BGA: Scouting Dawan Landry

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

The Jets this week signed another veteran player when they signed safety Dawan Landry to a two-year, $3m deal.

The 30-year old, 6-1 220-pounder figures to fill one of the Jets’ vacant starting safety roles, one of which resulted from the departure of his younger brother LaRon. The younger Landry started all 16 games for the Jets last year and went to the Pro Bowl, but signed with the Indianapolis Colts last month.

After the jump, I look in detail at footage from last season, to review what he can bring to the Jets, focusing in particular on any differences and/or similarities between him and his brother.

Who is Dawan Landry?

A high school quarterback, Landry went to college at Georgia Tech and was eventually drafted in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens. There he earned a starting job as a rookie, playing the first three years of his career with Rex Ryan as his defensive coordinator.

After starting 30 games in his first two seasons, Landry suffered a potentially career-ending spinal concussion injury early in the 2008 season. However, since then he’s been perfectly healthy and hasn’t missed a game in four seasons. In fact, he’s only missed 31 snaps, including just one last year.

Landry has a reputation as an in-the-box safety, which makes sense by virtue of the fact that he was paired with one of the best coverage safeties of all-time in Ed Reed. However, Ryan’s system requires both his safeties to be able to play in coverage and Landry did flash some ball-hawking skills in the passing game early in his career, intercepting five passes twice in his first four seasons. Here is a nice highlight reel showing some of that playmaking ability (and some big hitting) on display in those first few years.

Landry played for five years with the Ravens, before signing a five-year, $27m deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. He played two seasons with the Jaguars, who reportedly cut him due to his high salary and the fact they want to get younger at the position.

2012 Regular Season

Let’s look in detail at Dawan’s contributions during the 2012 season.

Week 1 – at Minnesota

In this game, Landry missed a tackle in the flat on a screen pass that led to a 20-yard gain. He also gave up two key catches – a 26-yarder to set up the game tying field goal and a 17-yarder to set up a field goal in overtime. Both of these came in zone coverage.

Week 2 – v Houston

In this game, he wasn’t troubled in coverage and had 13 tackles. There was also one play that he blew up by taking out the lead blocker.

Week 3 – at Indianapolis

Landry made a couple of good plays against the run in this game and had his only pressure of the season, although Andrew Luck escaped and scrambled for a first down. He also got beaten for this short score.

Week 4 – v Cincinnati

Landry wasn’t targeted at all in this game and had six tackles including one where he stuffed a run in the hole. He did slip on one running play, missing a tackle for a nine yard run.

Week 5 – v Chicago

In a blowout loss, he was targeted just once as Jay Cutler kept the play alive and Landry couldn’t stay with the tight end as he scrambled. However, that first down was negated by a penalty. He did record nine tackles including one in the hole for a short gain.

Week 7 – at Oakland

In this game, he was beaten for a 17-yard gain on a post route by the under-appreciated Brandon Myers on a great throw by Carson Palmer. He also broke up a pass to Darren McFadden with a well-timed hit, although McFadden felt there should have been a flag.

Week 8 – at Green Bay

Landry gave up two short passes in this one but did make one good play against the run. He was called for a holding penalty as he hit the receiver as the ball arrived – except the ball never arrived because Aaron Rodgers had thrown a pump fake.

Week 9 – v Detroit

Landry was involved in a couple of big plays in this one, missing a couple of tackles and not getting over in time in coverage once. He also got beaten in man-to-man coverage for an 11-yard catch, although he was in pretty good position and the receiver made a diving grab.

Week 10 – v Indianapolis

Landry made some good plays in this one – a tackle in the hole, a touchdown saving tackle on third down at the goal line and a tackle in the flat on a well-read screen pass. He also added this, his only interception of the year. On the downside, he missed a tackle at the second level on a 19 yard end around, got frozen by a pump fake that allowed Andrew Luck to dive in at the pylon and got flagged for this extremely LaRon-esque hit on Luck.

