After failing to live up to the expectations that come with being the 6th overall pick over his first three seasons, Barkevious Mingo bounced between the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in a span of just under 10 months, before finally seeming to find a fit in Indianapolis in 2017. Starting strongside LB John Simon went down for the season with an injury in Week 8 and Mingo stepped into the lineup, starting six games in total.
With the Colts, Mingo had a role, or rather roles, that fit his versatile skill set for the first time in his career. Mingo lined up off the ball both inside and outside, as well as on the edge with his hand in the dirt. Although the high level pass rush production expected of a former top-10 selection still wasn’t there (and almost certainly won’t ever be), Mingo played well as an off-ball LB, earning the second best coverage grade among EDGEs per Pro Football Focus.
While Mingo performed well in his 132 coverage snaps, Indianapolis’ pass defense wasn’t as successful, finishing 32nd in pass defense DVOA per Football Outsiders. Their run defense, however, finished 10th, with Mingo being a strong part of that unit.
Mingo’s versatility between run and pass defense, able to play both on and off the line of scrimmage, is what made him such a focal point of the Seattle Seahawks’ free agency plans. Since Bruce Irvin’s departure in free agency in 2016, Seattle’s been unable to replicate the versatility Irvin brought to the Seahawks.
Shortly after Irvin’s move to LB was announced in the summer of 2013, head coach Pete Carroll had this to say about the position switch:
“He’s extremely versatile, and that’s why we’ve loved him from the start. He’s really fast. He’s 250 pounds, and he’s exactly fitting the right kind of body type to play outside ‘backer in the 3-4 system. We’re a 4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4 looks. He’s extremely valuable for us.”
The versatility Carroll spoke of, the ability to align in a three LB look and transition to a nickel defense without substituting, is what Seattle will be hoping to replicate with the signing of Mingo. A player just as comfortable backpedaling into a zone as he is setting the edge on the backside against the run, Mingo will be asked to do the same things Irvin did, and just like with the Colts, that should get the best out of him.
Admittedly, Mingo won’t produce as a pass rusher in the way Irvin did while playing a similar role. He won’t get the same opportunities — Irvin was on the edge rushing the passer in the Seahawks’ NASCAR package constantly — while Mingo should be the fifth or sixth pass rusher in a rotation.
However, Mingo’s ability to defend the run, both at the point of attack and as a backside defender, is impressive. For Mingo, his run defense all starts with his intelligence and discipline.
Both show up here, as the Pittsburgh Steelers leave Mingo unblocked off the edge, hoping he crashes into the backfield only to be picked up and taken out of the play by the LG, Ramon Foster, who’s pulling across. Instead, Mingo stays home, gets his hands into Foster’s chest first and evades the block, before finishing with a great tackle on Le’Veon Bell.
Too often, defenders who rely on athleticism or natural ability will get into the right positions only to lose the ball or make the wrong read. Ironically, Rasheem Green struggled with staying with the football on play fakes, sweeps and motions at USC. Mingo doesn’t have that problem, always staying with the ball and making the right read.
Mingo’s intelligence in staying with the ball again flashes here. As Lamar Miller goes away from Mingo, he keeps his eyes locked even while engaging the TE, eventually making the tackle as Miller comes back across to the right.
When Mingo is defending at the point of attack, he’s just as adept at violently getting off blocks and making the tackle that way, too.
On outside runs at the point of attack, Mingo has the lateral agility and movement skills to get to the outside with the RB, forcing them towards the sideline with nowhere to go. Hand usage isn’t one of Mingo’s strengths, but he does a great job recovering from Ben Koyack’s initial strike and forcing Leonard Fournette backwards here, with a good flash of burst to close him down.
As a prospect, Mingo was expected to be a 3-4 OLB, able to bend and beat tackles on the way to becoming a double-digit sack artist. Instead, he’s had to remodel his game and his career has extended because of it.
Mingo isn’t making this play in his rookie season. In his fifth season, he’s making it in outstanding fashion: Coming off the ball quickly, landing his strike, keeping a wide base, before burying the TE and making the tackle.
Although Mingo has changed his game, there are still the flashes of the athleticism that was such a huge part of his appeal as a prospect. Like when he’s chasing down plays from the backside:
Or bending around the corner against a tackle, then bursting into a full sprint to get to the QB and finish the play:
That type of flexibility and athleticism on its own won’t create constant pressure, but it will get you two or three sacks a season. If Mingo can give Seattle that production in 150-250 pass rushing snaps as the fifth or sixth option, that’s great.
Mingo’s burst allows him to be an effective blitzer off the line of scrimmage, as well. The Seahawks don’t blitz their LBs heavily, but when they do it’s usually either by sugaring the A-gaps, or sending Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright on a stunt.
Mingo forces pressure and the throwaway here with both:
The final thing Mingo will be responsible for as Seattle’s SAM ‘backer is dropping into the flats in zone coverage, underneath and towards the sideline. To do this well, a defender must be comfortable backpedaling and moving laterally, and react with good anticipation. While Mingo spent more time dropping into the hook/curl zone — where Wright and Wagner patrol — the movement and reaction skills he displayed will translate as he moves closer to the sideline.
While there is real reason for excitement around the addition of Mingo, his impact may end up being minimal. Mike Morgan, Irvin’s replacement, played less than 13-percent of the defensive snaps in 2016. The third LB in base packages simply don’t play like regular starters, as nickel becomes the predominant base defense.
If the pass rushers ahead of, and around Mingo — Dion Jordan, Frank Clark, Green, Marcus Smith and Jacob Martin — can create constant pressure, Mingo may not get many opportunities to come off the edge, either.
However, Mingo is the first LB the Seahawks have had since Irvin’s departure that can do both. As Carroll described it back in 2013, Mingo’s versatility will allow them to be a “4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4.” While Mingo may not end up being as valuable as Carroll expected Irvin to be playing the same role, he’ll be able to give Seattle everything they want out of their strongside LB.