With their lone remaining third-round pick after the Duke Johnson/Jadeveon Clowney/Compensation Pick/Gareon Conley calculus unfolded, the Texans found themselves selecting a likely long-term Whitney Mercilus replacement in Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard.
Greenard was a three-star prospect out of Hiram, Georgia. He came out at 220 pounds, and ESPN Insider’s recruiting report on him mentioned that he “must add bulk to his long frame.” His first step and arm under moves were complimented, but ESPN’s anonymous scout noted that he must add other pass rush moves. Greenard had offers from five schools, but only two that weren’t in the second-tier of NCAA football: Louisville and Kentucky. Greenard was actually set to go with the Wildcats, but a delay in their acceptance of the commitment instead took him to Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Greenard would wind up transferring with him to Florida to play out his college career.
Greenard redshirted his first year, playing a bit role as a freshman before picking up 7.0 sacks as a sophomore for Louisville. He was injured against Alabama in the 2018 opener, a game that the Cardinals lost by 37 points en route to Bobby Petrino’s 2-10 firing. Greenard dislocated his wrist and tore several ligaments in it, describing his comeback with the Gators as having to “face [his] fears” to the AP.
This graph doesn’t really do a great job of explaining the entirety of Greenard’s status as an EDGE, but it’s better than comparing him to all defensive lineman as it does as a default. Compare Greenard to Mercilus and I think you see a very similar skillset minus the 40-yard dash:
That speed is a pretty big deal and part of the reason why, athletically speaking, Greenard wasn’t in the top tier of this draft. Greenard had an explosion index of negative-0.8 per Football Outsiders’ SackSEER modeling, putting him solidly in the bottom tier. SPARQ score has him in the 20th percentile of all NFL players as far as workout performances go.
So, again, as with the Blacklock pick, this is a bet on performance and skills over tools. Because the wrist injury is so prominently factored in scouting reports, I think there may also be a small chance the pick winds up working out better than expected because of putting that in the rearview mirror by another year.
Greenard finished his last two full seasons with 7.0 and 10.0 sacks respectively, and also produced plenty of tackles for loss. 2017’s Louisville defense was actually pretty weak as a group, mostly on an efficiency standpoint. They allowed a 45.7% success rate per Bill Connelly’s college stats, which was 106th in the nation. They had Lamar Jackson, though, so life was still a lot of fun. Greenard led the team in sacks and tackles for loss (15.5). The only other player on this defense you might have heard of is Jaire Alexander, who was a first-round Packers pick at cornerback. Greenard appears to have made his own highlight tape of his sophomore year.
Florida, on the other hand, finished with a top-10 SP+ defense in 2019, and they did so by limiting big plays on passing downs and finishing with a top-10 sack rate in the country. Eight different Gators had at least three sacks, but Greenard led the way with 9.5 (per Connelly) and 15.5 tackles for loss to go with 18.5 run stuffs. DB CJ Henderson was a first-round pick for the Gators in the 2020 draft.
Greenard finished his career as the best pass rusher on the team in each of his last two seasons, including one with a top-10 defense. He was regarded as a good run defender in each season and scored highly per Pro Football Focus’ grading system as well. On a pure production level, Greenard is probably the best pick the Texans made in the draft. But he was available in the third round because of that wrist injury and substandard athletic scores.
My interpretation of what Greenard put on tape: I’m surprised he wound up with as many sacks as he did
Expectations from the staff are important, and after defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver talked last week, we finally got some:
So essentially, Greenard wasn’t drafted only as a pass rusher, but for his all-around skill set on the EDGE. I think in the prism of those expectations, the pick makes more sense than as a pure pass rush pick.
Greenard is an extremely fun pass rusher to watch because he is cerebral. A lot of his pass-rush wins in the games where I watched him play were setting opponents up based on how he had been played on earlier snaps.