Week 11 – at Houston

This was the game where the Jags built a big lead behind Chad Henne, only for the Texans to battle back and win 43-37 in overtime. After not being troubled in coverage the first time the teams met, Landry found himself chasing Andre Johnson around all day as the Texans attacked gaps in the Jags zone. There were two plays where Landry was at fault for biting on a play-fake, leading to 27 and 45 yard gains. Two more went for 23 and 19, with a 15-yard penalty tacked onto the second one for a hit on a defenseless receiver. There was also a short touchdown pass where Landry and a linebacker both ran with the outside receiver, leaving the tight end alone underneath. Landry did make one good stop at the goal line, but his day ended badly too, as he was unable to prevent Johnson’s winning touchdown with this despairing dive at the 20.

Week 12 – v Tennessee

Landry had a much easier game this week, registering nine tackles. He did give up two first downs and got blocked out on a running play that went for 31, but he also made a good open field tackle on a third down dump-off pass to force a punt.

Week 13 – at Buffalo

Landry made a couple of good plays in this one, blowing up a run and reading and blowing up a screen pass in the flat. However, he did miss a couple of tackles and overpursued badly on a CJ Spiller touchdown run. The Bills also threw a touchdown pass to Scott Chandler between Landry and the other safety.

Week 14 – v New York Jets

Landry made a couple of excellent open field tackles on Mardy Gilyard and Konrad Reuland, one to force a punt and the other for a short gain. There was also a play where he was clearly picked and probably should have got an offensive pass interference call. He gave up one first down where he was too far off his man as Mark Sanchez rolled out and got driven back in the running game on two plays that netted 24 yards by Reuland and Vladimir Ducasse.

Week 15 – at Miami

Landry blew up one run in the hole to force a third and one and made an immediate tackle on a third down dump-off to force a punt. He was credited with giving up a 37-yard completion, but review of the film seemed to indicate this was the cornerback’s fault. Landry was at fault when he missed a tackle downfield which turned a Reggie Bush 20-yard run into a 53-yard run though.

Week 16 – v New England

Landry was solid in this game, making a couple of good plays against the run. He did give up one first down catch in zone coverage that was negated and had a missed tackle, but it only cost them a couple of yards.

Week 17 – at Tennessee

Landry only gave up seven yards on three targets in this game, but that’s misleading because he did get burned down the seam by Nate Washington, who then dropped the ball. He did make one good play in coverage, as he was in position to blow up a screen pass, forcing the quarterback to throw it at the receiver’s feet. However, he got blocked off the line on a short touchdown run.

Comparison With LaRon Landry

Let’s look at a few categories to compare Dawan with his brother, whose role he looks set to replace.

Measurables

LaRon, who was seven pounds lighter than Dawan entering the NFL, is now listed as five pounds heavier having bulked himself up significantly as he made the transition from a pure coverage safety to more of an in-the-box role (although it’s fair to say that officially listed NFL weights are notoriously unreliable). LaRon was without question the better athlete, running an eye-popping 4.35 forty at the combine. Dawan’s 4.6 forty is a reasonable time for a safety but obviously he lacks LaRon’s range and closing speed. Having said that, LaRon’s recent heel injuries may have slowed him down somewhat, so that perhaps narrows the gap despite the fact Dawan is now in his thirties.

Usage

As noted above, LaRon made a transition from pure coverage safety to more of an in-the-box role. To a lesser extent, Dawan has also been used in the box more and more over the past few years, as this chart (with data exclusively provided by PFF) illustrates:

As you can see, Dawan’s percentage of time spent in the box (within eight yards of the line of scrimmage) has been on the rise over the last four years. Back in 2008 and 2009, you can see how LaRon was in the box less than Dawan ever was with Baltimore, but played in the box more and more as he bulked up over the next couple of years. However, as a function of the dual responsibilities for safeties in Rex Ryan’s scheme, the amount he was in the box dropped back down to 40% in 2012. The good news is that Dawan has been preparing for just such a role over the last few years, by increasing his amount of time spent in the box up to just that kind of number. 2008’s high percentage shows how Dawan also has experience of an even heavier in-the-box workload, although that was only one and a half games before his serious neck injury.

