Former Alabama LB, DeMeco Ryans wins NFL Rookie of the Year. Ryans, drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans, quickly emerged as the league’s top defensive newcomer. I had some thoughts about him around this time last year. I may have overstated the case for his timed speed, but his game speed is at an elite level. Also, I left a few players off that list (like Maurice Jones-Drew, A.J. Hawk, Santonio Holmes and others). It’s not that they weren’t impressive. It’s simply that Ryans, Russell and Peterson seemed larger than their competition in every game I watched.
It occurred to me that Ryans and Jonathan Vilma may be the two best young middle linebackers in the league. The selection of Ryans was a brilliant decision. Both of these players should be locked in their respective positions for a decade. Ryans, like Vilma, performed as well in the classroom as he did in anchoring an elite college defense. Both players were highly touted and became the focal points of defenses that had struggled before their arrival. Both attended schools with great traditions at the position – and both are fundamentally different from the signature defensive players at their schools. Vilma is cut from a different mold than Ray Lewis – as Ryans is cut from a different mold than the late Derrick Thomas. Lewis and Thomas are/were supremely gifted athletically and became great students of the game. Ryans and Vilma began their careers as students of the game – and appear to have drawn great inspiration from the examples of Lewis and Thomas. These two players are the keepers of the flame at one of the league’s most demanding positions.
Ryans won the Ronnie Lott Award last year, but as the draft approached, his stock went down a bit because of concerns over his speed. Ryans is a smart player with a great ability to read offenses and trust his instincts. He is seldom out of position and plays with great technique. When your fundamentals are sound, you do not need 4.3 speed to play middle linebacker. Moreover, when your instincts and commitment are this strong, you often look like you have 4.3 speed.
Congrats to a smart student of the game with a clear commitment to excellence.