In their recent NFL Draft classes, the Las Vegas Raiders have focused on getting more athletic at the linebacker position. Selecting former Clemson defensive back Tanner Muse in 2020 and having him convert to linebacker was one of the initial steps in that process.
Given that Muse missed all of last season and is currently listed as a starter at his new position, it begs the question of what his potential at linebacker looks like? For that, we’ll dive into some stats and film analysis.
Muse did take about 20.3 percent of his snaps at linebacker as a senior in college, per Pro Football Focus, so it’s not like this is completely foreign territory for him. In fact, he fared pretty well in coverage when playing the position, allowing a 71.1 passer rating when targeted which ranked ninth among ACC linebackers with at least 89 coverage snaps.
Other than passer rating, which is an applicable coverage stat for any position, the 2 statistics that are most important when evaluating backers are yards after the catch and forced incompletions. With so many short/high percentage throws to running backs and tight ends, it’s most important for linebackers to limit the gain after the reception. Then, when opportunities to prevent completions do prevent themselves, they must be able to take advantage.
In 2019, the former Tiger allowed 189 YAC and that was tied for the 11th-most in the conference at the position. Even when breaking this down by reception, this is still an unflattering number. His 8.6 YAC per reception allowed was the 12th-highest mark, meaning this is one area in coverage he’ll have to clean up.
However, Muse’s ability to force incompletions and create turnovers is a different story.
During his senior year, the hybrid defender had the most pass breakups and interceptions of any ACC linebacker with seven, three more than the second-place finisher. Now, he did play more games than anyone else in the conference since Clemson played in the National Championship that year. So to account for that, we’ll take a look at how frequently those forced incompletions occurred.
Muse recorded 397 snaps in coverage that season, giving him a forced incompletion about once every 56.7 or 57 plays. That was the second-best rate among ACC linebackers so even when adjusting for playing time, the numbers still show he makes plays on the ball more frequently than others.
Run Defense Stats
Now, Muse’s numbers against the run can be a bit skewed because of Clemson’s scheme. Typically, defenses want their linebackers to play downhill and make plays near the line of scrimmage. But since the former Tiger’s natural position was safety, his responsibilities were likely different than a traditional backer, even when playing in the box.
We’ll still dive into some of Muse’s statistics as that can give us a general idea of where he thrives and where his room for growth is, but these figures are not meant to be the end all be all by any means.
At linebacker as a senior, Muse recorded 17 run stops at a rate of 6.2 percent. Those figures ranked 33rd and 43rd among ACC linebackers who played a minimum of 112 snaps against the run. To make matters worse, his average depth of tackle was 6.4 yards and ranked dead last.
To avoid looking at completely pessimistic numbers – partial pessimism I’m okay with – the Clemson product’s 7.7 percent missed tackle rate ranked tied for the third-best among ACC LBs, and his PFF run-defense grade of 82.8 was the fourth-highest mark. The latter speaks to the point made above about how Clemson’s scheme can skew some of the advanced tackle metrics.
Nice play on the backside of a zone run here from Tanner Muse pic.twitter.com/UWcHtX7m2k— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
Here we’re going to see Muse make a great play on the backside of a zone run. He’s responsible for the D-gap outside of the TE and shows excellent patience to stay home and eliminate cutback lanes.
As the play progresses, he starts to squeeze down and narrow in on the running back, and once that ball carrier tries to cut, Muse is right there to give the back a nice thud and hold this to a one-yard gain. That’s excellent gap discipline and instincts from the hybrid linebacker, which is impressive given his limited experience playing the position
Not a highlight by any means, but Muse does a great job of helping his teammate to take away the crosser here pic.twitter.com/CnmaynjcS2— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
This next play isn’t going to show up on the stat sheet or highlight tape, but it does show an example of the former Tiger’s football IQ in coverage. He’s playing as a strong safety near the right hash on the bottom of your screen, and Texas A&M is has a 3x1 set (3 eligible receivers on the right and 1 on the left) with only one threat on the defense’s right side, the wide receiver on the numbers.
What that means is Muse only has two threats on that side of the field that he has to worry about, the wideout and the running back working across the formation and into the flats. Once he recognizes that the back is blocking and the receiver is going vertical, Muse starts working toward the middle of the field to help his teammates.
