The NFL is a passing league, and there’s no doubt that quarterbacks are the stars. So it’s important to have defensive linemen who can slow down opposing offenses. Sal Conti examines an intriguing prospect that will be taken in this year’s draft, Matt Judon.
As an evaluator, it is important to base your evaluations on the film, assessing players based on the traits they show in-game, and work your way from there.
Matt Judon – formerly of Division II Grand Valley State University – is an interesting study, considering those aforementioned guidelines. The 6’3”, 275-pounder was a two-star recruit and had no listed I-A or I-AA offers according to Scout.com while coming out of Michigan’s West Bloomfield High School. Fast-forward to the 2015 season, and it is evident that Judon’s lack of recruiting activity in high school did not hold him back from being an extremely productive player at the college level. His 17 solo sacks and 21 total sacks led all of Division I and II. Judon also took home the Gene Upshaw Award, given to the best lineman in Division II.
Judon checks the production box, however, his accolades are only a part of his evaluation; a small part, at that. Here’s what the film of his career highlights show that Judon can do effectively.
In order to understand what Judon can do, attention was given to how Grand Valley State aligned and utilized him. GVSU primarily aligned Judon to the wide side field as the 5 technique in its even front. If an in-line tight end was in the game to Judon’s side, Judon switched from a 5 to a 7 technique. In pass rush, Grand Valley State mostly asked the defender to free rush – stay in the C gap and beat the offensive tackle around the edge – though there were a few snaps on the film where he leveraged twist games with the 3 technique to break through slide protections.
Against the Quick Pass
One way that offensive coordinators try to limit the effectiveness of good, edge pass rushers is the quick passing game. While the drop-back passing game requires the OT to get depth in his pass set and match speed from an edge rusher, the quick passing game is different, as the pocket needs to be shallow and firm on the inside so that the QB can get the ball out quickly with no pressure in his face. On this quick pass play, Judon was still able to be disruptive, leveraging his processing skills, jumping ability and length to avoid the running back in pass pro and bat down the football.
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Judon may not have jumped 35” over this RB like he did at the NFL Combine, but he still cleared the RB with his entire right side. As soon as he lands back on his feet, the QB looks to deliver the ball to the outside slant route. Judon leaves his feet again, extends his arms in full and knocks down the pass.
Against the Drop-Back Pass
Judon had a noticeable advantage in speed and athleticism over every OT he faced in this footage, making it easier for him to gain depth with his initial burst off the line of scrimmage.
Here against Tiffin State, Judon’s first three steps burst upfield in about 0.8-0.9 seconds and defeat the tackle to his set point. The last 2-2.5 seconds of this play also show you that Judon has a plan of what he wants to do before the snap. Once he beats the tackle to his mark, he leverages a dip and rip combination to both reduce the surface area for the OT to hit, as well as free himself from any attempt to delay his rush. Judon displays very good eyes and effort to grab onto the QB with his off-hand, bring his feet and complete the sack. Judon’s closing speed and effort showed up constantly; he displayed a high motor to finish sacks quickly.
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Another point worth making here, as it pertains to how a defense can work its pass rush lanes around him – the 3 technique, shaded nose guard and 5 technique next to Judon are all executing a 3-man game while Judon free-rushes. This occupied the entire offensive line except for the left tackle, creating a pure 1-on-1 opportunity for Judon on the edge. GVSU showed this stunt as well as other 3-man games on Judon’s highlight film with some commonality in order to free him up on the edge.
As mentioned earlier, Judon also displayed the ability to get out of his stance with speed and move to different pass rush lanes, leveraging the long-stick technique or twist games with the 3 tech; he leverages the latter in this clip.
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While this play is actually a designed quarterback draw, it features the offensive front five giving a pass read throughout the entire play. On this play, Ohio Dominican’s offense slides its center, right guard and right tackle to block the right A, B, and C gaps. The left guard and left tackle will block the two most dangerous threats off of their side. Judon, aligned as the 5 technique to the wide side of the field, gets his first two steps in the ground quickly while looping around the LG. Whether by choice or by missed assignment, Ohio Dominican’s front line picks up the 3 tech and the rushing outside linebacker, leaving Judon 1-on-1 in the A gap versus the blocking RB. Judon displays very good closing speed through the A gap and into the backfield, causing an easy pressure, before bouncing off of the RB and chasing down the running QB.
