Prior to this season, many people had LSU DE Barkevious Mingo pegged as a Top 5 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. There’s no mystery as to how he obtained this billing. The 6’5 240 pound Mingo possess a sleek frame with long limbs. He reportedly runs a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, and even more importantly, he explodes off the football. As a Sophomore in 2011, Mingo racked up 8 sacks, and tallied 15 tackles for loss. As he added weight to his frame, and fine-tuned his game in the offseason, the only place to go was up. However, despite being named 2nd Team All-SEC this season, most people have been left asking, “Where’s Mingo?” This is due to the fact that this year has fallen far short of expectations, as Mingo saw a dip in both sacks, and tackles for loss, totaling 4 and 5.5 respectively.
So, why are his numbers down? Where has he been? First, I want to start off with Barkevious Mingo the run defender, because I feel as if there are a few misconceptions here. I’ve seen more than a few suggestions that Mingo will be unable to play on early downs. I’m assuming this is due to his weight, but in my review of Mingo, very rarely did I see him getting completely blown out of plays. In fact, I saw Mingo put offensive lineman on their heels on more than a few occasions. There are two things that I saw more consistently however. First, Mingo displays the ability to set the edge. Since he seems like an ideal player to convert to 34 OLB, this trait is a necessity. Secondly, Mingo reads the running back very well, and with his quickness, he has the ability to beat the defender across their face, and make a play on the ball carrier. Below is a perfect example of these traits on display:
While Mingo’s awareness and advanced play as a run defender shined through on some plays, they also showed a deficiency on others. Like most ambitious pass rushers, Mingo is extremely susceptible to looking bad on traps and draws. In being more concerned with the pass rush, and failing to fulfill his obligations as a run defender, Mingo can leave open some massive holes. So while I would agree that Mingo is in need of adding some bulk, and that he needs better recognition of trap blocks and draw sets, I disagree with the fact that he’s overly raw, and a liability as a run defender.
In looking beyond this, I think it’s fair to say that anything Mingo contributes as a run defender is a bonus. How Mingo’s career is evaluated is going to be based upon how he rushes the passer. So what’s been the issue? I watched a lot of Mingo prior to the season, and I can tell you that his tremendous first step has not changed. He’s still remarkable quick off the ball, and displays tremendous speed around the corner in addition to short area quickness. The thing that I have noticed, is a lack of change. Earlier when I said the expectation was for Mingo to “fine-tune” his game, personally, I was looking for his development of pass rushing/counter moves. Last year I noted that while Mingo was so quick off the ball, and could close quickly, he struggled to disengage or react to the offensive lineman’s block. This problem appears to have carried over into his Junior season.
Everything in the following image signals an advantageous situation for Mingo. As usual, he won off the ball. Displayed below is the scene right after making contact with DJ Fluker. He’s showcasing flexibility with his knee angle, power through the hips, and he’s got his arms fully extended into Fluker’s chest. As as show in yellow, Fluker has his hand outside of Mingo’s chest plate. Added bonuses include Fluker not sitting into the block, and Alabama attempting to get the ball down field. The reason this play will result in a situation in which people will say that Fluker “engulfed” Mingo despite Mingo’s early win, is because Mingo never does anything different as the play progresses.
Mingo was able to convert his speed into power early, to overwhelm the much larger Fluker, but he needs to realize that he will not win this battle by solely proceeding with the bull rush. He needs to make the next step of getting off the block. This would be a perfect time for him to work a “redirect” move, and come across the blocker’s face, as he does in the run game. In fact, I’ve seen people suggest that Mingo attempts to avoid contact too much, much like what was suggested of Bruce Irvin last year. I don’t find this to be his problem at all, in fact, I think Mingo spends too much of his time locked in contact with his blocker, and shown below:
In recalling Irvin’s name, there’s a few things Mingo can learn from him that I feel would vastly improve him as a pass rusher. While Irvin lacked bulk, there was two things that made me love him so much as a prospect. First, he understood the art of the “slow rush”. In the slow rush, while you still take an explosive first step, you don’t charge with a full head of steam into the blocker, or around the corner. The pass rusher sets the blocker up, and proceeds as the blocker’s positioning suggests. Irvin used this move frequently, in order to work his other trait I held in such high regard, the redirect. When you have the elite speed of an Irvin or Mingo, the offensive tackle is immensely concerned about the edge. He doesn’t want to be beat around the corner. The thing that Irvin did so well, is that he’d threaten the edge with the slow rush, and then when the offensive lineman committed too far outside, Irvin would cut back inside, giving himself a direct path to the quarterback. I know Mingo has this ability, because I’ve seen him do it in the run game, and he also does this when the quarterback steps up in the pocket. In fact, the hits on the quarterback I’ve seen from Mingo often comes from that very situation.
I’m also confident in the fact that Mingo has the flexibility, because I’ve witnessed him on several instances begin to rush the quarterback, only to flip his hips, and cover someone coming out of the backfield, or the TE coming off the line of scrimmage. In fact, when combining this with his seeming interest to just keep scrambling quarterbacks in the pocket, I am forced to wonder if he’s being coached in a way that’s actually hindering him, as his movements often seem overly predetermined and indicate that his focus is on multiple objectives.
Ultimately, I’m still remarkably intrigued by Barkevious Mingo, and would place a firm first round grade on him. While he may have not advanced into the elite tier of pass rusher that myself and many others expected, the traits are still there. Going forward, Mingo needs to develop his counter moves in order to avoid becoming the next Manny Lawson. This brings up the question of whether or not he should come back for his Senior season in order to develop this aspect of his game further. Based on what I’ve seen, I think it’d be wise for him to declare. Scouts will see the aspects of his game that I pointed out and he will assuredly amaze at the combine, which most likely will earn himself a top 15 selection. In addition, if I’m right about his moves being too frequently being pre-determined (focused on keeping scrambler in pocket, cover running backs coming out of the backfield, spin move whenever matched up against a guard, etc.), then he will benefit greatly from a team that will hopefully allow him more freedom, while still taking advantage of his immense athletic potential.