FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' acquisition of defensive end/outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo from the Cleveland Browns for a 2017 fifth-round draft choice is another example of how the club targets potential assets with unique physical traits who have fallen out of favor with their teams because of a bad scheme fit, lack of production and/or coaching change.
It doesn't always work out -- a couple of notable examples come to mind from 2011 with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco -- but when the price is relatively low, the thinking is that it's worth taking a flier because of the upside with top-end physical traits.
The results, of late, have been impressive.
We saw it in 2014 with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Akeem Ayers in Tennessee. The athletic 2011 second-round draft choice (39th overall) got caught in a scheme change, was buried on the depth chart under a new coordinator and then came to life in New England after being acquired for a bargain-basement price. The Patriots assessed his strengths as a top athlete, fit him into a defined role in their scheme as a hybrid player and the solid results followed.
The re-signing of safety Patrick Chung that same year is another good example. Chung bombed in Philadelphia the previous season, often playing in the deep third of the field, and the Patriots brought him back to town with a different idea of how to utilize him than his first stint with the team (2009-2012). He's turned into a valuable cog on defense, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, covering opposing tight ends and providing valuable run support.
Others who fall into this category in recent years include defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (acquired in a 2015 trade), running back LeGarrette Blount (acquired in a 2013 trade) and cornerback Aqib Talib (acquired in a 2012 trade).
Score those as three wins for the team with players who were essentially discarded by their former clubs.
The Patriots hope this year's free-agent signing of 2012 Bears first-round pick Shea McClellin, who essentially had four different roles under three coordinators in Chicago, follows suit. The concept is the same: Apply the high-end physical traits of a once highly touted player to a defined role in the team's scheme (McClellin is a playing a hybrid end/outside linebacker role) and maybe the player comes to life.
As for Mingo, nobody is saying it will come to life in New England. He did not meet expectations in Cleveland; there's no disputing that.
The question is "why?" and that's often what the Patriots do a nice job assessing.
Was it because Mingo, playing under head coach Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton as a rookie in 2013, wasn't used in a way that played to his strengths and masked his deficiencies?
How did the coaching change the next two years, with head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil coming aboard, change things for Mingo?
In both cases, Mingo was used as a 3-4 outside linebacker. But not all 3-4 defenses are the same.
This year, Mingo was again playing under Horton, who returned to Cleveland as coordinator under new head coach Hue Jackson. They explored moving Mingo to inside linebacker, which was an indication of how the Browns' coaching staff was uncertain as to his best fit.
So was it a scheme issue? Or does Mingo, who has a thin frame and was reportedly 227 pounds at the end of the 2015 season before adding 20 pounds this offseason, just not have it?
The Patriots obviously believe it's more of the former.
In New England, coordinator Matt Patricia runs a multiple defensive scheme that former linebacker Jerod Mayo recently described as a 5-2. What that means is they essentially have two big-bodied defensive tackles in the middle and then five hybrid defensive end/linebacker types around them.
Mingo projects to fit somewhere into the group of five hybrids in the base defense, and perhaps could find a specialized role as a sub-package pass-rusher (e.g. could he duplicate Mark Anderson, who emerged from the scrap heap with a 10-sack season in 2011?). The Patriots were in sub packages more than 70 percent of the time last season, which is a growing trend in the NFL.
Maybe it turns out to be the right fit for Mingo, who now comes to a team whose track record of late in these situations is solid.