The following is the 5th in a series of draft profiles for potential 1st and 2nd round picks for the Dallas Cowboys. These profiles are put together with the specific needs of the Cowboys in mind, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and game tape to get an idea of who might fit in best with Dallas come draft day.
Melvin Ingram South Carolina DEOLB 6-foot-1, 264 lbs.
40 time: 4.71, Bench Press: 28
April 26, 1989 (23)
Two factions of football people can get awfully prickly when it comes to discussions about draftees like Melvin Ingram. In one corner, you have the people that simply point to their stack of game tapes (as you will see below) and say that if those frames of tape don't tell you all you need to know about Ingram's play-making and dynamic athletic tools, then there is nothing else they can do to convince you. Then, there is another faction that says that nobody in football history made more plays at the college level than Vince Young, but it just didn't translate to the next level. Why? Because college football is a significantly different level and yes, even in a major conference, significantly inferior level of football. And therefore, we have things like the NFL Draft Combine to see how his tools stack up and how he projects at the next level where everything becomes more difficult.
And before you declare which side of the fence you are on, it is important to know that both sides have several exhibits of evidence that they can point to as "proof" that their side has it right.
One of the first things we look at when discussing a player is whether or not he excelled at the level he was at. And Melvin Ingram jumped off the screen in several games this season at South Carolina. The Gamecocks had a very impressive defense, with NFL prospects all over the place. Maybe the best of the bunch was just a freshman, but it might be time to know the name Jadeveon Clowney, because he is going to be special. Beyond that youngster, you have a few players in the secondary that are legit prospects in this draft, Stephon Gilmore and Antonio Allen. But, the buzz all year long has been about Ingram, who took several games over with his motor, his quickness, and his plays.
In 2010 and 2011, Ingram accounted for 45 explosive plays (sacks tackles for loss) in 27 games. That rate is exactly where you want it to be for a guy who is claiming to be a game changer. And you can clearly close your eyes and see that he can be the part of a swarming, high-impact defense.
So, what is there not to like? Well, this is where things get a little blurry and fuzzy when evaluating players for the top half of Round 1. For it is in that spot of the draft, that you wish for your prospect to be free of question marks. And with Ingram, several have been raised:
1) - Does he have a true position in the NFL? Here is the biggest question for Ingram and it is a fair one, as this age of "tweeners" has swallowed up many a college star. Is he a defensive end? Well, at 6-1, that seems rather unlikely. Going against tackles that are routinely 6-6, a player has to be able to see what is going on in the backfield to have a whole lot of success, and Ingram appears to be too short to play that in the 4-3, and way too short to play that in the 3-4 as a "5 technique". So, is he an outside linebacker? It seems that he absolutely could fit into the mold of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but we are projecting quite a bit and guesswork is not a pleasant thing when you are talking about a pick this high. He has dropped into coverage, and speed is not going to be an issue for this guy, but being a versatile outside LB requires many more varied skills than he was asked to demonstrate at the college level.
2) - Can he stand up against the run? If he does project to being an outside LB in the 3-4, we know that there are two possible ways to utilize him. The weak side OLB which will specialize in edge rushing and getting to the QB with great success or the strong side LB which lines up over RT and TE the majority of the time and must focus on setting the edge against the run. Here are where the questions arise, because he doesn't seem like a perfect edge rusher, but when you run right at Ingram, he looks a bit uncomfortable. He likes to use quickness to go around blocks rather than take on blocks at the point of attack. Anyone who knows defense knows that this is not an ideal default setting for playing within the scheme. Sometimes you must sacrifice yourself so someone else can make the play, by taking on the blocks and not trying to run around them. Ingram has a preference, and scouts will tell you that it is not easy to change your ways.
3) - How much stock do we put in measureables? Because if we want him to pass all of those tests, we must be concerned about his extremely short arms (by NFL standards at his position). His arms measure 31.5 which put him at the very back of the class. And this is where we ask the questions about whether the difference in competition from SEC tackles to NFL tackles will really trouble him. If his arms are very short and he cannot get away from tackles once they get their paws on him at the snap, will he ever have the ability to be an edge pass rusher on Sundays? And, as you examine the tape below, watch how much of his pass rush was from the inside DT position in college. Would that work in the NFL? Moving him inside in college works because you can then isolate a guard in space, but does that translate to the NFL?
He is a very impressive player who runs around the field like he is possessed some weeks. But, he did go two stretches of 3 and 4 games without sacks in his senior year. Yes, much of this does seem like "nit-picking", but that is the job when trying to separate prospects of this caliber.
Here is some YouTube cut-ups for your own personal eye-ball test:
This Auburn performance is one for the ages. If this is the only tape you watch, you might consider him the best player in the draft. And, if he duplicated this Auburn performance, everyone else might agree with you. Dominant effort for sure.
Here you see that when he is getting to the QB, it is from the inside. If you think he is a legit edge rusher, I just don't see it. And if you like him for simply his unique inside push, then you have a hard time convincing me that he should go this high.
Here is the game that showcases his many tools. The fake punt where he runs for a touchdown is certainly not common for defensive linemen. He also returns a fumble for a touchdown and then recovers an onside kick on the hands team. If you are making a case that he is simply a freak that can do many things, this is your tape.
Vs Nebraska (Bowl Game)
And then this tape is the most disconcerting, where he is easily blocked by the Nebraska LT and doesn't look to sharp against the run, either. He has his plays, but how good is he?
And then this clip is from ESPN's Sports Science where we can see how well he can still throw the ball a little bit.
The Case For Taking Melvin Ingram at 14: You want a guy who runs around the field like a possessed man on this defense that seems to lack that at so many spots. If he slides to you, he is a guy that you can simply show his highlight film and wow your fans with a player that has big play potential. He plays like he enjoys the game and has many tools that will be useful. Not only this, but if you allowed him, he could be a game changer in special teams.
The Case Against Taking Melvin Ingram at 14: The Cowboys have much bigger needs than taking a player like this where you are not sure how he would fit in your system or if he has a position at this level that would showcase him properly. This might dust off the Anthony Spencer argument again, but Spencer's disappointing sack resume should not be confused with the Cowboys losing games because he has done a poor job manning his spot. Spencer is solid in many regards, so to address a position that is solid is ignoring many on the field that are poor. Ingram looks like a player who will help someone out, but the Cowboys have needs that must be addressed by more of a prototypical "sure thing". You get just one 1st Round pick, and he would be a pick that a loaded team could grab and be pleased with, but the Cowboys cannot afford such luxuries.