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Consulting the Chart: 2019 UW Outside Linebackers Review

Ryan Bowman and Joe Tryon headed up a talented unit this past season

Washington State v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Last week we shifted sides of the ball to cover the defensive line and this time we slide outside to review the performance of Washington’s outside linebackers.

Check out our other past editions covering the QB/OL, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, and Tight Ends.

2019 UW Outside Linebacker Statistics

Player Snaps Tackles Sacks Pressures Defeats Missed Tackles Pressure % Defeat % Missed Tackle % Opp Success Pass Opp Success Run
Player Snaps Tackles Sacks Pressures Defeats Missed Tackles Pressure % Defeat % Missed Tackle % Opp Success Pass Opp Success Run
Tryon 613 41 8 28 15 4 8.5% 2.5% 8.9% 39.63% 48.12%
Bowman 567 34 5.5 17 15 6 5.8% 2.7% 15.0% 39.12% 46.64%
Latu 215 16 0.5 5 3 1 4.2% 1.4% 5.9% 51.67% 46.59%
Ngata 155 11 0 3 2 0 3.1% 1.3% 0.0% 31.96% 44.00%
ZTF 152 9 0 1 0 3 1.2% 0.0% 25.0% 51.22% 50.00%
Rice 69 4 0 3 1 1 6.1% 1.4% 20.0% 30.61% 52.63%

Joe Tryon

Joe Tryon began to emerge over the last few games of the 2018 season and that led to fairly high expectations for his sophomore campaign. For the most part Tryon met them as he finished with team highs in sacks and tackles for loss while providing an edge pass rushing presence not seen since the beginning of the 2016 season with Joe Mathis. Perhaps Tryon’s greatest ability was his “availability” as outside of a targeting ejection that cost him a half in each of the BYU and USC games he played 71% of the defensive snaps and that rose up to 77% against power conference competition.

It wasn’t completely sunshine and roses for Tryon although there was more good than bad. There were games where he would completely disappear and consistency is a concern. He had 7 halves with multiple pressures over the course of the season during which Tryon appeared unblockable. But on the flip side he had just 7 total pressures in the remaining 17 halves. Even it all out and Tryon’s pass rushing numbers were the best on the team and look pretty darn good. In order for him to fully realize his potential though Tryon needs to find a way to show he can get the job done against top level offensive lines snap after snap.

You’d like to see Tryon also show up a little better in the run game but all things considered it wasn’t a terrible performance for someone who is clearly most useful as a pass rusher. The Huskies almost always played Tryon on the short side of the field which makes things easier by giving him less green grass to cover. He looked better over the course of the season especially considering that his complete lack of executing on run fits was a major factor in the Husky defense collapsing in the 2nd half against California. But if Tryon was in the correct position then he was generally a reliable tackler with only 2 missed tackles against 25 made ones all season in the run game.

It’s terrifying to think what Tryon will do to opposing quarterbacks if his career continues to progress in a linear fashion. He made all Pac-12 2nd team as a sophomore despite his issues with consistency. If Tryon continues to develop then a 12-15 sack season in 2020 and an early departure to the NFL Draft isn’t out of the question.

Ryan Bowman

Joe Tryon is certainly the flashier part of UW’s starting outside linebacker duo but Ryan Bowman was the solid all-around player that almost always goes underappreciated. He was generally dependable outside of an injury suffered in the second quarter against Oregon that had a significant effect on Washington’s effectiveness. On 8 carries with Bowman on the field the Ducks averaged just 3.9 yards per carry but saw their numbers raise by a full two yards per pop once Bowman left the game. Correlation isn’t causation but it’s hard not to think UW’s defense performs better in the 2nd half with Bowman in there.

It’s a little strange that Bowman’s best season as a disruptive force came as a redshirt freshman considering his walk-on background but that’s mostly been the case. After a sophomore year that saw Bowman accumulate just 1 sack and 4.5 tackles for loss his numbers in both stats rebounded to the exact same total as in his freshman year although in more snaps. His 5.8% pressure rate in 2019 was closer to that of interior linemen like Onwuzurike or Bronson than it was to fellow outside starter Joe Tryon.

Still, Bowman found ways to make plays even without quite as much penetration as his defeat percentage of 2.7% was the highest on the team among anyone who played more than 25% of the team’s defensive snaps. Bowman misses more tackles than you’d like for a player in his position but they rarely are of the complete whiff variety. More often Bowman at least slows down the ball carrier and allows teammates extra time to get over and make the play. He did his job setting the edge and was much less prone to freelancing compared to Tryon. In addition to the stats in the table at the top Bowman also finished the year with 3 forced fumbles and an interception.

