Last year, BYU had its highest NFL Draft pick since 1982 (Jim McMahon) when Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was the Detroit Lions 5th overall selection, despite starting less than 10 games in his college career. While it was BYU’s first draft pick since 2010, the BYU talent pool has grown substantially in the past few seasons, and the team can expect to have at least three selections come April.
Despite losing a top five selection in Ansah this year, the team returns its BEST defensive player. While Ansah was the flash that brought excitement to fans and wonder to NFL scouts, Kyle Van Noy’s uniqueness and versatility as a prospect returns to this BYU defense and now at the forefront of NFL scouts’ attention.
Van Noy isn’t the type of “freak athlete” that Ansah was, but it’s his natural force as a rusher, true versatility to play nearly every linebacker spot in any scheme, and vision as a run stopper that should allow BYU to have another Top 20 selection by May.
A Nevada born top high school recruit, Van Noy was recruited by nearly every Pac-12 team and more BCS conference teams across the country, but landed on BYU after leading his team (as a receiver and linebacker) to an undefeated state title season in 2008. Playing immediately as a freshman, Van Noy has made 23 starts since his freshman year and has never missed a game in his BYU career.
Most downs, Van Noy is lined up as a strong side outside linebacker in the BYU 3-4 defense, playing opposite Ezekiel Ansah most plays. His most impactful role on the defense is his pass rushing ability, where he’s able to generate tremendous force and sudden hand exchange. Thanks to powerful core strength and lower body power, Van Noy is consistently able to win initially with his leg drive and maintain his balance and forward progress after engaged. He possesses fantastic balance as a bull rusher to win the initial drive and then shed laterally with his hands, working inside at a very high level and still developing his outside hand rushes.
In the run game, Van Noy possesses elite ball carrier vision, playing with “controlled aggression” as well as any outside linebacker in college football in some time. Despite being first and foremost a pass rusher, Van Noy consistently is able to transition from his downfield speed to playing wide, using his shoulder, and leveraging his body to be in ideal position for the ball carrier. Staying at home on the backside to prevent reverses, Van Noy takes ideal angles from the backside, utilizing his vision of running lanes to reach the ball carrier and his elite speed and body control for a linebacker to consistently make plays downfield.
What’s most remarkable, at least in my eyes, about Van Noy is his natural versatility as a linebacker prospect. Just in 2012 alone, he’s worked as a strong-side and weakside 3-4 linebacker, play in a 5-technique location (standing up, though), work as an inside linebacker in both run and pass rushing situations, and make 3-4 and 4-3 drops in coverage. That versatility speaks not only to his ability to play in different schemes, but actually transition to multiple positions in multiple schemes in the NFL.
Maybe his most unique and modern-day NFL important talent as a linebacker is his remarkable ability as a “spy” linebacker. As a spy in the BYU system, he’s focus is tracking the quarterbacks movements and making sure he doesn’t escape the backfield as a runner, a role crucial now for both the NFL’s adaptation of option offenses and the sheer speed of many starting quarterbacks. Van Noy’s vision of the ball carrier through traffic and outstanding pass rush ability are the ideal duo to fill that spy role, a skill set that SHOULD be utilized by his future NFL team.
After seeing multiple teams struggle with controlling athletic quarterbacks and slowing the read option last year (most notably the Packers in the playoffs), Van Noy should be in high demand to be a “read option stopper” as he plays the outside linebacker role in the 3-4 and as a “spy” linebacker on 3rd downs.
Van Noy is not without weakness, however, and needs to make a handful of progressions to grow from unique and talented 1st round prospect to one of the elite prospects in a likely historically good 2014 draft class. He struggles mightily when asked to man pick-up in coverage, one of the biggest deterrents from him being completely NFL ready. He certainly possesses the fluidity, speed, and length to be successful, but far too often struggles to track the ball in the air and doesn’t have nearly good enough footwork to make those man coverage transitions. Also, as a pass rusher, he can play too “long” and leave his chest play open too often, allowing more polished hand placement offensive tackles slow him too easily.
Van Noy is a plus edge rusher, a highly instinctive and consistent run defender, a truly versatile front seven player, and a “master of the spy”. While he’s lost his most talented defensive teammate, he has plenty of talent around him in 2013 to have the Bednarik award-challenging season many in the college football and NFL Draft world believe he can have.
Similar in his role in college and versatility as a pro prospect to Von Miller, Van Noy should have high hopes for BYU this season and for his NFL future come May. He certainly isn’t expected to crack the Top 5 of the 2014 NFL Draft. But if he has the type of improvement and overall season that his college progression as lead-on, it may not be out of the question for Van Noy this season.