, the thing that really stands out is his ability to stay clean and work openings. Twyman has a really good swim move and executes the push/pull to a high standard too. He keeps his feet moving and doesn’t stop working to the quarterback. That’s not always a good thing because sometimes you want to see a defensive tackle just plant their feet, bully and force a blocker backwards into the pocket. You can easily lose balance if you’re too active and get washed out. Twyman’s balance is excellent though and rather than get walked out of contention he forces blockers onto the backfoot with extended arms, quickness and the threat to slip a gap at any moment.
It’s a connected process. His hand-use bats off attempted blocks and combines with the movement. He’s difficult to pin down — you can’t engage and lock out as a blocker and you’re forced to attack on the move. He’s nearly always clean and then he can play with patience — waiting for the moment to rip/swim.
When he connects he’s very good at jolting with a strong punch or tossing blockers out of the way. He looks quick and agile and has just enough sand in his pants to handle duties inside.
There’s one rush against Delaware where the center gets into his shoulder pads and creates initial contain. Twyman simply bides his time and shrugs him off with a swim before exploding into the backfield for a sack. He’s really slippery. You’re not going to stone him too often at the line. He’s going to wriggle free.
On another play against North Carolina he stunted to the edge and ran a really extended loop all the way to the quarterback — showing off his quickness and agility.
As we know in Seattle, you need gap-discipline to play defensive tackle in this scheme. They’ve never had a dynamic sack artist working inside because they don’t often play in attack mode. Priority number one is handle your gaps. They’re happy for their defensive tackles to push the pocket rather than necessarily shoot and play in attack-mode. I need to see Twyman this year to understand whether he’s going to be someone they see as a fit — or whether he’d be more suited to a situational rush role (which would obviously impact his stock).
Even so — it’s always exciting to see a defensive tackle who can create problems and collect sacks. A dynamic interior rusher is one of the more exciting aspects of the game. Seattle hasn’t had one for far too long.
If Twyman produced fireworks as a pass rusher, Paris Ford delivers energy and intensity at safety.
The entire defense was lifted by his play. They were hollering at his hits and the way he celebrates every successful moment. Ford has the attitude, the edge and the desire to enjoy himself that every team needs in their defensive backfield.
Again he’s not the biggest player (6-0, 190lbs) but he plays way beyond his size. He will deliver an absolute sledgehammer hit given the opportunity. You hear cracks when he tackles — the unmistakable sound of a helmet being smacked on a jarring hit follows Ford around the field. Don’t come into his area or he’ll dump you on your arse. He’s a bruising, intense hitter that helps set a tone.
In other words — he’s Seattle’s kind of safety. There’s not a lot of consistency in terms of the physical profile they’ve targeted at the position. However, they love guys who play like this. Hitting is an aspect they treasure.
Ford has decent range in run support. He identifies stretch runs and can sprint to the ball carrier to create TFL situations. Virginia Tech ran the quarterback on one play against Pittsburgh last year and he read it all the way, sprinted up to the LOS and just hammered the QB. It suggested evidence of an ability to understand the play, trust his eyes and finish. The ability to handle the perimeter stuff is key for a team playing against the NFC West teams.
He reads the middle of the field well and is opportunistic. He has a knack for making plays — sticking in coverage, collecting a deflected pass for an interception, making an open-field tackle. He’s much more tenacious than you’d expect for his size.
He’s only had one year as a starter so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops. He had three interceptions in 2019. Can he add to that tally, show off great range in the open-field and convince teams he’s a complete safety prospect? Even if he can’t — his play around the LOS and the second level is still highly impressive.
It’ll also be interesting to see how he tests. Ford was a four-star recruit and the likes of Auburn, Florida and Michigan all showed interest before he opted to stay close to home. Twyman was also a four-star prospect coveted by Penn State, Florida and South Carolina. So it’s not like both are overachieving types — they have a pedigree.
Twyman and Ford are highly talented and need to be on our radar for the future — whether there’s a college football season in 2020 or not.
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