An All-22 Examination of Ricky Jean-Francois

With the Colts' 2012 Draft now in the books, it's time to continue assessing the recently acquired personnel with a breakdown of Ricky Jean-Francois, the free agent DL signed to a 4 year, $22m contract. On the face of it, the acquisition makes sense – Chuck Pagano is an avowed fan of the trenches and the importance of winning up-front, and RJF is able to play across the line in a variety of different fronts – exactly what Chuck looks for in his linemen. He'll likely occupy a starting DE spot in the Colts base 3-4 defense with the instruction to kick inside on passing downs when the Colts shift to a 4 man pass rushing front. 

In terms of price, the acquisition by Grigson makes sense in context when you consider the rest of the Colts' signings – medium sized fish for large sized contracts. While I take issue with the direction the Colts have taken this offseason – both in free agency and the draft – i'll address that another time. In the meantime, i'll do my best to illustrate what RJF can bring to the Colts defense moving forward.

The first play I've chosen to illustrate RJF comes from the 49ers vs. Patriots matchup – Week 15, 2012. You may remember the game in question as a game of two completely differing halves, with the first half dominated by the 49ers and the second by the Patriots. This play comes from the 4th quarter rally, where Brady is desperately trying to find some success in the pass game, the score at 38-31. It's a 3rd and 15 from the NE 45 with roughly 5:00 remaining in the game.

RJF is matched up opposite Nate Solder in a conventional 4-3 DE stance. Indeed, he's lined up much in the fashion of the man he'll be partially replacing on certain defensive fronts, Dwight Freeney. Thickness throughout the body does however distinguish RJF from Freeney, and plays a crucial role in the upcoming play.

 

Upon the snap, RJF moves as if for a conventional outside rush, with a twist. His lower body is performing everything expected of an attempt to turn the corner, while his upper body and main concentration is on disrupting Solder and forcing him inside. RJF has taken account of Brady's relatively deep drop and realises that there's an opportunity.

And despite the poor All-22 quality – you'd have thought the Patriots would have the best cameras around – i've tried to capture the moment where RJF fundamentally unbalances Solder and sets the stage for a sack of Brady. 

In the event, Solder is forced inside and allows RJF the easy outside rush. If we look from an alternative angle, all becomes clearer.

Here we can see RJF's stance and positioning on the outside shoulder of the tackle. He has a hand in the dirt and looks the part. 

The above frame is where you can really see what I was referring to earlier – his legs keep motoring outside while his upper body is focused on delivering disruptive power to Solder. 

The movement outside allows him to take in the situation and fully comprehend – Solder is completely on an island with the running back focused elsewhere, so RJF delivers a punch which forces the tackle inside.

Solder is off-balance and has to re-anchor to defend the rush, and in that moment RJF presses the advantage, and moves past the OT. 

Jean-Francois keeps his momentum going and finishes the play.

..and there you have it. 

The second play i've chosen comes from the last game of 2012, where the 49ers encountered the Arizona Cardinals – with predictable consequences. It's a 1st and 10 from the ARI 26 in a 10-6 ballgame. Roughly 10:54 remains in the 3rd quarter.

On this occasion, RJF is occupying the 5-technique spot, as I'm sure he'll be asked to do with great frequency for the Colts. He has Aldon Smith outside of him, though Smith's angle of rush gives RJF great latitude in what he's able to do inside. Daryn Colledge (#71 – G) is the blocker opposite.

Upon hearing the snap, the reaction is much as we saw before. He powers his legs with an angle suggesting an outside move, before focusing his attention on the disruption of Colledge via brute force.

He seems to be a fairly perceptive player in his pass rushing – he's able to discern where the quarterback (Brian Hoyer) is and the changing angles of attack which are required.

Much as with Solder, RJF eventually wins the battle and his outside position allows him the leverage to punch the blocker inside and move to the quarterback. A change in angle will again help.

The stance and defensive formation can be seen here with good clarity, and it's a fairly conventional 3-4 set with aggressive intentions. Willis and Bowman are sitting close to the LOS, allowing them to completely neutralise the middle against the pitiful Arizona offense. 

The outside motion with the feet can be seen here as he vies for leverage and a suitable angle.

Colledge doesn't perform adequately and as a result, RJF can take full advantage. The G's feet are locked – much as in Solder's case – and the time taken to recover is time utilised to great effect by the defender.

A last despairing lunge, circled in black, is all Colledge can do. 

All that's left is an unidentifiable mass of terrible quarterback.

For the third play, I've taken it way back to 2010 for a Battle of the Bay Area – 49ers vs. Raiders. It's an 8-point game, 1st and 10 Raiders from the OAK 29.

