It’s been discussed at length how much the 49ers need a pure pass rusher to complement their defensive line. As the weeks go on, we’re narrowing down the options. This is a list of players we published after identifying past prototypes and aggregating traits Robert Saleh himself has said he looks for.
One such name included in this list, and one that keeps coming up, is Boston College edge Harold Landry.
I wanted to take a closer look at him as he’s been frequently mentioned in the same sentence as the 49ers.
This is a player that had first-rounder written all over him as a junior after he set a school-record with a 16.5-sack season. Landry has prototypical size (6-foot-3, 252 lbs.), and also blew up the NFL combine, finishing as a top performer in the quickness/agility drills, which included the 3-cone, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. His 4.64 40-yard dash didn’t hurt him either.
But there’s reason to be concerned, as he comes in looking like a specialty player that saw his production dip in 2017.
Even in his stat-packing games, like the three-sack performance against Virginia Tech, there were plays that would raise questions about Landry’s ability. Now, he did play through a bum ankle for two games in 2017 before sitting out the remainder of the year. But he was healthy in all of the following clips. The Grade 2 sprain did not occur until late in the game against Virginia Tech, which was Week 6.
But even if he was healthy all year and matched his 2016 production, similar to top edge rusher Bradley Chubb, there would still be questions I believe about his particular package of strengths and weaknesses transitioning to the NFL. Now, there's a lot of positive (and realistic) breakdowns out there on Landry, which you can find almost anywhere else. I recommend this look from NDT Scouting's Jon Ledyard.
It'll add some nice perspective to this piece. Also, in addition to highlighting his dynamic ability, Ledyard shares some of the concerns about Landry you're about to see here. Games watched include: Wake Forest (2017), Clemson (2017) and Virginia Tech (2017).
To begin, I want to make it clear Landry is a very good prospect and definitely has potential to hit in the NFL. He’s a great athlete that generally affects the pocket a lot. In particular he does some very exciting things when his speed and bend come together at once.
With a great combine of speed and balance, Landry fires in quick and low to disrupt the pocket. That's his trademark.
We saw it in 2017 against Wake Forest, too, the game that featured a very on-brand sack that's been making its rounds on Twitter.
In addition to his speed and bend, the suddenness of his rip makes it effective, so he can get off blocks and make tackles.
On the plays he’s full force, Landry is hard to stop, even when offensive linemen are grabby with him like we see here against Clemson.
From a wide-9 technique, playing way out space like he would as a Leo in the 49ers’ defense, he can shoot in, using his speed and light-footedness to navigate through traffic, and make plays against the run.
In the right situation, maybe even San Francisco, Landry's game could fit right in.
Questions about Landry were peppered into games that went down as "good performances," and mostly related back to his strength, which is doubly bad for an NFL-bound defensive end. He gets stoned at the line too much. He rarely overpowers anyone. He struggles at times to set the edge. Teams also don’t appear to fear Landry, and instead run right at him. This was all on display in games he was healthy in as a senior.
Here are a few examples of offenses running on Landry's side, isolating him, and finding success.
In Week 2 of 2017 against Wake Forest, they went right at him, and didn't even hesitate to pull out the designed quarterback runs, targeting Landry on both the weak and strong sides.
Wake Forest also ran to his side on 2nd and Goal, four yards from the end zone, and was able to punch it in.
While Landry stood almost no chance against this double team, this was yet another example of Wake Forest's plan to get hands on him, clear him out and take advantage of all that green grass.
While it wasn't as frequent, it continued in Week 4 at Clemson.
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers might've picked up on the success of Wake Forest, as Landry was again the target of quarterback runs.
And like Wake Forest did, Clemson ran at him when it was a short down-and-distance and they wanted to give themselves the best chance to pick up the first down and extend the drive.
Landry finished that game with a season-high eight tackles, including one for a loss. Clemson dropped 34 points in a win.
This final set of plays showing teams fearlessly charging at him was against the Hokies, the last game Landry suited up for at 100 percent. They ran at him on the backside on consecutive plays, knocking him off the ball both times, with the latter resulting in a long rushing touchdown.
As you may have noticed, particularly in this last cut-up, Landry has a fair share near-misses.
While he will get pressure, one of the issues with his signature move is that it can be anticipated and he gets driven around the quarterback and out of the play. This happens often. Here was one such instance against VT. Instead of a sack, the QB turns it into a big run — and the one who really forced him out of the pocket was the incoming linebacker (11).
Landry overruns the play twice here against Wake Forest, too, again being knocked off his pass-rush arc, as so well stated by NFL Network's Ben Fennell. This is a legitimate issue with him. Whichever team takes Landy is inheriting this as part of the gamble on his upside.
What gets me is these plays go down as “pressures,” but are in actuality big gains for the offense because Landry laps the quarterbacks, removes himself from the play and leaves one side of the field wide open. This demonstrates how stats can be misleading.
Here are two more missed sacks against Wake Forest that turned into big plays.
One of the things you notice with Landry is despite how often he gets close to the ball carrier, he’s just not one of the surest finishers. I was wowed by the plays he made, but even more surprised by how many he left on the field.
Admittedly, this is an incredibly athletic play by Clemson QB Kelly Bryant, but Landry absolutely has to finish that tackle. And that's one thing, some players are just better tacklers than others. With some, there's a level of certainty that if they're within a yard of the ball carrier, the play is about to end right there. That can't be said for Landry.
Then you have to worry about offenses creating off his miss.
Another tidbit to worry about, and one that is well-documented, is that Landry's pass-rush repertoire is lacking. He doesn’t cut inside much. When he did, he was not that effective. With a game founded on raw speed and a low center of gravity, when there’s not a lot of space and he encounters a guard much larger than him head on, he’s stopped cold.
His strengths don't translate well to that situation.
Fit with 49ers:
Harold Landry does one thing really well—enough for first-round consideration—but overall has a shortage of tools. The upper body strength required for three downs in the NFL doesn't appear to be there. He's predictable in his attack strategy. Teams know to challenge him with the run. And despite his elite quickness, in games I don't think we're seeing the speed to power conversion often enough.
Aside from consensus EGDE1, Chubb, players like Hercules Mata’afa, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Marcus Davenport, and maybe even inside linebacker Rashaan Evans or Josh Sweat are less concerning as NFL edge projections. The key difference between Landry and them is functional strength. If he struggled to consistently win with power and was anticipated by teams like Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, he’s going to have a tough time against the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
What San Francisco would be banking on is Saleh getting Landry favorable matchups in a situational role with the hope that he develops into an every-down defensive end. The 49ers defensive coordinator should be able to orchestrate this with the presence of 2016-17 first-rounders Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner. And in that case, Landry would have as good a chance to succeed on the Niners as anywhere.
But, with these individual limitations, is this a player worth a top-10 pick in a crucial follow-up year by the new regime in San Francisco?
Media courtesy Getty Images