Saturday, January 4, 2014

New England Patriots on Paper: Ryan's emergence draws comparisons to the elite

It's always a good idea to exercise caution when comparing one football player to another, particularly when comparing a player to Seattle Seahawks' volatile cornerback Richard Sherman.

Sherman is an intelligent, well-spoken creature with mad ball skills who has played at an All-Pro level since being selected in the fifth round out of Stanford in the 2011 NFL Draft - unfortunately, he is a little too well-spoken, as he articulates his confidence as a cornerback in the form of relentless trash-talking both on and off the field...
Ballhawk Ryan's numbers on pace with the best in the game

...drawing the ire of many an opponent as well as the National Football League, finding a way around the Shield's urinalysis testing policies and eliciting heated exchanges with members of the media - the epitome of the axiom "Love him on your team, but hate him if he's lined up across from you."

Regardless of how you feel about Sherman on a personal level, there is little doubt that he is an elite defender.  That said, it appears that a rookie defensive back for the New England Patriots is drawing comparisons to the pompous Sherman - fortunately for his on-field performance and not for any self-edifying, pretentious behavior.

But let's not get too deep into this.  Sherman is Sherman, Ryan is Ryan - and all things considered, the rookie from Rutgers is much more suited to encompass and envelop the Patriots' Way than the brash third year corner from California.

The emergence of Logan Ryan was really not much of a surprise, but is unique in the Patriots' perspective in that the team was able to bring him along slowly, thanks mostly to the excellence of the incumbent starters already in place - which makes what Ryan has accomplished just that much more remarkable.

But just for the sake of satisfying the aesthetic palate - and taking into account that Ryan's quarterback rating against was second only to Sherman's - assume for a moment that Ryan had logged the same starts and same snap totals that Sherman saw - Ryan's numbers actually blow Sherman's out of the park, mathematically speaking.

Sherman, starting all sixteen games, logged eight interceptions, returning one for a score, with 16 passes defended, 38 tackles and 11 helpers - by contrast starting seven games and playing just 43% of the snaps that Sherman saw, the rookie notched 5 interceptions, 10 passes defended 1.5 sacks, 29 tackles and six assists.

Protracted into 16 starts and the same number of snaps and targets as the mouth that roared, Ryan would have projected into 11 interceptions - returning two for scores - with a ridiculous 23 passes defended, 3.5 sacks and totaling 66 tackles with 18 helpers.

And, yes.  It's all bullshit for sure, but it's fun to think about, particularly for Patriots' fans who would like to see Sherman tied to a hockey goal and letting Boston Bruins' defensemen Johnny Boychuck, Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug take target practice at his mouth for all of the grief he's caused quarterback Tom Brady.

Absurd images, but they paint a picture of what it means to be a Patriot - something that Ryan has experienced after his conspicuous package check as he dove into the end zone after picking of New York Jets' quarterback Geno Smith, his apology and time spent in Bill Belichick's very cold and very lonely dog house - not to mention the fine he incurred from the league - likely curing the young man of such antics.

But the fact that Ryan was been eased into the lineup comes as a result of the solid play of the defensive back ahead of him on the depth chart.

Aqib Talib is on a different planet than most as far as shutdown skill, while second year man Alfonzo Dennard is a solid as they come as a compliment to Talib - and even Kyle Arrington is considered one of the better slot corners in the league, so Ryan's time on the field has mostly been in the capacity of the nickle or dime back, and not necessarily against the cream of the crop as far as opposing pass catching talent.

This is worth mention when considering that Talib is a free agent at the end of this season, and though Ryan is most assuredly a talent worthy of accolade, one must be careful of reading too much into his numbers - both actual and projected - when factored into how hard the team tries to keep Talib in a Patriots' uniform.

You can never have enough quality defensive backs, and that should be the mantra - and from a standpoint of depth, there aren't many teams that sport three starting quality corners, nor the same number of starting quality safeties, which the Patriots have in Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory and rookie Duron Harmon.

All in all, the Patriots are set in the secondary going into the tournament and beyond, and as the post-season accolades start to pour in - Talib and McCourty earning second-team All Pro honors and Ryan making All Rookie teams - Belichick and New England as a whole would be best served to lock up Talib and McCourty for the long term this offseason...

...entering free agency and the draft with one of the best secondaries in the NFL with no imminent concerns to address, given full health.  Sure, there are needs along the interior of both the offensive and defensive lines, at tight end and maybe a need at linebacker depth - but nothing really pressing, as New England's 12-4 record and first-round playoff bye will attest.

Lord knows what Belichick can do with a fist full of draft picks and with carte blanche to select the best athletes available...

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