2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Kenny Ladler, S Vanderbilt

October 6, 2012; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Marcus Murphy (6) is tackled by Vanderbilt Commodores safety Kenny Ladler (1) during the first quarter at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt Commodores have one of the more talented secondaries in the country and one of the reasons is their free safety Kenny Ladler.  He has nice combination of athleticism that allows him to play zone over the top or help in man coverage in the slot, which gives Vanderbilt’s defense a lot of options in how they want to employ their coverage.  As a junior, Ladler had 60 solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, one forced fumble, a fumble recovery, two interceptions, and a pass deflection.

Ladler offers a great deal of versatility in what he can offer in coverage, but his tackling and run defense need to improve for him to take the next step as a player.  He plays the safety position with ability like a corner, which is great, but he also tackles and plays the run like a corner, which is not so great.  Ladler’s value as a potential nickel as well as a free safety suggests he should be considered right around the top 100 area of the NFL Draft, but if he can improve as a run defender, he could easily end up being a solid day two prospect and securing himself a spot in the top 75.

Vitals & Build

Ladler is listed at 6’ 205lbs and incredibly athletic on the field.  He has quickness, fluid hips, and good speed.  Ladler looks strong but it does not play out that way on the field, so whether it is a matter of improving his functional strength or just engaging what he already has, he needs to play with more power.  That could open up his game significantly as well as some technical adjustments.  He appears to have the frame to do it and should not lose any of his athleticism in the process.

Tackling

Ladler is not an effective tackler when it comes to technique or his results.  He does not do a good job of breaking down and will get beaten because he is too high in space.  Ladler looks stronger than he plays as far as his tackling as he does not show much power.  He ends up lunging and leaving his feet too often.

Ladler does seem to be effective when it comes to grabbing ankles and legs but he looks tentative and uncomfortable as the last line of defense against running backs.  He usually wraps up pretty well but he needs to play lower and take more advantage of the strength in his legs.

More strength and more confidence would make a big difference but he really needs to make a better effort to embrace technique and put it to use to improve in this area, because it will hold him back from being the player he can be if he does not improve.

Run Support

Ladler diagnoses plays quickly and is willing to come downhill and support against the run but he ends up overrunning plays and taking himself out of position at times.  He takes poor angles at times and opens the door for some big plays.  If a tunnel presents itself, he gets into the box quick enough where he can make the play but not with as much power as one might expect.  He has terrific range to play the run and can get to plays all over the field if he can get better at finishing the play.

Ladler offers a player who can get all over the field and someone who can come up and support from a deep safety spot, so if he can improve as a tackler and clean up some technical issues, he can be a real asset against the run.

Coverage

Ladler offers teams a ton of options in coverage and he shows off a great deal of versatility in the Vanderbilt secondary.  He reads and diagnoses passes quickly and has a good understanding of where receivers are attacking and where he needs to support.  Ladler is extremely aggressive in zone and will go up and try to jump routes and is a good support safety to help in coverage.  He shows impressive closing speed when the ball is in the air and has a ton of range on the back end to help in coverage and make plays.

Additionally, Ladler shows ability to help in man coverage and looks the part of a corner in those situations.  He has shown the ability to cover receivers in the slot and does a great job of mirroring routes.  Athletically, he should have no problem matching up with tight ends but he needs to prove he can be strong enough to hang with them.

Between his instincts, athletic ability and technique, Ladler really allows the Commodore defense to operate in a number of different ways.  Being able to play so well in man as well as being a good center fielder in zone makes him extremely valuable against the passing game.

Ball Skills

Ladler demonstrates good ball skills and the ability to make plays on the back end of the defense.  He has shown he can go up and high point the football and has the speed to break on the ball and get in and break up plays.  He is aggressive when he gets the ball in his hands and looking to make plays.  At times that can result in him making some ill-advised choices on the path he takes and is not afraid to go across the entire field.

System Fit

Ladler’s best fit is as a free safety that can protect on the back end as a center fielder.  Because he can cover in the slot and take on receivers, he can be used as a nickel corner and give teams a big nickel package if he is not starting at free safety.  He has shown he can cover, he can blitz off the edge and it just adds more to his value to teams.  Ladler appears to be a good player in passing situations but he needs to improve as a run defender to make that big nickel have the benefits it is supposed to have.  He will also need to contribute on special teams.  Ladler has experience as a gunner on punt return, so that could be beneficial going forward.

Schedule

Thu, Aug. 29 vs. Ole Miss
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. Austin Peay
Sat, Sept. 14 at South Carolina
Sat, Sept. 21 at UMass
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. UAB
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Missouri
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Georgia
Sat, Oct. 26 at Texas A&M
Sat, Nov. 9 at Florida
Sat, Nov. 16 vs. Kentucky
Sat, Nov. 23 at Tennessee
Sat, Nov. 30 vs. Wake Forest

Notable Games

The first week of the year has Vanderbilt hosting Ole Miss and their talented wide receiver, Donte Moncrief.  When Moncrief is on his game, he demands help over the top from the opposing team’s safety and Ladler may be the guy who is tasked with that help.  Georgia forces him to try to do a better job against the running game as they have a terrific back in Todd Gurley while still having him facing a legitimate passing threat in Aaron MurrayJohnny Manziel presents another challenge for him as Ladler will likely be responsible for tracking Manziel when he tries to run the ball or shows option looks when they play Texas A&M.   Lastly, in the game against Wake Forest, Ladler might have some time in the slot and if that happens, he would be going against one of the best slot receivers in the country in Michael Campanaro.

NFL Comparison

Right now, his game could compare to Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills.  A corner coming out of Texas, he was moved to safety for the Bills but could play a few different spots depending on the situation.  Versatility and being on special teams allow both players to bring value but if Ladler can play with more strength, he can be more of an impact player and less of a role player.

Draft Projection

Ladler offers a great deal of versatility in coverage but his play in the running game does not leave onlookers with a ton of confidence at the moment.  Playing with better leverage and technique would definitely help but just having more functional strength would make him feel more confident which would probably help him as much as anything.  Until then, he looks the part of an intriguing role player that can could play in nickel, offer help as a safety, and special teams.  That package looks like it could go right around the top 100 area of the draft, but if he can become a better, more consistent run defender, he could really improve his stock and end up fighting for a spot in the top 75.

Topics: 2014 Mock Draft, 2014 NFL Draft, Kenny Ladler, Safeties, Vanderbilt Commodores Football

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