What can New York Jets fans expect from Ronald Blair? A look at his strengths and weaknesses through the analytics tells all.
Ronald Blair has been a rotational player throughout his career, averaging 25.1 defensive snaps per game over 47 appearances. In 2019, his most recent season, Blair averaged 23.1 snaps per game over eight appearances prior to a game that he left due to a season-ending ACL injury. That season, he took the field for 39% of San Francisco’s defensive plays in his average appearance, always playing at least 27% of the snaps but never more than 53%.
Blair is a proven good fit for Robert Saleh and the New York Jets‘ wide-nine scheme. He lined up at 5-technique defensive end on the majority of the snaps under Saleh, stationing outside of the offensive tackle on 84.8% of his plays from 2017-19. In his 2016 rookie season (the year prior to Saleh’s arrival), Blair was utilized in a more versatile fashion as he played only 27.7% of his snaps outside of the offensive tackle, frequently lining up on the interior. Blair was moved outside when Saleh entered the building in 2017.
The Niners dropped Blair into coverage every once in a blue moon. He logged 29 snaps in coverage over 47 career games. Blair wasn’t too bad in the role, allowing one catch for 25 yards over three targets.
When we last saw Blair, San Francisco favored using him in rushing situations. In 2019, Blair faced a run play on 42.7% of his defensive snaps, which ranked at the 81st percentile among qualified edge defenders.
Playmaking against the run
There is a reason that San Francisco leaned towards using Blair on run-downs in 2019. While Blair is not an amazing pass rusher (more on that later), he is very good at tracking down the football to make plays against the run. Throughout his career, he has consistently racked up run stops at a solid rate for the EDGE position.
Here is a look at Blair’s career production in terms of pressure rate (percentage of pass-rush snaps in which he was credited with a pressure) and run stop rate (percentage of run defense snaps in which he made a tackle that constituted a failed play for the offense), including his percentile ranks among qualified edge defenders each season.
Blair only played 199 total defensive snaps across nine games in 2019, but his run defense was fantastic over that small sample. He recorded nine run-stops over a mere 85 snaps against the run. For the sake of demonstrating how tremendous that is, the Jets’ most-used edge rusher in 2020 (Tarell Basham) had 10 run stops over 273 snaps against the run.
In all four of his seasons, Blair ranked above the 50th percentile in run stop rate. Over the course of his career, Blair has 31 run stops across 430 snaps against the run, a very solid rate of 7.2% (2020 EDGE average: 5.8%).
Blair’s stops against the run tend to be splashy, as they typically occur close to the line of scrimmage. In each of his past three seasons, Blair ranked at the 70th percentile or better in terms of the average depth of his tackles against the run, with a mark of under 2.0 yards downfield in each season.
Blair is not an effective producer of pressure, but when he does win, he converts his victories into sacks at a strong rate.
For his career, Blair has been credited with 59 pressures, and 15 of those were sacks (he has 13.5 sacks: 12 full sacks and 3 half-sacks). That’s a 25.4% rate – in 2020, the average edge defender turned only 16.4% of his pressures into sacks.
Blair’s sound tackling ability is the primary reason he has been able to finish sacks at a strong rate. He has a career tackle-to-missed tackle ratio of 10.8-to-1, significantly better than the 2020 EDGE average of 5.5.-to-1. Since 2017, Blair has an even better ratio of 13-to-1.
Blair has only three career penalties over 1,180 snaps, an average of 2.5 penalties per 1,000 snaps. That’s much lower than the 2020 EDGE average of 4.5.
As displayed in the graphic above, Blair has never been a dynamic pass rusher. His best percentile ranking among edge defenders in pressure rate was a 42nd-percentile placement in 2018 with a 9.2% pressure rate. Blair’s career pressure rate is 8.1%, which is fairly below the typical going rate for edge defenders (2020 EDGE average: 9.7%).
Blair is very hot-and-cold as a rusher. He picks up his wins in bunches. Back in 2018 – the season in which he has gotten by far the most playing time – Blair had three pressures or more in seven games, but he had one or zero pressures in eight games.
Blair hasn’t displayed a nose for making game-changing plays. He has only one forced fumble and one fumble recovery apiece and is yet to record an interception, pass deflection, or safety.
Blair played perfect 16-game seasons in 2016 and 2018, but he missed 10 games in 2017, seven games in 2019, and all 16 games in 2020. He has played 47 out of 90 possible regular-season games (52.2% / 9.4 games per year). A thumb injury ailed Blair in 2017, while an ACL injury sustained in Week 10 of the 2019 season kept him for the remainder of that campaign and all of 2020.
As made evident in this recent ranking of all 32 defensive lines in the NFL, the Jets’ one major weakness up front is their run-stopping ability on the edge. While the unit boasts a ton of pass-rush pop thanks to Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, and even the upside of Bryce Huff, none of the three aforementioned players are above-average run defenders. Kyle Phillips is the unit’s only player who has shown a consistent track record of good run defense.
If healthy, Blair should help the Jets significantly in this area. He has the edge-setting prowess that the Jets lacked and can compete with Phillips for snaps on run downs.
Now with two quality run defenders on the edge, the Jets may not have to feel forced into kicking John Franklin-Myers out to a full-time edge role. Pushing Franklin-Myers and his 288-pound frame to the edge has seemed like a possible option due to the Jets’ lack of run-stopping ability at the position, but Blair’s presence increases the odds that the Jets can comfortably leave Franklin-Myers in his interior role full-time, allowing him to stay at the position where he had an elite season as a pass rusher in 2020.
Nice work by Saleh and Joe Douglas, addressing a specific weakness on the roster with a familiar face.
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