That allows him to take the crossing route by the tight end away from the quarterback. It’s just unfortunate that the slot receiver was able to find a hole in the zone.
In new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme, Muse will be playing in a lot of underneath zones similar to this, so it’s comforting to see this level of mental processing from him.
Eye discipline and ball skills make this pick happen for Muse, a hell of a play pic.twitter.com/uxVDsjphB3— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
On this play, we’ll see an example of those excellent ball skills from Muse and great eye discipline. He starts lined up over the slot receiver in the boundary and is the low-hole player on this goal line man coverage call from Clemson.
During the play, he does a good job passing off the slot receiver and has excellent eye discipline by staying locked on the quarterback with all the chaos going around him. Because of that, the defender can recognize and adjust to the errant throw and create a turnover for the Tigers.
That will be a welcomed sight in Las Vegas since the Raiders have been one of the worst teams at getting interceptions over the last couple of years.
Like the patience from Muse to slow play this and make the tackle for a two-yard gain pic.twitter.com/uCvkUHbWxI— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
We’ll take a look at another run play that’s similar to the one above, but on the play side of a gap run from Syracuse this time.
Muse is lined up on the left hash in the boundary about six yards off the ball before creeping up just before the snap. He does an excellent job of slow playing this and timing when he shoots the gap to stay off that pulling guard’s radar.
Once the offensive lineman picks up the linebacker, Muse crashes in unblocked and makes the tackle for a two-yard gain. Another encouraging sign for his potential against the run when playing in the box.
Ugly one from Muse in coverage. Gets caught staring at the QB too long, doesn't see the WR running the curl and misses the tackle for a big gain pic.twitter.com/Du7bISquRn— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
Now, here’s an ugly clip that Muse is going to have to fix in Las Vegas.
Clemson is running a zone blitz here which makes the job harder for the guys dropping in coverage because obviously, there’s less help. That means the coverage players must be on high alert and sniff out any potential threats.
However, Muse gets caught with his eyes on the quarterback, so he never even sees the wide receiver running the curl route until it’s far too late and ends up covering grass. To compound the error, he dives at the wideout's feet and misses the tackle for a huge gain.
The good news is the numbers discussed early suggest this was a rare tackling miscue for Muse, and he just needs to find the balance between eying the quarterback and finding receivers to cover.
Muse mentioned several times in his presser the other day how he's working on using his hands and getting stronger at the point of attack. Here we see an example of why pic.twitter.com/l2RuflcgRM— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
One of the biggest areas for concern with the Clemson product playing linebacker is his ability to get off blocks and we’ll see an example of that here. He’s playing as a boundary slot corner and is taking on a block from a tight end (No. 86) that is split out wide.
Now, Muse does do a good job of getting to the outside to force the receiver running the bubble screen inside, but his hands are a little wide when taking on the block and he doesn’t have the strength to get extension at the point of attack. As a result of all that, he struggles to break free from this block until the receiver is already past him.
Also, you’d like to see him do a better job of planting his feet in the ground, so he doesn’t get widened toward the sideline so much.
Getting better at the point of attack and at using his hands was something Muse mentioned he’s been working on with linebacker coach Richard Smith this offseason. Hopefully, the extra size he’s put on will help in this area because things will only get harder when taking on NFL offensive linemen in the box.
Patience/letting the play develop in front of him is a strength of Muse's game, and that allows him to prevent a TD here. pic.twitter.com/0cj3RkgKgd— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
We’ll end things on a positive note and see another example of Muse making plays against the run.
Similar to the other clip above, he does an excellent job of slow playing this and letting the play develop in front of him. Because of his patience, once that line of scrimmage linebacker (No. 10) does an excellent job of getting under and taking out both the puller and fullback, Muse is freed up to make this tackle and prevent the touchdown.
Had he crashed down hard off the snap, he’d run the risk of getting tripped up and/or lost in the mess with the puller and guard or overrunning the play entirely. Instead, his patience helps keeps points off the board.
Below are clips from every meaningful snap that Muse had in the preseason game against Seattle.
On Saturday, Muse showed some improvement from his college days at taking on blocks from TEs. Still has work to do but this is already a lot better than his Clemson tape pic.twitter.com/SSZh5eDKup— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021
Excellent eye discipline and COD from Muse turns what could have been an easy first down into 3rd and 4 pic.twitter.com/jqdFgnXOgf— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 18, 2021