Last year, in just his first full season as the starting defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, Henry Melton showed great quickness and agility on passing downs. He was able to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout most of 2011, as his 7.0 sacks ranked third amongst all defensive linemen in the NFL.
No one has ever questioned his athletic ability. During his first two collegiate seasons at Texas, Melton was a running back. He switched to defensive end his junior year and was named the starter before his senior season. His final year in Austin, Melton racked up 29 tackles, 10 for a loss, and 4.0 sacks, good enough to get him selected in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Bears.
Melton is the starter at 3-technique, whose job it is to collapse the middle of the pocket and disrupt opposing passing attacks. To that end, Melton has been very successful. Yet as a run stopper, he has struggled mightily.
Throughout much of last season, Melton was nearly invisible on 1st and 2nd down. He's listed at 295 pounds, but I would give my right arm if that were his actual playing weight. Up close, he looks to be around 275-280. For an NFL interior defensive lineman, that is not ideal size, which stunts his ability to anchor in the middle.
On film last year, time and time again Melton was manhandled by bigger offensive guards and completely wiped out on running plays. It's an area of concern going forward.
DT Henry Melton
Pro Football Focus recently published its Tackling Efficiency (TE) analysis over the last three years for interior defensive linemen. The formula is simple: it's a ratio of missed tackles to attempts.
Solo tackles + Assists + Misses / Missed Tackles = TE.
Not surprisingly, at the top of the list was Minnesota's Pat Williams, who has not missed a tackle since 2008. Ninth best over that timeframe was Anthony Adams, whom the Bears cut this offseason. He had a 44.0 TE, meaning he missed one tackle for every 44 attempts.
Down at the bottom of the list is where things start to get worrisome. Of all the defensive tackles that qualified for this study, Melton ranked dead last. His TE of 5.3 – one missed tackle for every five attempts – was worse than every other player in the league at his position.
To quote the article:
"It's a ratio that is unacceptable for a top-level player and Melton needs to improve that dramatically if that is what he is to become."
Throughout last season, we discussed repeatedly Melton's struggles against the run. He is far too easily overmatched by opposing offensive linemen and, more often than not, he gets caught up in the wash on run plays.
Interestingly, Melton's backup last year, Amobi Okoye, was fifth worst in this study with an 8.4 TE. That could partially explain why Chicago wasn't gung ho to re-sign him this offseason.
Yet the Bears did nothing to replace Okoye, which has left a group of also-rans and rookies to fight it out in training camp for the backup 3-tech job. This has led some to call for Tommie Harris, who is currently a free agent. Yet Harris also struggles against the run and finished 11th worst in PFF's analysis.
While the numbers on Melton are concerning on an individual basis, his inability to stuff ball carriers inside did not seriously hurt the club last season. The Bears finished 2011 ranked fifth overall against the run, despite Melton folding like a deck of cards on run plays.
While the 3-technique is arguably the most-important position on the team on passing downs, he's not a key cog versus the run. The Bears have shown time and again they can still stuff the run, just as long as the 3-tech occupies an offensive lineman or two.
Still, this is an area of his game on which Melton must improve. Over the long term, playing like a turnstile against the run will hurt this football team, even with the two All Pro linebackers lined up behind him.
This could be the major reason the Bears have not yet extended Melton, whose contract is up after this season. If he again fails to stop the run in 2012, he can justifiably be labeled a one-dimensional player, which would give the Bears leverage in negotiations.
Yet in today's pass-happy NFL, that one dimension in which Melton excels is highly valuable. As such, even though he's as tough as crepe paper against the run, he will still command a large contract and will have plenty of suitors if Chicago allows him to hit free agency. Apparently, though, that's a risk Bears brass is willing to take.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.