Over the course of this offseason, DeMeco Ryans has moved from a team leader to a figure of doubt. Many believe that, despite being the team's best linebacker last year, Ryans cannot transition to a 3-4 defense.
This is a very understandable train of thought.
In 2011, the Texans added Wade Phillips as their new defensive coordinator and switched to the 3-4. During that season, Ryans only played 682 snaps out of a total 1168 (including playoffs), which amounted to 58.3 percent. Comparing that to the 2009 season in which he played 1,024 snaps, or 2008 when he notched 987, there's reason to be skeptical.
Also—excluding 2010, when he ruptured his Achilles during Week 6—Ryans had a career low in tackles with 64 (44 solo, 20 assisted). His previous totals in the 4-3 were 123, 112, 128 and 155. All of this in a season which ended with Ryans being shipped to Philly for a fourth-round pick and the swapping of third-round picks. Hence, the doubt.
Ryans, however, doesn't understand all of the pessimism.
"There's a big perception that ‘DeMeco doesn't fit in a 3-4,' whatever. I played in that defense, I played with the Texans in the 3-4 defense when we were the number one, number two defense in the league, so if I didn't fit in there then we wouldn't have been that highly ranked."
When you look at the numbers, it's hard to not side with Ryans.
Over the course of the 2011 season, PFF graded Ryans out as the 22nd best inside linebacker in the league with a rating of .8. However, when you remove all 4-3 middle linebackers, Ryans graded out as the 14th best 3-4 inside linebacker in the league that year. Given the number of 3-4 teams in the league, it's certainly a quality rating.
He also did it while playing in a new scheme and having less than a year to recover from a torn Achilles. In addition, if you project Ryans' 64 tackles over 1000 snaps, which was roughly his average over a full season, then he comes out with a total of 94 tackles—a respectable figure.
So, despite the influx of negativity, it seems as though Ryans will be average, at the very least, as a 3-4 inside linebacker—if not in the upper tier. He's still in his prime at age 28 and has the appropriate size (6'1", 247 pounds) to play the position.
As I see it, the biggest question mark for Ryans going into the season is whether or not Billy Davis can properly use him. However, that's a whole different story.
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