It’s a common misconception that LaRon played more of a coverage role last year because Yeremiah Bell is more of an in-the-box safety. Bell was actually in the box a lot less than LaRon – just 26% of the time. We can expect whoever is paired with Dawan to operate more in coverage, but they will be interchangeable. In fact, Dawan’s role could change from week to week if he was paired with someone like Josh Bush one week and then someone like Antonio Allen the next. Either way, he’s going to play in the box and in coverage.

Coverage

Speaking of coverage, let’s consider that next.

Long time readers of BGA will know that I am always skeptical of coverage numbers (and ratings in general) for safeties, so I’m going to do my best to look beyond the numbers. However, let’s first look at the 2012 coverage numbers in isolation:

Yards per Target: LaRon 10.2 // Dawan 8.5
Yards per Coverage Snap: LaRon 0.92 // Dawan 0.66
Completion Percentage: Laron 59% // Dawan 68%

They both gave up 30 catches, but Dawan gave those up in fewer targets. However, more damage was done on the catches given up by LaRon, so Dawan’s efficiency is slightly better.

My first observation is that Dawan surrendered a much higher completion percentage, but was targeted less often. Unfortunately, the numbers alone don’t tell us whether this is (a) because Dawan was in position more often so they didn’t attempt to throw his way as much, (b) because Dawan was in coverage support rather than directly covering a potential receiver more often than LaRon was or (c) maybe just because the Jags had worse talent in their defensive backfield than the Jets so it was easier to find a wide open alternative. It could be any of these, or a combination thereof and the numbers alone don’t tell us one way or another.

I’d also caution that if you look at coverage grades on PFF these include tackles on passing plays, so if you missed a tackle or forced a fumble or something, you’d receive a positive or negative coverage grade despite the fact that it’s not really evaluating how well the safety performed at stopping his man catching the ball or being in the right position. I mention this just as an example of how misleading those numbers can be because a sure tackler who is below average in coverage will typically end up with a better “coverage” grade than someone who misses a lot of tackles but is above average at covering receivers.

There’s an even bigger reservation I have than these and that’s the fact that it is notoriously difficult to evaluate whether or not a safety was in the right place on any given play if you don’t know the assignments on any given play. Teams use a similar rating system to PFF, but they can grade their own players more accurately because they have this knowledge.

So, how can I go beyond the numbers to try and assess how good they are in coverage? Other than what we already know – their numbers were similar, LaRon is faster and covers more ground and Dawan tends to gamble less often to keep plays in front of him – I did make some observations about the Jaguars defensive scheme compared to that of the Jets.

What I noticed was that their cornerbacks played a lot of zone. Cornerbacks would cover receivers close to the line and then pass them off to the safeties if they continued downfield. They seemed to do this more than the Jets do, which led to Dawan ending up with a receiver in his area that he then had to pick up. On many of the catches he gave up, the pass was thrown at the perfect moment so that Dawan was too far off his man as the cornerback passed his man off to Landry. I’d say this takes pressure off the cornerbacks and puts more of an onus on the safeties in coverage. It might also be one explanation for Derek Cox’s sparkling coverage numbers in 2011 (league lowest numbers for completion percentage – 32.1% – and QB rating – 44.5 – on throws into his coverage).

A look at the plays on which LaRon and Dawan were directly matched up with a player at the snap (out wide or in the slot) shows that there was not much difference between how often they were required to do this. LaRon did it 122 times, Dawan 107. (Although theoretically, on some of these plays, Landry might have played zone so he’d have been passing off his man to someone behind him too.)

All of this would suggest that Dawan was targeted less not because he was in direct coverage less, but because he wasn’t often the player whose guy was open. That should bode well, especially in a scheme where there could be less of an onus on the safeties to be in direct coverage down the field.

When he was in direct coverage, Dawan did get beaten a few times for catches, but wasn’t often burned for a big gain like LaRon was on Thanksgiving against Julian Edelman for example (I won’t link to this one). These were more of the getting beaten by a step and the quarterback making a perfect pass variety.

For their careers, Dawan actually has twice as many (12) interceptions as LaRon. However, nine of these were before 2010, as were 20 of his 30 career pass breakups. One thing you’ll have picked up from that highlight video earlier on is that Landry threw and received a lot of lateral passes, mostly with Ed Reed on the other end. Here is a play where he scored on a lateral in 2010.

