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Trey Hendrickson showing Saints talent at DE/EDGE runs deep

Can the 2nd year man out of Florida Atlantic be the pass rusher the Saints were looking for all along, and maybe more?

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NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Hendrickson has found himself in what is becoming a pretty crowded room of defense ends in New Orleans. Not only do the Saints have star player Cameron Jordan, but they’ve added Marcus Davenport to a group that already had Alex Okafor. This might lead some to believe that the former third round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft is now buried down the depth chart, but a closer look at his tape (noting his improvement since having to take over as a starter when Okafor went down) shows a player who Dennis Allen and Ryan Nielsen will be hard pressed to keep off the field.

Hendrickson’s scouting report coming out of Florida Atlantic (Conference USA) describes a player who flashed but possessed little negatives, such as below average arm length, that make fans scoff at but scouts worry. Lance Zierlein said he had “Average height with lean legs and short arms for the edge. Not an “other side of the line” run defender. A tick slow to diagnose and respond off snap.”

Several scouts (and agencies such as Pro Football Focus) were quick to note his positives made him a tempting option for teams looking for a pass rusher. PFF listed “Exceptional burst off the line of scrimmage. Challenges the edge routinely and already adept at turning speed into power.” The Saints got this last year during his rookie season.

As a pass rusher, Hendrickson’s go to move is the swat-swim which we see below. He used this from both the left and right side from the 3 Technique to the 7 Technique. Even though he started the season as a situational rusher he was able to take advantage of his snaps with reps like this one.

Pass Rush Move: Swat-Swim

For a successful swat-swim a player needs quickness in both his hands and feet while having enough power for the swat to redirect the offensive linemen’s arm(s) and momentum. In the above clip Hendrickson uses a double swat down to avoid the left tackle taking control of his chest and swims over the top.

At the 2017 NFL Combine Hendrickson finished in the 99th percentile in the 60 yard shuttle, the 89th percentile in the 20 yard shuttle and the 82nd percentile in the 3 cone drill. This athletic ability is on display above with how quickly he’s able to cover ground once he passes the left tackle. This rush (in combination with the efforts of Craig Robertson, Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins) forces Matthew Stafford to release the ball before the route full develops and it falls incomplete.

When playing in tight quarters against a guard when can see Trey adjust his technique slightly to compensate and win with the same short area quickness and efficient hand work.

Against Chicago Trey used the same move that he did against Detroit to get a sack on Bears Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. In the first clip we saw the Lions left tackle try to meet Hendrickson at a spot using the 45 technique. He was being aggressive and swatting down caused him to lose his balance and any potential leverage he would have gained from connecting to the chest plate.

Here against the Bears the guard is being more patient and allowing Hendrickson to come to him. To counter this he attacks the outside shoulder/upper arm to prevent being “caught” by the guard. Swimming over the top frees his inside him and once again we see the short area quickness and agility from the NFL Combine drills translating to a sack on the field. These subtle variations in technique allowed him to be more versatile in where Dennis Allen and Ryan Nielsen lined him in 2017.

Pass Rush Move: Forklift

This wasn't the only move in his repertoire, and as the season progressed more of his skills and abilities made themselves known. One of the more difficult pass rushing moves to master is the forklift technique. Often combined with a bull rush (traditional or long-arm), it allows a defender to prevent an offensive linemen from dropping down into his anchor and slowing and/or stopping a bullrush.

The execution of the forklift requires excellent hand-eye coordination as well as quickness and power. Above we can see Hendrickson strike the chest of the right tackle with the long arm technique (extending his right arm to create space, and gain leverage) and following this he takes control of the tackles’ right hand and lifts it into the air, preventing it from latching on. While the long arm arm bull rush takes the lineman’s chest, the forklift helps prevent the offensive linemen from deploying any upper body counters that would negate the rush.

Scout Brandon Thorn describes the forklift technique in this article, “The key for success with the forklift is predicated on the rusher bringing their hand inside to their armpit in order to locate the blocker’s hand they want to move. The forklift can be utilized in a reactionary manner based on an initial move that doesn't work, or as a counter, but also as a premeditated primary move to win a rep.”

Situational Awareness

A common flaw found in players who are situational pass rushers is that they often sell out to the pass so much they can be fooled by read option plays, quick passes and draw plays. During his time in New Orleans, Junior Galette exhibited this flaw. While he was able to real in double digit sacks there were also plays where he failed to maintain containment or spot when a quarterback/receiver were using his upfield burst to their advantage.

Players need to have the mental processing to read their keys and understand what is going on around them. Lets once again take a look at the Lions vs Saints game to get an example of how Hendrickson reacted in these situations. Lined up out wide would seem to indicate to the offense that Hendrickson wants to run the arc with a quick up field burst.

The left tackle attempts a cut block on Hendrickson who recognizes the block and adjusts his body and momentum. He understands that the tackle is trying to quickly clear the passing lane to his side and he must respond by filling that lane. By stopping his pass rush and avoiding the cut block he is now free to disrupt the passing lane. All of this is taking place in less than a second and a half.

Running The Arc: Taking advantage of his athletic ability

Coming into the 2018 with even more competition along the defensive line more progression from Hendrickson will be needed for him to maintain the snap counts he became accustomed to at the end of 2017. One of the ways he can do this is by taking advantage of the stellar athletic ability noted earlier in this article.

At the time of this article only the first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars has come and gone, but in that game Hendrickson displayed short area quickness, bend, and ankle flexion that is hard to find on his 2017 tape. This ability to run the arc with athletic ability/bend adds another dimension to him as a pass rusher that not many even at the NFL level possess.

In the above play Hendrickson is using a swat-rip move to get past the right tackle, but it’s the bend around the edge that is simply difficult to defend against if you don’t win at the beginning of the rep. To provide comparison I’ve provided two still shots of Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad both rushing upfield from wide positions to show how deep Trey is getting in the same amount of time as another draft pick from the 2017 class.

There are still several issues that need to be worked out if Hendrickson is to develop into the starting defensive end of the future who can be relied upon to play three downs. While he wasn’t suspect against the run in 2017 he wasn’t a stalwart either. When running the end-tackle and tackle-end twist game Hendrickson has a habit of letting his pad level rise which slows him down and provides a easier target for offensive linemen to block. Trey must also continue to add to his pass rush moves while improving his plan of attack to avoid wasted rush reps.

One of the advantages of being a situational passrush is it allows Hendrickson to focus on honing his craft, and last year he was tasked with taking on greater responsibility due to injury. This year, assuming the Saints defensive line stays healthy, he’ll likely return to situational rush duties where his focus will be finding opposing quarterbacks. If the progression we’ve seen in 2017 and now the summer of 2018 is any indication he could do a pretty good job of that once the regular season comes around.

I leave you with one last clip of Hendrickson’s go to move, the swat-swim. It seems like he’s gotten better at that, too. “T-Rex” looks ready to eat.