Given his status as a redshirt junior whose numbers have largely plateaued there’s a good shot that Bowman has come close to reaching his ceiling. If that is the case then Bowman is still a very valuable asset for the defense and earned his all-conference 2nd team honor from the Pac-12 coaching staff. Washington has a ton of talent at the OLB position but expect to see plenty of Tryon and Bowman next season as the younger guys try to chip away at their snap counts.

Laiatu Latu

Speaking of younger guys, Latu was one of the late coups of the 2019 recruiting class and he demonstrated early on that a redshirt season would be a waste. An injury kept Latu out of the Hawai’i game but Latu played at least 25% of the snaps in 5 of UW’s final 7 games and was the next man up when Bowman was injured against Oregon.

Latu started the season with 4 pressures in his first 22 pass rush snaps and it looked like he was going to immediately become a monster off the edge. Instead he accumulated just one more pressure in his final 92 rush attempts. It’s unclear whether the decline in productivity was due to the lingering effects of injury, hitting a wall from conditioning, or the step up in competition. But it would be fantastic to see Latu be able to come in for a few series and make an impact play at least once a game. That’s certainly possible with his talent and pedigree.

His pass rush productivity may have dropped off but it looks like Latu will be a weapon in the run game for years to come. Latu ended up with a made tackle on 1 of every 8 run plays while on the field which was higher than any other OLB. He also missed just one tackle on running plays all season. There are still issues with being in the right place but all of the building blocks are there for Latu to become a standout contributor even if the path to more playing time in 2020 is hard to envision.

Ariel Ngata

The 2019 season represented one shining bright moment for Ariel Ngata and otherwise didn’t much else to show for it which resulted in his eventual transfer from the program. Ngata saw occasional time as essentially the #3 OLB at the beginning of the year and played most of the 2nd half against BYU after Tryon was ejected for targeting. His big break seemingly came against Arizona when he was deployed at inside linebacker alongside Brandon Wellington and finished with the team lead in tackles while playing just 26 defensive snaps. Instead he played just 29 total snaps over Washington’s final 6 games and the writing was on the wall.

Washington prefers their outside linebackers to be at a minimum 240 pounds and it was always puzzling that Ngata could never seem to get above 220. But some body frames just aren’t meant to carry that much weight. The transition inside seemed to make sense given the struggles of Wellington and Manu (more on that in the next Consulting the Chart) but the coaching staff seemingly felt his success against Arizona was more about their game plan and less his actual performance.

Ngata finished the year with a pressure and defeat percentages that fell far below the starters at OLB but of course he split time across multiple positions and saw the vast majority of his time in a pair of UW blowouts. Based on the talent UW has amassed at the linebacker spots and Ngata’s results it seems likely that he wouldn’t have ended up being a full-time starter over his final two seasons but would have been useful as experienced depth. Best of luck to Ariel wherever he ends up. It seems fair to say that UW’s defensive scheme wasn’t a good fit for him in the end.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui

ZTF, as I will call him throughout this article because I deplore red squiggly lines while typing, started the season buried a bit on the depth chart but slowly worked his way into the rotation. He played at least 13 snaps in each of UW’s final 4 contests after hitting that mark only twice in the first 9 games.

It’s clear that ZTF had by far the worst season of any Washington outside linebacker from a statistical standpoint. But that was to be expected considering his age and recruiting pedigree compared to the rest of the position grouping. He struggled with both missed tackles and getting home to the quarterback which is a bad combination. But there were bright spots such as a play against Boise State where he shed a block from a tight end to meet Boise’s back just past the line of scrimmage and drive him backward for a gain of just 1 yard.

Outside linebacker is quite possibly the most loaded spot on the roster in 2020 which will make it tough for ZTF to climb up the pecking order. My expectation is that ZTF competes with Sav’ell Smalls for the #2 spot on the depth chart behind Joe Tryon next season. Something in the neighborhood of 10-20% of total defensive snaps is a reasonable benchmark as a redshirt sophomore before ZTF challenges for serious playing time as an upperclassman.

Myles Rice

There was always hope that Rice would eventually break out coming out of Texas but he was one of the lowest ranked recruits of the early Chris Petersen era so his home state may have raised expectations a little too high. Rice saw at least 10% of the snaps in each of UW’s first 4 games before completely falling out of the rotation. He was able to get in the game against Boise State in the second half after the Huskies put things out of hand.

Rice had a few nice moments this season including a pressure rate that was higher than that of Ryan Bowman. Of course 2 of his 3 pressures came against FCS Eastern Washington so that number is likely more instructive of the opposition rather than Rice’s ability. Myles ended up deciding to forego his final year of eligibility since he already has his degree and so his Husky career is done. Luckily Washington has Sav’ell Smalls joining the program next season as well as Bralen Trice coming off a redshirt season to provide depth.