The Colts’ defense surprised a lot of people as a ton of players put together career best seasons. Slot cornerback Kenny Moore II proved that he was one of the best players in the league at his position as he made numerous big plays on the year. Journeyman corner Pierre Desir also made a name for himself, particularly when he locked down players such as DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper late in the year. Perhaps the most underrated player on the defense, though, was defensive tackle Denico Autry.
Autry has been a solid player throughout his NFL career, tallying 10.5 sacks in his first four seasons with the Raiders. He had a reputation as a big defensive end who was a pretty dominant run defender. Chris Ballard saw the skillset and decided to sign him to a three year, 17.8 million dollar contract last offseason. After a slow start plagued by injuries, Autry was converted to defensive tackle late in the year and excelled in this new role. He notched a career high of 9 sacks and earned his first career Pro Bowl alternate designation.
While Autry may be a household name among the Colts’ fanbase, the rest of the league appears to be unaware of the season he just had. So for today’s film room, I’m going to look back at some of the best pass rushing reps by the talented defensive tackle and talk about how I think he could even surpass his career numbers he put up last season.
For a defensive end who was moved inside, Autry plays with a ton of power in his game. He overpowers offensive guards in one on one situations and is agile and quick enough to counter after doing so. On this play, he is lined up one on one with the Texans’ left guard. He is quick off the snap and hits the guard’s outside shoulder with a powerful club. This knocks the guard completely off balance as Autry works his way into the backfield. The guard is able to recover a bit, but Autry again simply tosses him aside en route to Deshaun Watson. He doesn’t get the sack on this play, but he does disrupt the pocket and force the inaccurate pass with this powerful rush.
Again, Autry shows off his power on this rep. He explodes off the snap as he quickly engages the right guard on the play. He hits a quick club with his left hand to gain initial separation before re-engaging to drive the pocket. He then gets his strong right hand into the chestplate of the guard and drives him backward. Notice how much ground the guard gives up on this play with the powerful rush by Autry. Cody Kessler then steps up out of the collapsing pocket right into Autry’s arms for the sack.
So I have showcased his power so far against guards, but what about his quickness and lateral ability? Well he’s got that, too. On this play, he is much too quick with his initial move for the helpless guard. He sets up the move well by faking inside before coming back with his signature club which immobilizes the guard. He then quickly acts on his successful move by dipping around the guard for the free path to the quarterback. Although he misses the sack in the backfield, this is a really impressive move to get free for the near sack.
Another facet of Autry’s game is just his persistence as a rusher. Here, he sets up the last move he won on before coming inside with the bull rush. When that fails to work, he does a great job of not giving up on the play. He gets his head up then goes back to his patented club move to create separation. He then levels the unsuspecting quarterback and even forces a fumble on the play that he nearly recovered. Great counter and heads up play to stay persistent and get the sack late in the game.
The speed and quickness he has inside creates so many mismatches. That speed, combined with Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus’ great scheme, creates an easy sack here. Something Eberflus did late last season to create pressure was to have his dline shift gaps right before the snap. This would create miscommunication on opposing offensive lines and lead to unblocked players and easy sacks. Here, Autry gets a free rush due to that late shift. Although most of this sack is due to that late shift, Autry’s explosion off the snap is so quick that Watson and the offensive guard are unable to react at all on the play. Great scheme with a very good rush by Autry as well.
Yet another aspect of Autry’s game that is very underappreciated is how he fares against double teams. He may not be able to overpower them but he does a great job of staying active and exploding through any opening in the line. Here he is doubled up the middle by the guard and the center. Autry attacks the inside shoulder of the guard and puts pressure on the double team immediately. He is so quick with how he shoots this gap that the center is forced to pull him to the ground for a hold on the play. Excellent rush to disrupt the offense and draw the penalty.
Speed, power, and active hands make Autry so hard to contain in one on one blocks. Here, the Cowboys’ backup guard is given the daunting task of slowing down one of the league’s better interior pass rushers. Autry knocks him off balance with an initial jab to the inside shoulder. After knocking the guard inside, Autry then changes direction and works up field. He uses the leverage that he gained earlier in the move to swipe the outside shoulder and get his final separation. He then finishes off the play by burying Dak Prescott for the sack. Outstanding rush that very few interior pass rushers can pull off.
In a season where Chris Ballard drafted two All-Pro players and signed a Pro Bowl tight end, Denico Autry may still be the most impressive find. Finding a player who can defend the run like Autry earlier in his career is important, but when he turns out to be a really good pass rusher as well, then that is an absolute steal. The Colts now have an ascending player on a very team friendly contract for the next two years as a result.
Could 2018 just be the start for Autry? By all accounts during training camp, it very well could be. Autry has reportedly been unblockable in camp, even giving First Team All-Pro Guard Quenton Nelson his fair share of struggles in drills. He was already a borderline Pro Bowl player last year and if he has even gotten better then the Colts have a legit playmaker on their defensive line.
Overall, I love the move inside for Denico Autry, and I am a big fan of his complete game. He is a talented player that also understands how to work for his sacks and production. He will be a great run defender as always next year and if he has improved his pass rush game even more, then he should be a Pro Bowler in 2019. I fully expect another great year from the veteran defensive tackle as he continues his climb to stardom.