Melvin Ingram is not just fast, he has outstanding physicality for a man of his size. (ZUMApress.com)
The San Diego Chargers have been down this road before, of course.
Three years ago, at the 2009 draft, the Chargers drafted Larry English out of Northern Illinois, with the hope that his pass-rushing ability would translate to stardom at outside linebacker in the NFL. It hasn't happened -- at least not yet. English has had one disappointing season after the next, culminating in 2011, when he played just five games and finished with seven tackles and two sacks.
So, San Diego hit the reset button with the 18th pick and selected Melvin Ingram from South Carolina.
The similarities are obvious: English runs at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds; Ingram 6-2, 264. Both guys played primarily along the defensive line in college, then faced a move to linebacker in the Chargers' 3-4. At one point or another leading up to the draft, English and Ingram were each compared to Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley.
The difference -- or, at least, what the Chargers hope is the difference -- is that Ingram already has shown the versatility to line up just about anywhere, which should make his shift to an OLB spot that much easier.
Examples? You got 'em:
First and foremost, here's one of Ingram as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. On the play pictured he was matched up against a tight end as the left tackle pulled -- Ingram blew through that block and got to the running back.
That alone is a good sign for the Chargers, since, if Ingram lines up as a wide linebacker in the 3-4 and everything goes according to plan with San Diego's defensive linemen, Ingram could find himself dealing with plenty of one-on-ones against tight ends.
He has the size to engage them physically, but also brings enough quickness to the table to blow past them.
Example No. 2 is as eye-popping a piece of evidence as you'll find regarding Ingram's raw ability. Here, he's lined up as a defensive tackle -- remember, 6-foot-2 and at a playing weight of around 275 last season -- and shoots the "A" gap between the center and guard to bring down the ball carrier.
A player of Ingram's size simply is not supposed to be able to do that, and it speaks to some of the different ways that San Diego might be able to use him. While his best days are ahead of him as a rush linebacker, it's far from out of the question that he slide down and play with a hand in the dirt up front. In fact, a lot of Ingram's production during his senior season came from the tackle spot.
Contrast that with Jerel Worthy, whom we looked at on Tuesday -- he was mostly a 4-3 defensive tackle in college, but his size (6-3, 308) means he could be in for an adjustment period as he, most likely, shifts to an end spot in Green Bay's 3-4.
We're talking about Ingram, at 30-40 lighter than Worthy, being able to take on similar tasks. Amazing.
Now, two looks that put Ingram in a position more like what he'll see in San Diego. This is still technically a 4-3 front from South Carolina last season, but the way in which Ingram is utilized converts well to a 3-4.
He's standing up wide on the left side of the Gamecocks' line, then rushes straight upfield after the snap.
Here's another shot of Ingram in a stand-up spot -- on this particular play, he showed blitz, then dropped back into coverage before eventually converging on the quarterback on a rollout.
Assuming San Diego uses Ingram as a rush linebacker, he'll probably slide even further out, but his experience at South Carolina gives him a pretty solid base to start from. It is that versatility that made Ingram such an attractive first-round prospect.
The main knock on him was that he has short arms, which can be a problem for players trying to get past NFL-caliber linemen. San Diego figured he was well worth the gamble anyway.
With all that information on the table, what is Ingram's outlook for 2012?
Best-case scenario: Ingram immediately carves out a spot on defense, at the very least as a replacement for new Chargers LB Jarret Johnson on passing downs. He also carries that collegiate adaptability to the pros, giving San Diego the freedom to experiment with him as a 3-4 lineman, both on the interior and at end. He makes those Woodley comparisons look completely accurate.
Worst-case scenario: Ingram struggles to adjust to playing the majority of his downs as a 3-4 linebacker, and his short arms lead to him being dominated when San Diego tries to play him up front. He reminds San Diego fans, in all the negative ways, of English and only sees action in sporadic spurts.
English's failures no doubt have Chargers' fans holding their breath over this one. Everything that Ingram has shown on tape, though, indicates that he'll be able to make the leap the pros and continue to be a dominant, disruptive force. He's definitely an upgrade on passing downs over Johnson, a terrific run defender who has averaged about 2.2 sacks per season in his nine-year career. Given the chance, Ingram will succeed. Let's set the line for 2012 at 30 tackles, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.