Ross Blacklock. Jonathan Greenard. Charlie Heck. John Reid. Isaiah Coulter. The Houston Texans made five draft selections this past weekend. Of all them, the selection of Greenard was the best pick they made. He has a diversified pass rushing skill set, the punch and lateral agility needed to defend the run game, a football intelligence that creates opportunities for him to make plays, and he should start on the edge of the Texans’ defense this season despite being a third round selection.
As a pass rusher, Greenard is polished. He understands the nuances of pass rushing rarely seen at this level. Most college pass rushers have one plus pass rush move they’ll use to beat amateur offensive linemen with time and time again. They struggle once they go up against competent players who know how to take away this move. A counter move is rarely seen; when it’s used, it’s often desperate, a Hail Mary once the stapler is jammed.
Unlike most collegiate pass rushers, Greenard really understands how to time his pass rush move with the tackle’s punch. At 6’3” and 263 pounds, this is a requirement to ensure he isn’t eaten up by those outside blocking monoliths.
Here it’s 3rd and 6. Greenard is the right defensive end matched up against the left tackle. Although Virginia is sliding their protection left, Greenard, by taking an outside rush, is given a one-on-one match-up against the tackle.
Off the ball, Greenard doesn’t win with burst. He doesn’t beat the tackle to the point of attack. He’s met head up with the tackle. Instead, he wins with his hands. Greenard doesn’t show his until the tackle starts his punch. Once the tackle shows his hands, Greenard slaps them away, leaving them hot and stinging.
The tackle is head over toes and lunging, giving Greenard a path to the quarterback.
From there, Greenard bends to put himself on the same plane as the quarterback. The quarterback steps up away from the sack, leaving Greenard spilled out across the turf. The play doesn’t end there. The motor keeps running. He puts himself back together, gets up, and chases the quarterback to the sideline. He’s part of the stampede that forces the quarterback to throw the ball away.
This time he’s the left defensive end rushing against the right tackle.
He comes off the ball and sizes up the tackle. The tackle over sets on his outside shoulder and continues to kick slide, overstepping his bounds and getting himself wide on the rusher’s outside shoulder. The tackle also shows his hands, committing multiple sins. Greenard reads this. He plants on his outside foot and takes an inside path.
Greenard treats the tackle’s arms like a turnstile. He knocks them down, swims over the top, and leaps over the punch. He’s a bullet off the block and shoots himself into the quarterback.
This is the same rush against the same tackle. This time the back finds the threat immediately and gets himself between Greenard and the quarterback, allowing the quarterback to get outside and save himself from taking another hit to the chin.
Quarterbacks pay whenever tackles over set on the outside shoulder. Consistently, Greenard can take the inside path, knock away a tackle’s punch, and scramble after the quarterback.
Occasionally, Greenard will use a bullrush with some success. He can rush with his hand down or standing up. This time, he’s up against the right tackle. The tackle is able to meet him head up. Greenard doesn’t have anywhere else go. He puts his head down and gets into the tackle. The tackle is high, kick sliding and grazing. Greenard does a great job timing his contact when the tackle is in the middle of his kick and dipping to create leverage. He’s able to turn the tackle to create a path and draw a holding call in the process.
Because of his understanding of punch timing, Greenard can consistently win pass rushes. His ability to rush inside and outside never allows the tackle to be entirely sure of themselves. They can’t set on a shoulder. They can’t prepare for a certain rush or move. Predisposition leads to bruised quarterbacks.
The downside to Greenard, and the reason why he was a third round pick despite his pass rushing acumen and production, is his athleticism. He isn’t going to overwhelm blockers with strength. He isn’t going to burst off the line, get to the outside shoulder, and rip around the edge repeatedly. His game works because of all the components involved. He’s a complete rusher. Greenard isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with speed and/or strength. He’ll use skill and football intelligence to consistently win his match0up and terrorize offenses throughout a game.
That being said, as an inside rusher, when tackles are balanced and not playing the guessing game, Greenard can be washed inside as a rusher. Here Greenard is rushing against the right tackle. Despite barely getting a sliver of his outside half, the tackle is able to drive him along the line of scrimmage and into the ground.
The inside move won’t come as easy in the NFL. Greenard will have to do what all rookies have to do: Get stronger to deal with the new bump in athletic ability. This is a requirement for Greenard’s success to carry to the next level, because again, he doesn’t win with speed or power alone; his pass rush game is a complete package of individual parts that click and spin together. If the inside move isn’t working, the outside move won’t. Vice versa. The same thing is true.
The other great component of Greenard’s game is his spin move. This is a post-graduate rush. Below Greenard counters the counter with a spin move. The right tackle is fairly balanced and is able to react smoothly to the inside rush attempt. There’s one pitfall. The tackle ducks his head when he punches the inside move. Greenard uses this imbalance against the tackle. The heart weighs less than the feather. Greenard spins off the inside shoulder to get wide around the tackle. This forces the quarterback to step up into the pocket and eventually bail.
The spin can be used to go outside-in or inside-out. Greenard even has the skill to counter this spin move by faking the spin. This is something rarely seen at any level of play. Only players like DeMarcus Ware have had the audacity to use this rush in the professional game.
Here Greenard starts his rush in a four-point stance and is an outside shade of the tackle.
At the point of contact, when the tackle flashes his hands to start his punch, Greenard flips his back to show the spin.