So I guess it should probably come as no surprise to you that, in doing an interview with Jordan Pun of Texans Unfiltered, he came off as very football savvy:
“It’s definitely like you say. I go into the snap, obviously knowing its about your opponent. If I see a guy who his kick step is slower, I’m gonna try and get off the ball use my slap, dip, rip and if he gives me an overset, I know I’m going inside. But if he continues to give me what I want, I’m going to stay with my move. I don’t want to switch and even if he’s giving me that slow kick step, I don’t want to, say I’m gonna use side sizzors, or try and beat him around the edge. I’m gonna stay with my decision and use my slap, dip, rip throughout that whole time, until he gives me something different. Now, if he gives me his chest, then of course, I’ll turn it into a bull rush. But it’s just a lot of things, of course I definitely go into it with a plan, but outside of that I just react and once that time comes and if he gives me something that I don’t want.
I think Greenard’s intelligence is the main influencer of his play. In the seven games I watched he was willing to make a lot of educated guesses about how snaps would unfold based on positioning. He would, as an edge contain player, win a lot of these gambles and that contributed to him being an incredible run defender.
I would go as far as to say that I think his play against the run is going to be his meal-ticket to getting on the field early. Watching Greenard pass rush is awkward. His spin move is slow enough that you’re surprised when it works. He gets good initial burst off the line and does a good job of reading the snap count, but I think too often on his pass-rush reps he doesn’t have much of a second gear or ability to redirect. He left a surprising amount of hurries or pressures without a sack, and I’m not even talking about just the plays around the edge where he gets redirected rather than bending:
This is, again, pretty much exactly what the workout numbers would tell you. Smart player to get to the numbers he got, but not exactly a burner. I think he’s going to need to improve his adjustments coming at a quarterback clean, though. Don’t get juked by Jake Fromm! Speaking of…
Another common criticism among scouts that I read was that he just didn’t perform well against top competition. I made it a point to seek out the Georgia tape because Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson were both first-round picks, and … yeah, I think that criticism is pretty spot-on. Fromm had all day in the pocket in that game, and the Bulldogs barely rushed for any real yardage. You could say that, in a close game, the inability to get to the quarterback was Florida’s undoing:
Greenard offers enough to satisfy Anthony Weaver’s desire for multiplicity, but don’t mistake him for some kind of genius coverage linebacker. He’s not going to move off-ball without issues or anything like that. He mainly played flat coverage, and he showed some aptitude for it but was not much of an underneath route-reader. He was better at reading the quarterback’s eyes, though there were a few plays where he glanced back at the route combo and knew he could take some extra depth.
Where does Greenard fit on to this team if he doesn’t develop more?
I think he’s got a real shot to unseat Brennan Scarlett outside on run downs early in his career. I would have said he had a real shot to win the role in camp, but I think at this point the rookies are behind the curve enough that it would be difficult for him to do that.
As a pass-rusher, I think his best trait for growth is his play with his hands. The wrist injury did seem to sap him of some power on some of his rushes, and, again, another year of that in the rearview may help. I don’t know that I’d ever project him to be a 10-sack-a-year guy. He might wind up there at his peak or something like that, catch the right schedule of tackles that he can okeydoke. But I think he’s probably more of a third-best rusher on a good defense barring big improvement.
Is it the pick I would have made?
You know what? Probably. I might have been tempted by Curtis Weaver of Boise State, but I don’t think he was any less athletically limited than Greenard is and I think Greenard is perhaps the more complete player with a better record of play against SEC competition. Zach Baun of Wisconsin is another guy that had my eye. That’s probably my best answer, but it’s not like pass-rush metrics loved him either.
Once you get past the first 50 picks of the draft, unless someone special falls to you, I think you have to look at things a little safer and ask: Who has the skill set to be on the team in four years? As much of a critic of Texans drafts as I usually am, I think Greenard is a solid answer to that question because of his well-rounded suite of abilities and playing intelligence. Just don’t be surprised if instead of a pass-rush superstar you wind up with a smarter version of Brooks Reed.
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