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Tape Don’t Lie: The Progress of Malcolm Koonce

A look at rookie pass-rusher against the Rams

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Koonce was a draft-season darling to many who dive deep into the prospects entering the NFL. Koonce showed great pass-rush chops coming from the University of Buffalo where put up 22.5 TFLs and 17 sacks during his four year college career.

Draftniks were drawn to his ability to convert speed to power as well as his penchant for stringing multiple pass rush moves together. There was a polish in his game that most edge rushers lack coming into the NFL.

Koonce wasn’t without his faults, however, his biggest knock was his ability (or lack thereof) to play run defense. When the Raiders drafted him in the third round this off-season after signing Yannick Ngakoue, his role became clear: pass rush specialist. He could get after the quarterback early in his career and work on defending the run as time goes on. Let’s examine his tape from this weekend to see how far he has to go.

Instant Progress

Many times when you watch a player, the mistakes they make in the beginning of a game they will continue to make as the game goes on.

Early in the game, Koonce was unblocked and the quarterback read his shoulders to determine if he should keep or give the zone read. When Koonce turned his shoulders inside towards the dive of the running back, it made this read easy and the QB ran around the outside of the defense.

Later in the game we see Koonce lean on his technique and keep his shoulders square. This is called a “surf” technique and it is used by edge defenders across all levels of football to defend the zone read and react to either a quarterback give or keep. By staying square it allows Koonce to explode in either direction, thus dissuading the QB from utilizing the run option. Koonce waits to confirm the run before pouncing.

While rushing the passer, Koonce was stumped early in the game dealing with what is called a “jump set” from the offensive tackle. A jump set is the most aggressive type of pass protection and occurs when the tackle takes sharp angle towards the rusher and attempts to tie him up before he gets going.

The Ram’s left tackle Tremayne Anchrum uses this strategy and executes a nasty “snatch-trap” technique, sending Koonce off balance and eventually on the ground. However later that quarter, Koonce learns from his mistake, beating the tackle to the punch and stringing together a few moves to continue rushing the quarterback.

Obviously there is more work to be done. However it is an encouraging sign that Koonce is making these adjustment on the fly during a live game when the bullets are flying.

Run Defense

Now there will of course be times where Koonce will have to play the run in 2021. Teams tend to run right at rookie edge defenders and if there are injuries, he’ll need to step up. There is much progress that needs to be made in this area.

As you can see from the clip above, the Rams essentially took what they wanted when rushing in Koonce’s direction. He lacked physicality taking on blockers, was hesitant with his hands, and struggled to detach from blockers all game. At 6’2 250 pounds, Koonce likely won’t be a guy who can anchor against the run early on his career, but he can be more violent and decisive.

It is worth noting that after a couple practices of Koonce hanging with the linebackers, he was sent back to the edge defenders. With tape like this, it’s hard to imagine Koonce playing the Sam or Otto linebacker spot, holding the edge against the run on 3rd and 1.

Rushing the passer

As the game went on Koonce looked more and more comfortable getting after the quarterback. It helped that he was facing 3rd string tackles, however he won many of those matchups at a high frequency.

The most impressive part of Koonce as a rusher is the fluidity with which he strings pass rush moves together. Spin moves, long-arms, hump move—it’s all in his game, which is relatively rare for a rookie pass rusher.

However the biggest question mark from this tape is his lack of twitch. It looks too casual, not nearly explosive enough for it to work against starting tackles in the NFL. He needs to be more urgent, more violent, and perhaps the Raiders will be able to tap into his advanced pass rush repertoire. Until Koonce starts getting off the ball like a mad man, don’t expect this film to translate in the regular season.