By Russ Lande
Could BYU's Kyle Van Noy be the most overlooked man in the NFL draft? Many pundits have anointed Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack as the three best defensive ends available, and CJ Mosley as the most versatile linebacker, but Van Noy needs to be in the discussion. After analyzing six or more games of the aforementioned players, Van Noy rated second to Mack in percentage of plays made against the run, and he was number one in percentage of pass rush attempts leading to pressure or sacks.
More than that production, Van Noy's greatest strength may be his ability to line up in so many spots on the field. Measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 244 pounds, he has the athleticism to be productive in NFL pass coverage. Many linebackers like him are used to covering tight ends and running backs in man coverage, but he often lined up across from the slot receiver and did a solid job. Smooth when dropping off the ball in pass coverage, Van Noy constantly is aware of receivers in his vicinity and reads the quarterback well, allowing him to close fast on the ball.
Beyond his pass coverage skills, Van Noy's excellent speed and explosive closing burst help him track down running plays in pursuit consistently. When offenses try to fool him with a play-fake away, he does an excellent job of maintaining his containment responsibility before crashing down the line, and he's able to pick up the tight end to prevent the naked rollback pass.
One area where Van Noy needs to be more consistent is in taking on and defeating offensive line and tight end blocks, on running plays to his side of the field. When he maintains leverage and uses his hands aggressively to take on the blocker, he can hold his ground, but he doesn't get free from big run blockers quickly enough to make tackles consistently. Talking to NFL sources, there is concern over Van Noy's lack of physical play against blockers, which has him pegged by some as a finesse player. After watching seven of his games, I'd say this assessment is overblown.
Pass-rushing linebackers rightly are held in high regard by NFL teams, but since BYU rushed Van Noy in only 13 to 15 snaps per game, it's a little difficult to get a good read on his ability in that area. Van Noy is best rushing the passer from a two-point outside alignment. He has the first-step quickness, speed and balance to beat the offensive tackle to the turn point, and then he can dip his shoulder, turn the corner and explode to the quarterback. Not only is he a good speed rusher, but he also showed the agility to change directions, beating the pass blocker back underneath with a quick move inside (he often uses a spin, slap and arm over and a basic inside crash move). While he does not have the size or playing strength of Clowney or Mack, Van Noy compares favorably to them in nearly every other area, which is why the combine is so vital for him.
There are character concerns stemming from Van Noy's drunk driving arrest in high school, but such errors in judgment seem to be far behind him. Van Noy could have chosen from any number of big schools that had recruited him, but the devout Mormon chose to sit out his freshman year without violating BYU's honor code, as required. After four years of maintaining a clean record, Van Noy appears to have matured a great deal and is highly regarded at the school. While every player must do well in combine interviews, there is no reason to believe Van Noy will have a problem with them.
During the positional drills, he will get the chance to prove to NFL teams that his athleticism and movement skills are as good, if not better, than the other top pass rushers and linebackers. If he has a strong combine, Van Noy could overcome concerns about whether he possesses top-level athleticism and vault into the first round, which is where he belongs.
Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.