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Film Study: Nigel Bradham’s coverage skills provide Saints with solid depth

Nigel Bradham isn’t a sexy acquisition by any means, but he fills a need and brings value to the table.

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It wasn’t Jadeveon Clowney. It wasn’t Everson Griffen. But the Nigel Bradham signing was a smart one, providing the New Orleans Saints with insurance for Kiko Alonso and Alex Anzalone, and giving the team a seasoned, skilled backer.

The eight-year veteran spent the first half of his career in Buffalo before heading to the city of brotherly love for his last four seasons with the Eagles.

Bradham played mostly middle and strong-side linebacker in his time with Philly, making him a good fit next to Demario Davis, who plays the weak-side, if he was to see the field much in 2020.

To get a clearer picture of his impact in Philadelphia, I watched a good bit of Bradham’s 2019 tape and caught up with Bleeding Green editor-in-chief Brandon Lee Gowton.

“Bradham started out at SAM in 2016 but then had to play MIKE when Jordan Hicks got hurt during the 2017 season. Bradham played really well en route to the Eagles winning the Super Bowl that season. PFF had him as like the top graded LB in coverage. Bradham played more MIKE in 2018 when Hicks got hurt and then again in 2019 after Hicks left. He was the only LB on the field when the Eagles used dime.

I like Bradham but it was an easy call for the Eagles to cut him to clear $4.5 million. He turns 31 in September, he’s had some off field issues, and his production just hasn’t been there. He only has 1 INT (on a tipped ball) and zero FF in his last 30 games. I think he can be serviceable; you can certainly win with him. But you can’t be counting on him for big plays at this point.”

For the most part, I agree with Brandon, who does great work covering the Eagles.

Bradham isn’t going to be coming in to be a play maker, necessarily. He’ll be coming to New Orleans to limit big plays, by not allowing tight ends and receivers to get open behind him in zone coverage, as well as fill gaps in the run game.

I feel confident he can do one of those better than the other, as we’ll discuss later. But I will say one thing in rebuttal to Brandon: Bradham has shown the ability to get his hands on the ball in coverage throughout his career.

Since 2013, the Florida State-product has 19 pass break-ups, via PFF. AJ Klein, on the other hand, has only five in that same time span. Given, Bradham’s played more snaps, but the point remains he’s athletic and savvy enough to be a positive contributor in coverage.

In 2019, Bradham had the 10th highest PFF coverage grade among 63 linebackers with at least 500 snaps in the regular season, at 74.9. In three of his last four seasons, he’s had coverage grades between 74.9 and 78.8.

He allowed a passer rating of 87.2 (11th-lowest) and 9.0 yards per catch (T-17th lowest) in 2019.

As a true inside linebacker, most of Bradham’s responsibilities in coverage under Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz came in the form of a curl/hook defender or the deep middle defender in Cover 2 zone.

As a curl/hook defender in underneath coverage for Cover 3, Cover 6, etc., Bradham showcased the ability to break on passes and make big hits to players catching check-downs pretty often.

In his curl/hook role below, he flipped his hips fluidly and snatched off a deep crossing route that came through his zone.

And as the deep middle defender in Cover 2, he has the range, athleticism and speed to carry vertical routes better than the likes of what we’ve gotten used to with A.J. Klein.

Like any player, he as a few deficiencies that are apparent when watching him.

  1. He’s prone to miss a few tackles

His PFF tackle grades and missed tackle numbers aren’t pretty over the last few years, and a lot of them come in the open field after the catch. He gets a little too ahead of himself and will over-pursue at times.

2. His gap contain and block shedding in run defense leave something to be desired.

In three out of his last five seasons, he’s had regular season PFF run defense grades of 53.1 or lower.

These aren’t awful plays or anything, they’re just plays where he’s not making any impact on the run and gets pushed where the offensive line wants him to be pushed. And it shows up pretty frequently.

I just noticed a few too many times that he was getting pushed out of his gap responsibility or getting blocked out of a play. He has trouble dis-engaging sometimes, which could be a problem.

I wouldn’t say he’s a disastrous run defender or anything, he just guesses and gambles a bit too much. Hopefully being surrounded by a better run defense helps him improve in that sense, even this late in his career.

A guy who you’re picking up off the street in late July isn’t going to be perfect. We needed a linebacker, and acquiring an experienced one with above-average coverage skills is a pretty good deal, in my opinion.

Even in man, he can flip his hips and undercut an in-breaking route at 30 years old.

Plus, one of the less-talked about aspects of this signing is his experience with Malcolm Jenkins.

Playing together and communicating on the field as teammates for the last four years has to count for something. So if they do see the field together, that chemistry should be there, as it was on this play where Jenkins cleaned up a seam that went behind Bradham.

The experience, the fit, the depth. This seems like a smart move by Sean Payton and the Saints front office.

Maybe we don’t need Bradham, because Anzalone and Alonso stay healthy all year. I surely wouldn’t bet on that, but if it does, then that’s great.

But we all know how football is and that injuries happen, and to get a backup who I think is better than A.J. Klein for cheaper and less commitment? Sign me up.

We could have a much worse insurance option at linebacker than Bradham.

What did you think of the Bradham signing? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.