He's the ultimate defensive chess piece, moving around from position to position, technique to technique, linebacker to linebacker. A jack of all trades of sorts, perhaps a master of none.
At least that's what the feeling is when I watch South Carolina's Melvin Ingram play, but versatility is a key characteristic in a prospects game in today's game and even players like Ingram, who has questions about transitioning to the next level, have a place on an NFL roster and potentially in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram did very well for himself at the NFL combine recently, putting up 28 bench reps that confirmed the upper body strength he appeared to possess on the game tape. The 28 bench reps were important for the young prospect but as usual, it left critics doing what they do best: critiquing. They critiqued his short arms, which measured at a mere 31'.5", saying they were the reason he put up so many bench reps of 225.
Perhaps they were, but as said, his strength shows up on tape. He also measured in at 6'1.125" and 264 pounds, which is on the small side for a defensive end consequently likely leaving him to be a space player at the next level.
Strong-side defensive end. Weak-side defensive end. Three-technique defensive tackle. One-technique defensive tackle. Outside linebacker ("ghost five-technique").
He's done it all and done it well. Ingram has played all over the line of scrimmage and done damage on pass-blockers with his quick-twitch ability and relentless motor. This versatility will be a big factor in his grade that is assigned to him and it should be, as it is a very important aspect of his talent as well as in today's game.
The issue with Ingram is his arm length, which has been previously discussed, and it shows up in this department. He has an issue with getting his hands inside of the blocker to gain the leverage advantage because of his short arms.
From what I've evaluated of his games, he's shown a tendency to get away from using his hands inside for leverage advantage and instead rely on his athletic ability and quickness to beat blockers.
He will use pass-rush moves such as an inside spin and a rip to beat blockers and he has had success with this against blockers that have fundamental issues in my opinion. There have been instances in which he's been asked to slide out as a defensive end and his pass-rush moves have not fared well. Instead, he's relied on his athletic ability and motor to get the job done, which is something that won't always fly at the next level.
Explosiveness and Quickness
This is one of Ingram's strength as he's often able to beat blockers at the snap of the ball. He shows good natural explosiveness and quickness off the line of scrimmage and uses it to win at the point of attack.
This is strictly a fundamental characteristic but I felt it was important to point out about Ingram's game. He has a tendency to go high around the shoulders when bringing down ball carriers and quarterbacks. He needs to improve this and although it is able to be fixed through coaching, it is an issue that I see with him. Missing tackles is equivalent to a point guard missing a layup on a fast break because he failed to slow down when approaching the hoop—in a word, unacceptable.
Ingram's run defense is average as he plays with good strength but he tends to struggle more with offensive tackles than tight ends, which is expected. His upper body strength plays a big factor in this area of his game as he is able to stand up tight ends and set the edge while against offensive tackles, he will lose the leverage battle and attempt to hold up with his aforementioned strength. He struggles to stack and shed the blocker in this case.
Ingram's done work in space, a place where he likely will have to become more familiar with at the next level, and the work he's done mainly consists of short zone dropping as either a RAT or Robber underneath or as a Curl to Flat dropper.
When he's done this, he hasn't had many targets thrown his way based off of the games I've evaluated but he's shown that he has good awareness, instincts and football intelligence.
These three aspects of his game are particularly noticeable when he's identifying specific offensive concepts such as screen passes and gimmick plays which often fool defenders, but not Ingram. He is able to identify specific blocking schemes when a tackle drops deeper to set up a screen pass and instead of going downhill to attack the quarterback, he locates the quarterbacks target and sticks with him, even though at times he'll get caught looking back at the quarterback.
Is Ingram worthy of a first round draft pick?
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram is one of the most interesting prospects in the 2012 NFL draft. He has an abundance of natural talent that will translate to the next level but he will have to polish his game a significant amount in my opinion. When it comes down to evaluating prospects, the big question is not what can't he do, it's what he can do. Ingram shows versatility, quick twitch and explosiveness, instincts, athleticism and football smarts in my opinion. These things will likely land him in the first round, where his value is right in my opinion.
The biggest question about his transition at the next level is what position he'll play and there are many options for the team that chooses him. It would not surprise me to see him be a weak-side 3-4 outside linebacker or a weak-side 4-3 linebacker because both make some sense. There's also the chance he plays weak-side defensive end. Wherever his new team chooses to play him, they must keep in mind that their goal is to get the matchup advantage in their favor by moving him around, utilizing him to his full potential.