RJF is initially lined up inside as the NT in the 49ers 2010 3-4 defense. This means he's opposite Samson Satele, our questionable starter at C. 

The play begins with some hand sparring between RJF and Satele. Satele succesfully fends RJF off and backs off to protect against a shifting 49ers front.

Seeing an obstructed path ahead and after his initial failed charge, RJF determines an outside route to the QB will most likely bear fruit. He also takes a step off and stunts around the back of his fellow lineman.

Jared Veldheer at LT peels off to make the block and stymie the rush.

While it looks for a second as if RJF has the adequate angle to turn the corner and hit the QB, Veldheer does an admirable job by initially staying with him.

Here's the kicker – RJF shows impressive agility and smarts, and makes a jump cut back inside. This completely fools Veldheer – at this point a rookie.

RJF adds further momentum to Veldheer's erratic motion by shoving him as he moves past.

Jason Campbell – who by now has dawdled with the ball for several seconds – eventually decides to aimlessly jaunt through the centre of the pocket – to what proposed end, i'm not sure. 

What I do know is that in the event, Campbell tries a frankly ridiculous lateral/shovel to Michael Bush, which ends up as a fumble and a live ball on the ground. Fortuitously, Bush manages to recover.

The final play I've chosen for RJF comes – as with the Cardinals and Patriots examples – from his run in the team in 2012, with the injury concerns over Justin Smith toward the latter end of the year. Despite the 49ers' collapse in the game in question, while viewing tape this particularly play stood out in terms of his scrappiness and effectiveness in run defense. It's a 7-0 game in favour of the Seahawks with roughly 5:00 on the clock in the 1st quarter, with the play a 1st and Goal from the 9

The offensive play is fairly easy to transcribe – a power run off left tackle. The defense – poised in a conventional attacking 3-4 set – are employing the use of stunts on the defensive line, with RJF tasked to rush the perimeter and Aldon Smith assigned to dive back inside.

As Russell Wilson takes the snap, the battle between RJF and Russell Okung is joined. It's scrappy from the very start with vicious punching from each side. Aldon Smith is visibly curtailing his rush to gain an inside path.

I've circled Smith's effective throw move, employed on the blocking tight-end. Not only does it free up Smith's potential route to the quarterback, it creates more room in which RJF can struggle for penetration.

I ran with this play even though the viewpoint is a bit questionable from a still-frame perspective. Nonetheless, you can see here RJF (red) and Aldon Smith (black) wedged into the blockers, ready to disrupt.

The higher view actually aids us here, as you can see that RJF has scrapped his way past the LT to gain contain on the outside. His colleague lurks behind him to reinforce the front.

Fortunately for Smith, his presence isn't really required at the conclusion of the play. Jean-Francois gains a firm hold on Lynch, and despite the latter's power and heavy frame, it's a fairly simple tackle for no gain.

The 49ers pile on to Lynch, an indicator of the physicality of divisional games if nothing else. I like RJF's active demeanour on the play along with his ability to gain penetration and bring down one of the tougher runners league-wide.

Conclusions

Ricky Jean-Francois is a versatile, active lineman with clear ability when it comes to penetrating the pocket and providing a stout body up front. He'll add a new ingredient to the Colts' 3-4 DL group and perhaps imbue the defense with a winning attitude carried over from San Francisco. The doubts with RJF come in the form of his playing time and impact – he featured heavily in Justin Smith's stead and performed admirably, but as a featured player in a defense, how will he cope considering his history as a rotational lineman who hasn't ever played more than 27% of SF's defensive snaps? I'd certainly question the price tag, with $22m way too steep for the production on the field. I've shown 3 sacks in the plays diagrammed above, and there aren't any more to show. That's over $7.3m a sack, and while it's certainly a horrendous oversimplification to look at it in that light, there's a point in there somewhere. When you look to Tennessee and their remoulding of the G position, there's an argument that the money would better have been spent on a Louis Vasquez/Andy Levitre deal rather than the more patchwork effort we've seen.

The success of the signing will of course largely be determined by his production on the field in a Colts uniform, and from the 49ers tape what we can expect is what I laid out above. While I'm happy with the addition of a stout body in the defensive front, I do think that signing was a tad expensive. The challenge for Colts fans will be to view the signing from another prism  than that of finances and the salary cap – a recurring theme with the signings this offseason. Success in the W column will help.

Apologies for the drag on publishing the piece – had a lot of stuff to work through away from the keyboard. That's all for the Free Agents from this year, anyway – I'll have something on Kelvin Sheppard/Jerry Hughes up at some point soon to round off acquisitions.

@CA_Savage

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