The New England Patriots 2013 NFL draft has been been pretty great. Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio selected Jamie Collins, Aaron Dobson, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon with the first four picks over rounds one through three. The Patriots traded a fourth round pick for Aqib Talib, a fifth round pick for Albert Haynesworth, a sixth round pick for Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, and a seventh round pick (and Jeff Demps!) for LeGarrette Blount.
The compensatory pick from Talib's departure yielded Geneo Grissom, while Blount factored into the compensatory equation by canceling out the addition of Brandon LaFell.
Not all of these players panned out, but it's undeniable the impact that these players have had on the roster. Collins is one of the best linebackers in the league, while Talib provided a couple years of shutdown ability. Blount is a grinder at running back and Harmon is a threat to intercept the ball any time a quarterback dares to throw the deep ball.
And now there's Logan Ryan, also known as Instant Offense, who has had a starting opportunity thrust upon him.
Ryan was supposed to be the starter across from Malcolm Butler, until he wasn't. Rookie Darryl Roberts earned the role in camp. Then veteran Bradley Fletcher. And then veteran Tarell Brown.
But injuries opened the door for Ryan to redeem himself and he hasn't disappointed.
I'm not trying to argue that Ryan is a great cornerback; he's not going to trick anyone into seeing Revis, or Talib, or even Butler. But he's found his role in the Patriots defense and he's been more than just a body in the secondary. He's been pretty good.
After seeing just four snaps against the Steelers, the Patriots employed a rotation of Brown, Fletcher, and Ryan against the Bills. Fletcher was a healthy scratch against the Jaguars, while Brown suffered a foot injury prior to the game, placing Ryan in the starting line-up.
While Brown returned for one game, before being placed on the injured reserve, and Fletcher was released, it was clear that the team had confidence in Ryan to maintain the starting role for the rest of the year. He is the only defender to take every snap over the past three weeks.
"Logan has done a good job for us, as usual," head coach Bill Belichick said after the victory over the Dolphins. "He's one of our best prepared players, hard worker in the offseason and a hard worker in the season, really studies the game and has real good pass instincts and anticipation."
Ryan has benefit from quality safety play over the top in fellow Rutgers alumni Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, and rookie Jordan Richards, he has really found the technique that lets him flourish in the New England defense.
"He's played multiple positions," Belichick continued. "Sometimes it's been the third corner or the nickel corner, sometimes it's been the starting corner, sometimes on the perimeter, sometimes inside and kind of other adjustments in our scheme.
"He's a versatile player, has really good football instincts and intelligence, works hard, gets the most out of all the tools that he has, all the skills that he has, and he's worked hard to improve them and get better both physically and in his techniques."
While the Patriots have enjoyed deploying Butler in a similar fashion as Revis, with the Super Bowl hero tussling with the opposing team's #1 receiver, Ryan has entirely different technique than Brandon Browner. Instead of being a physical presence on the line of scrimmage, Ryan catches the receiver in his route to run with them inside their hip.
The technique aligns with Ryan's skill set. He lacks great straight line or recovery speed. He doesn't have Butler's burst to the ball out of his break. He can't afford to let the receiver get behind him. But Ryan thrives when he's able to use the sideline to his advantage and when he's able to use his body to deter the quarterback from throwing the fastball.
Over the past couple of games, with safety help, Ryan has been used to limit Colts receiver Andre Johnson, Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, and Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews. The Patriots are using Ryan on receivers with very specific sizes and skill sets. They aren't burners, but they use tight route running to generate separation and they use their frame to box out defenders.
Ryan, with his catch technique, doesn't let the receiver win and create separation out of the snap. He forces the receiver to declare their route before committing to his coverage. He sits at a comfortable distance to deter the quick pass and is able to stay with these players.
On this interception, you can see Logan Ryan prepared to take away the inside route from the receiver, and he's able to trail and run the exact route to be in place to intercept the ball. This is the gorgeous result of film review and athleticism that results in a key turnover.
"Logan definitely has the knack for finding the ball and he has really good hands," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. "[He] really is very instinctual from that department and can locate it, find it, catch it, secure it."
The important part of understanding Ryan's value is knowing what he's not. He is the opposite of Kyle Arrington. Ryan won't be covering T.Y. Hilton with success, and if he were to cover Julian Edelman or Jarvis Landry, he'd probably deserve to be benched. But unlike Arrington, Ryan is playing with confidence all over the formation and sticking with his match-up.
"He's played multiple positions," Belichick confirmed. "Sometimes it's been the third corner or the nickel corner, sometimes it's been the starting corner, sometimes on the perimeter, sometimes inside and kind of other adjustments in our scheme."
Appreciating Ryan requires the understanding of how he's suddenly a key defender. He's playing with the best technique of his career. The coaches are putting him in coverages and in match-ups that best align with his skill set, and they're supporting him with safety help.
But the concerns about the Patriots secondary have been answered with players that have been on the team all along. And Logan Ryan has been pretty good.