His pad level is noticeably higher than the blocker’s and his hands are wrapped around the blocker instead of punching and extending through the RB’s chest. His adequate technique does not negatively affect this play, but he’ll need to learn how to consistently punch, extend, and disengage from RBs (and tight ends that play from depth) in order to limit his chances of being blocked.
Here’s another example of Judon rushing the passer with a plan in mind from Grand Valley State’s 2015 regular season contest vs Ferris State:
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Judon, aligned as the field-side 5 tech again, notices the tackle in front of him give a pass read. After his takeoff, Judon stabs the OT’s breastplate with a well-placed, inside long-arm technique. This allows him to play with length and keep his outside shoulder free of being held by the offensive lineman.
Once at the top of the pocket, Judon adds his outside arm into the rush maneuver, giving him maximum power to bull rush into the QB.
In all of Judon’s reps against the drop-back pass from this reel, Judon displayed multiple ways to stress OTs and create pressure, with the pure-speed rush, dip and rip, and the long-arm being the most fitting to his skillset. The depth of good offensive lines that Judon will see in the NFL will exceed the amount he saw during his time at Grand Valley State, but his physical traits and ability to play with a plan in place pre-snap suggests he should be able to be a productive player at the NFL level.
Against the Run
While this film did not include Judon being a point-of-attack defender in the run game often, I was able to get a general sense of what he should look to improve upon in the NFL. At the outset, he does not play with good extension against the run.
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Here against Ohio Dominican, Judon aligns as GVSU’s 7 technique to the wide side of the field. ODU’s offense runs outside zone to Judon’s side, meaning that he has to play with leverage versus the tackle and tight end’s double team in order to prevent being pushed at the point of attack. While he does end up penetrating through the C gap, watch his pad level and hands on contact versus the double team. His elbows are outside of the frame and his hands appear tucked near his chest, as opposed to out and above his eyes, in an attempt to create extension. His lower body strength and explosion is enough on this play to break through the block and pursue the ball carrier, but this technique will not consistently succeed at the next level. Judon must learn how to use his 34” arms to his advantage and lead into double teams with his arms, not his chest.
Versus base blocks, he tended to play with his elbows outside of the frame and pushed off of blocks, as opposed to locking linemen out and shedding them away. His advantage in pure upper body strength allowed him to rag-doll OTs despite his adequate technique, but he’ll see much longer, stout blockers on Sundays. At this point, Judon looks much more effective in situations where he can chase down ball-carriers in space as opposed to those where he’s asked to slam into the offensive line down after down and collapse the point of attack. In order to keep Judon away from the tackle box during 1st and 2nd downs (or run downs) in the early stages of his career, an NFL team could bump him off of the ball to an outside linebacker role in a 3-4 front and match him up against TEs; Judon would have a size, length, and upper body power advantage against a solid amount of players at that position. Considering the amount of offenses that run most of their offensive schemes out of spread, 11 personnel sets, this sounds ideal from a projection standpoint.
Judon plays with a very high motor, which is something decision makers could lean on if deciding whether to roll the dice on a small school prospect or not.
While you can see the sustained speed through the end of plays in the earlier clips, this next one best embodies the effort Judon plays with. Here again at home against Ferris State, Judon aligns as the field-side 5 tech. Ferris State is running a Run-Pass Option; the OL blocks inside zone to the left, with the backside OT man-blocking Judon as the QB reads the WLB, which in this picture is #2.
While Judon does not take the block on with great extension, the RT fails to deliver a well-timed punch, allowing Judon to re-set his hands. As soon as Ferris State’s QB releases the ball to his key-screen to the #2 receiver, Judon disengages from the RT and puts his speed and effort on display.
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Judon begins his sprint roughly around mid-field, displays excellent hustle and awareness of the right pursuit angle to take in order to make the play. His airborne, form tackle through the mid-section of the ball-carrier, about 3.5 yards away from the bottom of the numbers, is something only Goldberg would appreciate.
Follow Sal on Twitter @SC2Football. Check out his Draft Spotlight on Tyler Ervin and his article on the Arizona Cardinals on third down.
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All video and still images are courtesy of this video cut up on YouTube from Matthew Judon.