The Buffalo Bills are moving to a hybrid defense under Mike Pettine and are in need of a hybrid SAM linebacker and pass rusher to pull it off. Might Paul Kruger fit the bill?
As a prime example of the "better late than never" phrase, we continue our 2013 NFL free agent scouting series by looking at Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger, and whether or not he'd be a worthwhile player for the Buffalo Bills to pursue this off-season.
There aren't many 6'4", 270-pound players in the NFL that play a majority of their snaps from a two-point stance. That's exactly what Kruger does as a stand-up linebacker in Baltimore's hybrid defense, where his primary job responsibilities are setting the edge in the run and rushing the passer. But he's also asked to drop into coverage occasionally - particularly on the goal line - and does a nice job in that regard, as well. Kruger didn't see much playing time over his first three seasons as a reserve, but in his first season as a full-time starter, he had a very good season (42 tackles, 9.0 sacks) and a great playoff run (14 tackles, 4.5 sacks in four games).
I got busier than expected over the past few days - Saturday in particular (hence the delay in posting this review) - so I only managed to make it through three games of Kruger tape.
- Week 6 (W 31-29 over Dallas Cowboys): I remembered this game because Dallas rushed for 227 yards and still lost; I wanted to see Kruger within this context.
- Week 14 (L 21-38 at Washington Redskins): I couldn't watch this game for the Dannell Ellerbe post, so I decided to watch it for Kruger.
- Wild Card Game (W 24-9 over Indianapolis Colts): Kruger was all over the field on this day, registering 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. I wanted to re-watch a game that I remembered him being dominant in.
Kruger is consistent in setting the edge in the running game. One play from the Redskins game - against Robert Griffin III and that Pistol offense, no less - perfectly exemplifies where adding Kruger would net Buffalo the biggest gain, and that's in contain defense.
Here's Washington in the Pistol. Kruger is lined up over the right tackle (at the bottom of the defensive line on your screen).
Josh Morgan, a wide receiver that motioned into the backfield pre-snap, runs to his right to block Kruger while Washington's offensive line slants to the left and Griffin fakes a handoff to Alfred Morris. This is a textbook end-around, as you can see Pierre Garcon on the left side of the screen running toward Griffin. This screen capture was taken at the moment that Kruger recognized the play for what it was.
Kruger quickly moves upfield to re-establish contain, changing the angle at which Morgan can block him. Note that the handoff is still a ways off from happening.
As the handoff is made, Kruger has established contain, effectively nullifying Garcon's option to sweep around the edge of the defense. Instead, Garcon must cut back toward the middle of the field before he can even get a full head of steam...
... where he'll be wrapped up in the waiting arms of cornerback Corey Graham for a short gain. This is exactly the type of contain defense that the Bills have been completely atrocious at over the past several seasons. It's a good play by Kruger, who gave a little Dikembe Mutombo finger wag after the tackle was made.
Kruger is strong at the point of attack - even as he plays high at times - and has a good knack for reading plays, shedding blocks and being disruptive as the run comes toward him. As a result, teams often ran away from Kruger; this was common in the aforementioned Dallas game, when the Ravens were still playing without Terrell Suggs. Kruger is not an elite run defender, but he's steady, smart and assignment sound in this area.
Kruger is not an elite athlete by any stretch, and as a result, he's not an elite pass rusher. He actually reminded me a little bit of Aaron Schobel in this department; he's a good pass rusher and can stack up sack totals, but a lot of them are of the coverage and effort variety. He's not going to explode around the edge or overwhelm a tackle with a bull rush; instead, he's going to chip away at a guy, throw in a move or two and make hustle plays as quarterbacks are forced to move a bit. He also has a knack for getting into passing lanes when he can't get a good rush; he batted down seven passes last season and had several more near-misses.
In coverage, Kruger is exactly what you'd expect him to be: passable. Again, he's not dropping much from his hybrid SAM linebacker position; it's mostly in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations, when he's a true linebacker (Baltimore will bring on extra defensive linemen in these scenarios) and his responsibilities shift. He can stick with backs and tight ends for a short distance, as he's got good quickness, and his length makes windows smaller. As a space athlete, however, he's only average or slightly above.
Kruger's a good football player, and at times he looks great. He's capable of putting up good numbers and being a factor from his hybrid linebacker/pass rusher position, and the Bills definitely need that type of player now that they're moving to a new defense under Mike Pettine. He's an every-down defender, and would play that role as a starter in Buffalo quite well.
As I studied Kruger, however, I left the endeavor unconvinced that he's the type of athlete that is worth the level of financial investment that it might take to sign him. He was also not nearly as effective in the first game I reviewed (Dallas) than in others, which may have been a function of his adjusting to a starter's role - or it could have been a function of his playing opposite someone other than Suggs. I don't believe Kruger is the type of player that you build a defense around; I think he's the type of player that a good defense plugs in and replaces, similar to the way the Ravens replaced Kruger's predecessor, Jarret Johnson.
Long story short: I like Kruger, and would expect the Bills to at least call his agent and see what the salary demands are. This is not, in my opinion, a player to overpay for. Kruger is good; I'm just not sure he's going to be great. But that's just my read on Kruger; did anyone else watch tape of Kruger and come away with a more favorable (or less favorable) impression?
|Player||Pos.||Team||Review dates||Posting date|
|Dannell Ellerbe||ILB||Ravens||Published 2/14|
|Paul Kruger||OLB||Ravens||You're reading it now|
|Dwayne Bowe||WR||Chiefs||2/17-18||TUE 2/19|
|Connor Barwin||OLB||Texans||2/18-19||WED 2/20|
|Mike DeVito||DT||Jets||2/20-21||FRI 2/22|
|Patrick Chung||S||Patriots||2/23-24||MON 2/25|
|Erin Henderson||ILB||Vikings||2/23-24||WED 2/27|
|Alex Smith||QB||49ers||2/25-26||THU 2/28|
|Ramses Barden||WR||Giants||2/27-28||SUN 3/3|
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||CB||Eagles||3/3-4||TUE 3/5|
|Jared Cook||TE||Titans||3/6-7||FRI 3/8|
|Manny Lawson||OLB||Bengals||3/6-7||SAT 3/9|