Film study: Rayford’s strengths, weaknesses

The NFL game film on Caesar Rayford is limited, but when he has played his strengths and weaknesses have showed.

The Minnesota Vikings were in need of a defensive end at the start of this offseason. Both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison played well and held down the starting roles, but they both played over 900 snaps during the course of the season.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was known for shuffling around defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh while he was a defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. The fact that he did not rotate the defensive ends more could indicated he didn’t have much faith in the players behind Robison and Griffen. The Vikings chose to not re-sign Corey Wootton this offseason, but still have Scott Crichton, who was a third-round draft pick in 2014.

There is still a chance he can develop into a good player, but other than him the Vikings did not have much on their roster. So this offseason they went out and signed Caesar Rayford. Rayford will be a bit of a wild card this season, as he has not had much experience playing in the NFL.

From 2009-12 Rayford played in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. Then in 2013 he finally got his chance in the NFL when he signed with the Indianapolis Colts on May 23, but he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 3 and would get to play for them during the season.

However, Rayford was cut in November and moved on to again play in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. Then, earlier this offseason, Rayford participated in the first ever NFL Veteran Combine, which is where the Vikings noticed him.

Viking Update now takes a look at the good and bad of Rayford from when he played in the NFL in 2013.

Play No. 1
In this first play, Rayford (95) is lined up as the left defensive end. He begins the play by rushing the passer, but then spins away from his blocker once he notices Christian Ponder had thrown the ball. Rayford then chases Adrian Peterson to help assist in the play.

Once he catches Peterson, who was slowed down evading defenders, he wraps him up and makes the tackle. This play shows his willingness to pursue a play even when it is run away from him.

Since Rayford has spent so little time in the NFL, it is clear that he is not the most talented player to step onto a football field. But this play shows that he has a good motor and should always be playing hard. Those hard-working players are the ones that Zimmer likes, and it could be that tireless effort that helps him see the field.

Play No. 2
This next play does not have much to do with the long touchdown run by Alfred Morris, but instead the two mistakes that Rayford makes. One of the mistakes would have hurt the team regardless, but the other one could have made it so the Cowboys did not take such a big hit.

The first mistake that Rayford, who is playing left defensive end, made was that he was fooled by the hard count and jumped offside. Some players will try to guess the snap count and get a good jump, but more often than not it shows a lack of discipline when a player jumps offside. If the run had not gone for a touchdown and instead held for little or no gain, this penalty still would have hurt the team.

The second mistake that Rayford made on this play is he was not able to hold his ground and help stop the run. Instead, he got pushed all the way out of the play, which opened up a huge hole for Morris to run through.

If he would have been able to hold his ground, the Cowboys may have been able to stop Morris for little or no gain.

Both discipline and strength will likely be something the Vikings look at when addressing Rayford. Both are important qualities for defensive linemen to possess and can both hurt a team if they don’t possess them.

Play No. 3
In this next play, Rayford is playing left defensive end and is responsible for covering the Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno. When the ball is snapped, Moreno runs out of the backfield and up field on a wheel route.

If Rayford were to drop back a little bit, he likely would have been in good shape to make a play on the ball or would have forced Peyton Manning to throw the ball elsewhere. Instead, Rayford ran up, seemingly thinking Moreno would run a short route to the sidelines. This then allowed the running back to easily get around him and be open to receive Manning’s pass.

It is not likely that Rayford will be forced to cover many players on passing downs, but it is still a skill defensive linemen need to have. This will be something he will have to work on because you never know when he will be asked to cover a running back again.

Play No. 4
Rayford is once again lined up as the left defensive end in this play, and is lined up across the line of scrimmage from the Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. The play is a run to the opposite side of the line, but Rayford is still able to get over there and make the stop.

Once the ball is snapped, Rayford can see which way the play is going and is able to get inside pressure on Thomas. He is then able to move behind the line of scrimmage and get to running back Ronnie Hillman before he gets into the end zone.

There have been some plays shown earlier that showed Rayford might lack some strength, but on this play he showed that he is able to use leverage to his advantage – especially against a tight end like Thomas, who is not known for his blocking ability.

It is not yet clear what Rayford’s role, if any, with the Vikings will be. It is possible that they thought he showed promise during the veteran combine and wanted to see what he could do in training camp and potentially earn a roster spot. That, however, is far from guaranteed.

But there is also the possibility that Rayford earns a spot on the Vikings roster and is able to earn playing time as a rotational player. Barring injury, he won’t be a starter for the Vikings, but it is possible he sees the field on special teams and even defensive end.

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