Run defense

Over the courses of their careers, LaRon has been the slightly more productive tackler, by a margin of 6.0 to 5.7 per game. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean he was making all those tackles in the running game. In fact, Dawan made more tackles than any other NFL safety on running plays in 2012.

Their contribution in this area is pretty similar. They can both come up into the box and blow up a play and don’t get blocked out of plays too often. Dawan usually reads plays pretty well based on what I saw from him last season, but he is prone to the occasional mistake. Witness how he takes a poor angle here and overpursues leading to a CJ Spiller touchdown.

Tackling

Missed tackles are another area where stats can sometimes be misleading. Dawan had 10 missed tackles in 2012, which no doubt hurts his run defense grade. However, because he was so productive, he was actually the 9th most efficient tackling safety in the league (again per PFF). He won’t have got credit for a positive play on many of the tackles that occurred downfield, but the fact he does that at a high percentage when compared to other players has value that the statistics don’t take into account. Look at it this way. If Dawan was in position to make 100 downfield tackles and missed 10, he’d likely end up with a worse run defense grade than someone who only got in position to make 50 tackles and missed eight. Had that second player been on a defense where runners got to the second level more often, his contribution would have been a lot worse.

Dawan’s ninth best tackle efficiency in 2012 was no fluke – he was 7th in 2010 and 22nd in 2011 – so he is a reliable tackler despite the high missed tackle numbers – 37 in four seasons. That does compare favorably with LaRon, who despite missing half of 2010 and half of 2011 missed 38 in four seasons.

Pass Rushing

Both players have 5.5 sacks in their careers, but Dawan got three of his in his rookie season and LaRon has always been a much more productive pass rusher in terms of pressure generated. Having said that, LaRon didn’t register a sack with the Jets last season, so maybe teams are more prepared for a safety blitz against teams like the Jets and Ravens with their exotic blitz packages than they would be against a team like the Redskins, where LaRon was more productive. The Jags rarely rush their DBs – Dawan did it just 17 times last year, getting just one hurry.

Discipline

As you’ll have seen from some of the plays highlighted above, Dawan does have a streak of recklessness in him. The good news is that he will still bring some of that presence over the middle that fans appreciated from LaRon, but the bad news is that Dawan may from time to time make a mistake or give away a penalty like his brother. Having said that, I’d go along with the prevailing notion that Dawan is slightly less reckless than LaRon and the footage I saw together with some of his numbers bear this out. For the record, they each had eight penalties called on them over the last four seasons, but LaRon did of course play 16 fewer games than Dawan.

Special Teams

Like LaRon, Dawan hardly plays on special teams any more – not unusual for a 30-year old safety. I mention it here for completeness, but don’t expect much of a contribution in this area.

Conclusions:

I was really enthused by the Dawan Landry signing, which I thought would represent good value on the basis that Dawan would bring many of the same things to the table as his brother, but for a fraction of the price. Dawan might not be quite as good as LaRon, but he’s almost as good and the slight downgrade is worth it when you’re also saving $2m this year (based on last year’s salary for LaRon) or $4.5m per year over the next two (based on his current contract). Hopefully, Dawan also represents less of an injury risk too – and should pick up the scheme faster than his brother did, by virtue of his three years of experience playing Rex Ryan’s system in Baltimore.

Having said that, watching footage of a slightly worse version of LaRon Landry – a player I felt was overrated last year anyway – was a little depressing in places. However, in the days running up to the Dawan signing, I had started to think that maybe the Jets would have been better off if they had just paid the $6m to retain LaRon after all, so getting Dawan for a fraction of the price was definitely a move I endorse. He’s a definite upgrade, a solid veteran presence and someone who can help the younger players.

My hope is that Dawan will be a better scheme fit than LaRon as he will play with more discipline which is something this defense lacked at times in 2012. Couple that with the fact he’s good value and a good bet to stay healthy and this is a move I am extremely hopeful will pay dividends.

Unless the Jets make any other signings in the lead-up to the draft, I will return to looking at some of the long shots at the other end of the roster.




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