From there he spins back and gets his head on the outside shoulder of the tackle. This is the typical landmark for edge rushes. Greenard finds his way there by taking an unorthodox means of travel. The tackle deals with this fairly well. The disengagement from the block is almost as good as the fake spin itself.
Greenard’s outside hand is snagging the tackle’s love handles. He pulls the tackle with this arm and then uses his inside arm to rip off the block.
Greenard now has a path to the quarterback. He misses the sack and the spying linebacker is able to finish off the rush for him.
Chop-rip. Bullrush. Swim with either arm. Spins. All utilized as outside or inside moves. All of it working in unison, all of it ensuring the offensive tackle is never fully settled when protecting the quarterback. Greenard is already a well-groomed and sophisticated pass rusher.
Despite weighting 263 pounds, Greenard is a commendable run defender. He has long arms for his profile and a pad level advantage. He also has the strength to punch, extend, and find the football.
Here Tennessee is running inside zone away from Greenard. He beats the right tackle off the ball, gets into the tackle’s chest, extends him, and finds the ball to make the tackle. It’s a great play. He also takes on the inside half of the tackle and keeps his eyes up the entire time. This is what makes it special.
Taking on half the blocker is the key to defending the run, especially as an edge defender that may weigh 60 pounds less than the man blocking him. This integral understanding is why Whitney Mercilus has been able to set the edge for years as the Texans’ outside linebacker and is especially great at creating tackles for a loss when matched up against a tight end. Greenard understands this requirement as well.
Florida State is running lead. Greenard plays the outside half of the tackle and drives him into the backfield. From there, he uses his long arms to extend the tackle and search for the ball. This knocks the tackle into the running back and spills the back wide. Greenard doesn’t make the tackle, but his play forces the back into a horde of unblocked defenders that keep the back short of the first down.
This time Greenard is defending the outside zone. He takes on the left tackle’s inside half and reads the backfield. He controls the block because of his head placement and by beating the tackle off the ball. Greenard reads the back’s bounce while controlling the block. He goes from the inside shoulder to the outside shoulder and makes the tackle for the loss.
All of this is textbook stuff. Fundamentals distilled when matched up against trash cans and sled dummies. Greenard understands the typical way to defend the run. Yet he also has the ability to use a swim move to immediately get into the backfield and make tackles for a loss.
Here Missouri is running outside zone. The tackle gains depth on his steps, but he doesn’t take a sharp angle to the outside shoulder to hook Greenard. This leaves the entire ‘B’ gap wide open. Greenard reads the play, sees his shot, and takes it. He quickly swims inside and drives the back out of bounds.
Greenard is matched up one-on-one against the right tackle. It’s inside zone. The tackle lunges to make contact with Greenard. To combat this, Greenard plants his outside foot, swims over the top, and then makes the tackle. He doesn’t just play the back; he plays the ball too. He gets inside hand on the ball and is able to rustle the thing loose.
Greenard has the strength, pad level, and understanding of angles to defend the run in a typical fashion. He also has the lateral quickness and agility to beat offensive linemen around their blocks and create negative plays in the run game.
Greenard has a great feeling for the game in general. He instantly recognizes what the offense is up to, sees the opportunity to make plays, and goes after it.
Here, Greenard is the edge red zone defender. He allows the down block to run past him. He watches the fullback run into the flat. He reads the play action pass. From there he attacks the quarterback and defends the pass, turning a possible touchdown pass into a dead dove. Do not eat!
Here, Missouri is running guard-flex wing counter. Greenard uses his hands to feel the tackle leave to the second level. By squeezing inside like this, he disappears from the guard’s vision. The guard is looking for him out on the edge. He blocks a cornerback instead. The guard runs right past Greenard, allowing him to make an easy tackle for a loss.
Here, Virginia is sliding their pass protection over one gap right. Florida is also blitzing a cornerback. The tackle allows Greenard to rush the ‘B’ gap so he can pick up the cornerback off the edge. The guard sees this late. Greenard doesn’t allow the guard to make up for his mistake. He understands the blitz, recognizes the pass protection, and the tackle’s decision. Greenard explodes into the inside gap, slaps away the tackle’s tentacles, and obliterates the quarterback.
Extrapolation is part of the difficulty with watching NFL Draft prospects. It’s a muddy and fuzzy task. You don’t know the team, the scheme, or the players a guy will be playing with. Imaginative guessing is the best anyone can do. But now that the picks have been made and the players are in place, an easier attempt can be made.
ForJonathan Greenard, it’s simple. If Houston stays as a 3-4 base team, which they probably will, he’s going to compete with Brennan Scarlett for the starting left outside linebacker spot; if Greenard grasps the playbook quick enough, he should be able to wrangle it from Scarlett this summer. Unlike Scarlett, Greenard has the ability to create consistent pass rush pressure on his own, utilizing inside and outside pass rush moves, and he has an understanding of how to use his smaller frame to defend the run, even when matched up against offensive tackles. In sub packages on passing downs, Greenard should be able to provide pass rushing juice as a hand-down defensive end and even as a stand-up rusher.
The transition from Florida to the Houston Texans is seamless. Greenard’s skill set matches exactly what the Texans look for at the edge position.
Finding a starting caliber player in the third round is a slam-dunk pick for NFL teams. Most hope to find at least a backup in Rounds Three and Four. Greenard has the talent and skill to start as a rookie despite being picked in the third round. Because of this, Greenard is the steal of the Texans’ 2020 NFL Draft class.