One of the most polarizing prospects in the upcoming draft could be Barkevious Mingo, defensive end from LSU. In terms of physical tools, he is second to none. His 40 has been timed around 4.5 and he plays that fast on the field. His first step is explosive and he changes direction with little or no effort. He does all of this listed at 6’5” and 245lbs, which is incredible. He also seems to have a non stop motor, plays to the whistle consistently and has a will to win that few can match. Late in games in Baton Rouge, when other guys are trying to catch their breath, Mingo is still trying to cheer on the crowd for them to make more noise. Despite all of these great qualities, the problem with Mingo is the production is not where many expected it to be and are leaving some to wonder if he is worth all of the hype he has gotten leading up to this season. Let's sort out what Mingo does well, where he needs to improve, and why his stats are not quite up to where many expected.
Against the run, the assumption is the undersized Mingo would face problems playing the strong side end position for LSU. On tape, it is actually surprising how little teams opt to run at Mingo and prefer to run the ball up the middle. Against Florida for example, the Gators ran the ball 58 times and few of them were at Mingo. Alabama was a similar situation where the Tide ran up the middle a good amount as well as ran at Montgomery more than Mingo. This could be due to the fact they wanted to run behind Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones as much as possible. However, D.J. Fluker and Michael Williams are good run blockers as well and they and they chose not to go that direction often. Mingo is not overly powerful at the point of attack but he is not the pushover that some might believe. His quickness and acceleration can end up causing issues as he is able to knife into the backfield and force the blocker to establish contact in a position that forces the runner to cut back to the inside and avoid Mingo. Although Mingo is typically a disciplined player that will stay in his gap, there are times when he will charge up field and open up a running lane behind him.
It was also a little surprising to see how often teams tried to cut block Mingo while running the football given that he is giving up somewhere from 50-75lbs depending on the size of the right tackle. The reason appears to be that Mingo is so athletic and relentless that if he is not on the ground, he could end up making the tackle. A good example of this was in the Alabama game on the screen pass that scored the go ahead touchdown. The last player who attempted to tackle T.J. Yeldon was Mingo, coming from the backside of the play.
In order for Mingo defend the run well in the NFL, he is going to need to add strength, especially if he ends up on a team that wants to use him as a defensive end. This year against collegiate competition, Mingo actually outperformed expectations against the run. The expectation is that teams would go after him in the running game and they did not. He also found ways to be a factor against the run. He was not the liability many expected him to be and that is a pleasant surprise going to the NFL, but the running game is not why a team is going to draft Mingo.
The passing game is where Mingo is going to make his money in the NFL. His speed and athleticism make him a dangerous weapon. He possesses an explosive first and anticipates the snap well, so he can keep blockers off balance. He has outstanding agility and changes direction as well as anyone. He has active hands and can sometimes surprise blockers with power because he is so fast and able to get guys off balance. He uses his long arms scouts love to keep blockers out of his body and can do this while running the arc to get to the quarterback. His body angle and bend are solid, but nothing extraordinary. He has a few pass rush moves like the speed rush, up and under moves and a spin move he will occasionally flash, but needs to keep improving them as well as being better with his counter moves and disengaging from blocks. This is among a few things that should come for Mingo as he is able to add more strength, especially in his upper body. He could develop heavier hands, make it more difficult for offensive linemen to wash him outside and his inside moves and bull rush become a more viable threat. Mingo is not weak, but he is not as strong as he needs to be to be the franchise pass rusher teams expect him to be.
He is going to get some sacks on his speed alone, but what will make him a truly elite threat is having both speed and power moves he can use in the NFL. The other important factor with Mingo as a pass rusher is he is consistently gets pressure on the quarterback. He is not a guy who will be invisible for long stretches of the game and then get to the quarterback. He is someone who forces the quarterback to know where he is at all times and that can cause the quarterback to make mistakes because he is always a threat and is never out of a play.
Mingo's lack of size is the major reason some do not like Mingo in a 4-3 scheme and while Mingo is not ready to be an every down defensive end, his toughness in the running game this year leads me to believe he is much closer to being ready than some people realize. If he ends up in the 250-255lb neighborhood at the combine and the draft, it should not be long before he is right around 260lbs and ready to take over in a full time role. Mingo could be employed in a joker like role like Von Miller has been with Denver and then puts his hand on the ground on passing downs until he is ready. Between his athleticism, his instincts, and his hips, he seems to be equipped to do the job. The biggest asset Mingo has that makes him so attractive to a 4-3 scheme is how well he plays out of a stance. His first step and snap anticipation are good and he does a good job of firing out low and is a more difficult assignment to block. When he stands up, he is around 6'5" and it is a much easier target to block.
There are many who would argue that with his smaller size, he would be a better fit in a 3-4 scheme where he would not need to add weight and would be free to use his speed to fly all over the field to make plays. He also has shown the ability to drop into coverage and with his explosiveness, could blitz from anywhere on the field. The only thing that Mingo loses in a 3-4 is the amount of time he'd spend down in a stance. Teams will be happy to make that trade off to get him out in space and let him fly all over the field.
The perceived lack of production from Mingo comes from a few factors. First, teams are doing everything to protect themselves to make sure Mingo and his counterpart Sam Montgomery do not beat them. So, teams are going to run the ball often and try to avoid anything over a 3-step drop. The production for Mingo and Montgomery typically has come late in games when LSU has finally forced the opposition to pass the ball. Two examples of this are South Carolina and Mississippi State. In both games, the opposing team was finally forced to have to go to 5 and 7 step drops in predictable passing situations and the LSU pass rush got to the quarterback. Mingo forces teams to change the plays which they can run, unless they are desperate; he is a guy who keeps coaches up at night figuring out ways to stop them.
Some of the production he does have does not get recorded on the stat sheet. For example, against a double team of Michael Williams and D.J. Fluker against Alabama, Mingo was quick enough to force Fluker to grab him to protect his quarterback and drew the holding call. In another situation, Fluker was able to keep Mingo in front of him, but Mingo kept working to keep Fluker out of his body and ultimately knocked down the pass leaving Fluker frustrated.
Lastly, Mingo just needs to close the deal on some of these plays that are there to be made. The fact of the matter is while Mingo is a great player, he is not a finished product yet and the plays he is not making are what separate him from a player like JaDeveon Clowney, who is dealing with everything Mingo is, but still dominating each and every week which goes to show how good Clowney is. Mingo might have missed a half dozen sacks this year by simply not breaking down to make the tackle in the backfield.
Mingo is an incredibly talented player with tools that few if anyone has in the NFL and he should only continue improving. He appears to have a high ceiling in terms of his potential and that is ultimately what a team is drafting. They are buying into to what Mingo can be rather than what he is, which is a double digit sack guy that scares the hell out of the opposing quarterback and offensive coordinator in the mold of DeMarcus Ware. However, Mingo deserves more credit for what he is already doing against opposing, but with his potential and the value of the position he plays, Barkevious Mingo warrants a top 5 pick and should be the top pass rusher taken in next April's draft.
Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi State 2011
Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama, Washington 2012
Mississippi State 2012
Videos courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com