When the Cleveland Browns selected Barkevious Mingo sixth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, there was a sense that it would be take him a little bit to adjust to the NFL because many expected he needed to get stronger in addition to making the mental adjustments to the next level. Mingo would make his share of plays off of his remarkable athleticism, but that the best plan of attack was to simplify his workload and allow him to flourish in a few key areas. For his rookie year, Mingo had some unexpected success in some areas but also struggled in others, but part of that blame also goes to Ray Horton for his approach to the defense in their first year under him. Now, entering his second year, Mingo should be far better equipped to be the dominant pass rusher the Browns envisioned taking matched up with Jim O’Neil, perhaps the most vocal supporter of Mingo outside of the Browns.
Mingo was a tremendously athletic prospect coming out of LSU. His speed was remarkable and despite his lack of obvious size, he was playing power end in the SEC, giving up as much as 100lbs to some of his opponents and holding his own against the run. For example, watch him against Alabama and D.J. Fluker where he was giving up 100lbs and Fluker would seemingly be able to run him over at will, but it simply did not happen.
Mingo’s criticized lack of box score statistics was largely a result of being constantly asked to play contain to keep opponents from being able to run outside of him, which did not allow him to fly up the field and attack the quarterback. Against Clemson in their bowl game, they let Mingo just attack and he was the best player on the field, dominating for the entire first half before a stomach issue stopped him from playing in the second half.
Mingo is extremely familiar with Johnny Manziel as he played against him two years ago when LSU played Texas A&M. On the box score, Mingo recorded a sack against the combination of Luke Joeckel (2nd pick of the 2013 NFL Draft)and Jake Matthews (6th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft). That would have been a solid day by most accounts. Going back and watching the tape, Mingo did enough to beat the stellar pair of tackles that he had the chance to get as many as 4 sacks in the game, but a combination of Manziel’s quickness and Mingo just failing to seal the deal limited him to only one.
When the Browns drafted Mingo, I felt the best plan of attack for him was to use him like the San Francisco 49ers used Aldon Smith when they selected him 7th overall in 2011. Bring him and just let him loose as a pass rusher and gradually add in other elements such as playing the run and perhaps dropping into coverage. Smith had an outstanding 14 sacks as a rookie for the 49ers despite being largely a one dimensional player. The problem is that did not happen and where some of the blame is on Horton, now with Tennessee.
Horton came in and overloaded the entire Browns defense in their first year in his system, especially for a rookie and one coming in as someone that needed time to develop. While most people assumed Mingo was simply too small and not strong enough to do the job, an incredibly annoying question that had Mingo visibly uncomfortable as reporters asked him about his weight daily, his physical build was fine. The Browns are going to continue to try to get him stronger, but have said they will not force him to get add weight just for the sake of doing it. The issue was Mingo being overwhelmed at times and his head spinning as a result of the amount he was forced to process. He was thinking too much about what he needed to do as opposed to simply being able to play football and focus on how to win when it came to executing his job. After the season was over, Horton declared that he did not even get everything installed that he wanted, which he sounded proud of but only served to show the error in judgment, at least as far as Mingo was concerned.
As a result, Mingo tended to fall into some predictable habits. Too often, he would rely on the speed rush and try to beat everyone up the field. Opponents showed him how much more athletic and more prepared NFL offensive tackles are to handle it and Mingo did not really do enough to adjust. Mingo needs to not only develop more pass rushing moves, but be more confident in them. He has showcased a spin move he can use and has more strength than some realize, but last year showed he was not confident enough in them to use them as a counter move. Mingo also had some success by selling speed up the field and cutting underneath. Along with getting better and more confident with his rush techniques, he needs to get much better with his hands, getting heavier hands and more effective in disengaging. In the time while the Browns were figuring who would be the head coach of the team, these are areas Mingo could have been working during the offseason and obviously still should be.
The last part of the equation which Mingo has to improve is simply making the plays that are there for him. His burst and speed are incredible and a large part of why he went as high as he did, but Mingo plays so fast that he has had trouble breaking down and making plays that are there for the taking. A problem that has been there since college, Mingo would have had double digit sacks in his final year in Baton Rouge if he simply was able to finish the opportunities he created for himself.
Improving his body control through strength and learning how to use and trust his body as well as simply breaking down in the backfield could have a remarkable impact on what he has been able to do. If he eliminates the diving or simply running past plays by being able to break down and securing the tackles, his production goes up significantly. At LSU, there were a number of plays he missed that either teammates made or that bit his team because he was unable to secure them. For all of the technique and learning parts that Mingo has to do, this would be perhaps the simplest one to improve his production.
Now, the Browns and Mingo have Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil running his defense. O’Neil was the most vocal fan of Mingo heading into the draft as his wife, now famously, made cupcakes with purple and yellow frosting with Mingo’s name and number on them for the entire scouting department for the NFL Draft. The Browns took Mingo two picks before O’Neil and the Buffalo Bills had a chance, who then traded back eight spots, added an extra second rounder and took E.J. Manuel. O’Neil now has the guy he wanted in Mingo and he could be poised to have a big sophomore season.
Mingo has had the full offseason to catch up and process everything he was doing, including adjusting to life in the NFL, the money and everything else that comes with being the sixth pick in the draft. He should also be physically more prepared than he was last year as well, which should only help him.
As with much of the top of last year’s draft, there was an expectation that it would take a year for Mingo to really find his footing in the NFL. Horton’s overloading of Mingo certainly did not help and he could have perhaps been better than he was, but he did end up making his fair share of plays, including a sack in his first NFL snap, showcasing the incredible speed and burst off of the line getting right up the field and around Michael Oher to take down Joe Flacco.
In some respects, it is amazing that Mingo and the rest of what should be an outstanding trio of outside linebackers for the Browns have been as talked about as little as they have been, even though it is still only June. Paul Kruger was much better than people want to give credit and Jabaal Sheard is just a really good football player, coming up on a contract year. Along with those two and what should hopefully be a Barkevious Mingo ready to have a huge year if he can be more comfortable and more technically effective, the Browns should be a far more dynamic pass rushing threat this season with Mingo showing why he was selected to be an elite threat off of the edge.