Louisiana State University’s Barkevious Mingo has been dealing with a lot of criticism lately.
Mingo, 6-foot-4, 241 pounds and widely thought of as a “freak” athlete at his defensive end/outside linebacker spot, has had questions raised against him due to a lack of production — he had only 4½ sacks last season after getting to the quarterback eight times as a sophomore in 2011.
Had Mingo kept his sack numbers up in 2012, he’d likely be a top-three pick in this year’s NFL Draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. Now, with concerns about his final numbers, he could fall to the middle of the first round, though his sheer athleticism and potential as a pass rusher probably won’t allow him to drop too far, unimpressive stat line or not.
“Here’s what I like about Mingo: he’s explosive,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call with reporters. “He’s quick. He can win at the snap. He can dip. He can bend. I mean, this is a guy with tremendous potential as a pass rusher, and that is what this league’s about, so I recognize that.”
The Browns currently have the No. 6 overall selection and with the transition to a 3-4, multi-front scheme looming, might be looking to add a pass rusher on the edge of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense. Mingo, who had an official pre-draft visit and private workout with the Browns, could be the pick at No. 6 and is a prime candidate should the team choose to trade down in the first round.
That’s if the Browns see things like LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley does.
When Haley, Mingo’s position coach for all three years, was asked about the lack of production and how Mingo dealt with the criticism, he drew a blank. In LSU’s eyes, Mingo had been a great player in what he had been asked to do to the point that Haley didn’t know much about the criticism to begin with.
“A lack of production? The young man has been very productive,” Haley said in a phone interview. “He does a lot of things with ease that other people have struggles with, stuff that doesn’t always show up in stats. He’s very fluid and very smooth in how he handles his business.”
Still, scouts see a remarkable athlete who expertly uses a combination of leverage and speed while rushing the passer, so why only four sacks?
Part of the reason, Haley says, is with a player as lethal as Mingo, teams will do anything to slow him down. That means double-teams, running backs and tight ends chipping him, whatever it takes.
“Just because he’s not the sack leader on our team doesn’t mean he couldn’t be,” Haley said. “The better you get, the more people game-plan for you. That’s all respect for his game.”
Also possibly responsible was LSU’s utilization of Mingo’s ability in other ways than just chasing the quarterback every down, in turn forcing teams to further game-plan for him while other Tigers defensive linemen ran free. Primarily a pass rusher from a three-point stance as a defensive end, Mingo began getting a bit more time in a stand-up role, setting the edge and operating in space. Haley also says Mingo is a very underrated run defender who rarely, if ever, finds himself out of place. On tape, whatever Mingo needed to do, he did with gusto.
Mingo said at the NFL Scouting Combine that LSU began contain-rushing teams to stop quarterbacks from breaking outside the pocket. His sack numbers suffered, but he played his role well. It’s one of the reasons many believe he’ll have an easy transition into a 3-4 outside linebacker.
“I look at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, an attacker off the edge,” Kiper said in a conference call. “I think he’d be a factor right away at that spot. ... He gets from Point A to Point B lightning quick.”
Kiper also said if Mingo falls to the New York Jets, who hold the No. 9 selection, that would be a “real nice value pick.” The Browns, picking three spots earlier, might be Mingo’s sweet spot.
The switch to a 3-4 OLB is crucial to how Mingo will adapt to the NFL, but it’s his prowess blitzing that’s warranted his high draft stock.
There were other misnomers Haley wanted to discredit, like the thought that Mingo would have to bulk up to survive in the NFL.
“He’s probably pound-for-pound one of the strongest players on our team,” Haley said. “We tried to move him around, let him do some other things. His body is just a lot stronger than it looks and he does a great job with leverage.”
Mingo hasn’t let a lot get to him, criticism or praise, his whole career. Coming out of West Monroe High School in West Monroe, La., he was widely recruited as one of the premier pass rushers in the country. As a sophomore at LSU, he became a star for the Tigers and immediately had his name thrown into the hat as a possible No. 1 overall draft pick. None of that ever got through Mingo’s laid-back mentality, even on the doorstep of a very large paycheck and a gig in the NFL.
“He’s a very, very low-key guy,” Haley said. “One thing I remember most about him is he’d stay there after games and sign autographs for those kids ’till he signed every one. It never went to his head. It’s about giving back. ... I wish I had another year with him.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.