When you read all the writings and listen to all the musing by my fellow draftniks as it pertains to various members of the upcoming 2012 NFL draft class, you hear and see an awful lot about players that have "risen" leaps and bounds above where their draft stock was perceived to be at the close of the college season.
Typically, you do not hear Melvin Ingram included in those discussions. However, he should be front and center as an example of a classic post-season riser.
I was first turned on to Ingram by a fellow draft connoisseur about midway through the 2011 college season. I took a close look at him, and liked him. I saw some problems with his game, but overall I liked him as an athletic freak, much like Adalius Thomas, who should find a home as a real linebacker either in a 30 front or a 40 front. I thought for sure he should be rated right around the high second round, maybe even into the first round depending on your need. At the time, his draft stock was still down in that area.
Fast forward about six months, and many people are talking Ingram potentially even going in the top 10 or 15 of this year's draft.
I am not an acolyte of the "best player available" religion, so you generally will not hear me roast teams on the spit for taking a guy 10 picks higher than where I would have been more comfortable with him; however, there is a certain amount of hype surrounding Melvin Ingram with which I find I cannot agree.
Let's take a look at some of his strengths and weaknesses, and see if they can clue us in to why he is not quite deserving of elite status.
It is important for defensive linemen to have long arms and a good amount of length on their frame. If used with proper leverage and pad level, length produces strength. It can also make a player more difficult to prevent a player from slipping around you because the superior length makes for a target that is too difficult to contain.
The most important attribute that goes into a good frame and good length for a defensive lineman is arm length. Simply put, Melvin Ingram doesn't have it. At all.
At the Senior Bowl, Ingram's arms measured in at a scant 30.5 inches. One need only look at the film to verify that Ingram has the arms of a Tyrannosaurus rex. With short arms, he will have a more difficult time in hand battles with offensive linemen. They will find it easier to get their hand into Ingram's breast plate and otherwise produce punches that meet with solid contact.
This can and will be a serious problem if you plan to have Ingram's primary role be as a front-line player working in the trenches. It will not just affect his pass rush, but also his ability to defend the run.
Melvin Ingram is a very good athlete. He showed up at the NFL combine about 6'2" and 264 lbs., ran the 40-yard dash in 4.79 seconds "officially," recorded a vertical leap of 34.5 inches and ran his shuttle and cone drills in 4.18 and 6.83 seconds, respectively.
During a segment with ESPN's Sports Science, Ingram was asked to run an obstacle course that required him to swim beyond a heavy bag representing a blocker at the line of scrimmage, dip his shoulders and turn the corner underneath a bar set off the ground at a 45 degree angle, put the moves on another heavy bag in the backfield representing a backfield blocker and accelerate through to the quarterback. He did this in 2.8 seconds. Sports Science wasn't done there. It measured Ingram's ability to cut and weave through obstacles with the football in his hands, and found that his cuts were on par with those they measured from LeGarrette Blount.
It's easy to say none of this translates onto a football field, but anyone who saw Melvin Ingram's 68-yard scamper for a touchdown on a fake punt against Georgia knows better.
One of the reasons Ingram has risen up the boards of a lot of those in the media, and perhaps even NFL teams, is because of his showing at the combine. His 4.18-second shuttle drill and 6.83-second cone drill put his agility on par with coveted linebackers. His fluid and quick movements in drills suggested the same.
One consistent problem that I saw with Melvin Ingram's tape was his inability to get off the snap of the ball with urgency and with an elite first step.
You can see this in any of his games, if you watch closely. In this video of Ingram's performance against Auburn, you can see him being visibly slow off the snap in a little over half of the snaps where the situation calls for him to pin his ears back and be aggressive.
There is a tentativeness to his game that is designed to keep him still and ready, reading the play as long as possible, reacting to the play much more slowly than other football players and then utilizing his significant athletic ability to make up for the lost time. That will not cut it at the next level. He will be asked to play with urgency and diagnose more plays on the move.
One surprising aspect of Ingram's game is his instincts and ability to cover players in man-to-man. In the previously mentioned game against Auburn, one can find an interception in the end zone that Ingram had on a fake field goal. Ingram stayed disciplined on the play, picked out the man running a route and ran with him, looked back for the ball and plucked it out of the sky. He added a second interception on the season against East Carolina.
Ingram's duties at South Carolina were widely varied. He was often out in coverage, and when I saw him out in coverage I saw the kind of skill that resulted in those plays. This is one reason I believe he may be suited for a true linebacker position either in a 30 front or even in a 40 front.
This is a criticism that is more commonly levied against Quinton Coples of North Carolina, but it is no less true of Melvin Ingram.
For much of his South Carolina career, Ingram was a part-time player. When you break down his production in 2011, you see a guy that only had 8.5 sacks to Coples' 7.5 sacks. He forced no fumbles in 2011 and had a total of 44 tackles.
At some point while going bananas about his combine numbers or his ability to look good in drills, someone needs to ask the question of why such a supposedly dynamic defensive player was not very productive as a college athlete.