The Cleveland Browns had two picks in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. With their first pick, they selected interior defensive lineman Jordan Elliott of Missouri. And, following the selection of Elliott, the Browns picked linebacker Jacob Phillips of LSU with the second pick in the third round. Phillips was a highly productive college player, playing all three seasons at LSU. In 2019, he notched 113 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, and one pass defended. So, what are the Browns getting in their newest linebacker? In this week’s film room, I will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Phillips’ game. Let’s take a look.
Phillips is a very good tackler. He has excellent form when he wraps up the ball carrier. He will drive through the target and wrap his arms around the ball carrier to bring him down. It is not often that you see him try diving tackles that can cause him to miss the target. He has good strength to bring any size ball carrier down. He shows a good ability to make open-field tackles in one-on-one situations. Here are some examples of his strong tackling ability.
In the first play versus Auburn, Phillips comes up to the line and curls inside to meet the runner at the line of scrimmage. Philips is able to get both hands on the ball carrier and eventually help trip him up for a short gain. In the second play against Texas, Phillips is once again coming up to fill his gap. He is able to turn inside and then wrap the ball carrier up with both hands. He keeps the grip on the running back until he brings him down for a tackle. In the third play versus Miami, Phillips is able to avoid a blocker in the hole to get to the ball carrier. He drives through the target and brings the running back down with a nice wrapping tackle. In the final play against Miami, Phillips is met with an open field tackle opportunity. He does not allow the ball carrier to make a move, driving through the target to wrap up the ball carrier for a tackle.
Phillips is a tough, physical and strong linebacker around the line of scrimmage inside the box. He is willing and able to run through the traffic of the trenches to fight through blockers to get to a ball carrier. He is strong enough to stand stout against blockers, allowing him to fill holes and not get pushed out of the hole for the runner to get through. He shows a solid ability to break through blockers grasps to get free to make a play. He is a player who can handle life in the trenches. Here are some examples of his toughness and strength in the box and around the line of scrimmage.
In the first play versus Auburn, Phillips shows off his toughness and strength at the point of attack. He attacks the line and runs right at the lead blocker, keeping his ground to not allow the blocker to move him out of the way. With Phillips taking care of the lead blocker, his fellow teammates can make the run stop. In the second play against Auburn, Phillips once again aggressively attacks the line of scrimmage to take on the pulling blocker, who was leading the back into the hole. Phillips stands stout and closes up the hole that the running back was going towards. In the third play versus Texas, Phillips comes from the weakside and has to fight through a diving block from an offensive lineman. He is able to fight through the traffic and get the tackle on the other side of the formation. In the final play versus Miami, Phillips is on the left edge when he is faced with the pulling blocker. He takes the blocker on and is able to get through the block to get back up and help bring the ball carrier down.
Phillips is at his best when he is tasked to defend the run. He fulfills his run fit duties well. He is a linebacker who is almost always responsible in his run fit duties. He knows the lane, gap or area he is supposed to man and he does not often lose track of that responsibility. He will attack his area and make plays versus the run game. But, he also shows patience to not get too eager to attack his gap, allowing the play to develop before he attacks, keeping in position to make a stop. He shows his strength and speed in performing his run fit duties. Here are some examples of his strong play in his run fit responsibilities.
In the first play versus Auburn, Phillips is in charge of filling the A gap. He attacks the gap to take on the lead blocker, allowing his fellow teammates to come behind him free to make the run stop. In the second play against Texas, Phillips is in charge of the right end of the formation. He shows good patience to read the runner to track him to the hole he was going towards and help fill it to bring the runner down. In the final play versus Texas, Phillips is in charge of the left end gap. He watches the running back and shoots around the edge where he is able to meet the ball carrier and bring him down for a stop.
Phillips has good speed for a linebacker. His speed allows him to close quickly on the ball to make a stop. He can explode through a gap and close the distance very quickly. This closing speed helps him the most as a run defender. But, his closing speed also helps him as a blitzer. He shows great speed and burst to run through the line as a blitzer and get after the quarterback. Here are some examples of his really good closing speed.
In the first play versus Auburn, Phillips shows off his closing speed when he tracks the quarterback. He quickly sees the quarterback fumble the ball and shoots upfield to go after the quarterback. His speed causes the quarterback to just hastily fling the ball away before he gets hit. In the second play against Miami, Phillips is lined up just on the outside of the right edge of the box. He is able to track toward the sideline to help bring down the receiver who caught the screen pass. In the final play against Miami, Phillips is in the middle of the field and about seven yards off the line of scrimmage when he sees the quarterback start to scramble to the right flat. Phillips is able to track him down toward the sideline and meet him at the line of scrimmage alongside his teammate.
Phillips was not asked to do a lot in coverage. He did not cover many players in man coverage and when he did, he showed quite a bit of limitation. He struggled to quickly change directions to mirror the pass catcher. In zone coverage, he did not seem comfortable and his struggles of changing direction hurt him in this coverage, too. He is just limited in this area. Here are some examples of his struggles in coverage.
In the first play against Texas, Phillips is in the middle of the formation in zone coverage. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback the entire time and in doing so, he doesn’t cover any receiving target on the play and just moves to where the quarterback is looking. In the second play versus Texas, Phillips is in off-man coverage against the left slot receiver. The receiver makes a fake move to the outside at the top of his break and then runs inside. This move completely fools Phillips, causing the linebacker to jump a step outside which gives the receiver separation on the inside route. In the final play versus Texas, Phillips is once again in off-man coverage versus the left slot receiver. Phillips is left flat-footed by the receiver’s go route, causing the linebacker to simply just grab and tackle him for a pass interference flag to avoid getting beat downfield.
Phillips does not show great instincts or quick processing skills. He seems to be a tad slow on reading plays, causing him to not be in a position to make a lot of impact type plays. His lack of instincts and processing hurts him in coverage. He does really show great instinctive movements in zone coverage. Overall, he needs to improve on his ability to quickly diagnose plays. Here are some examples of his struggles with instincts and processing plays.
In the first play versus Texas, Phillips is in the box on the strongside against this screen pass. Phillips simply is too slow recognizing the screen set up. He flows with the play fake and is drawn toward the line of scrimmage, leaving him out of position to make a stop against the screen. In the second play versus Texas, Phillips is in the box on the weakside of the formation. He is once again too slow to pick up on the reverse, which causes him to run out of the play and too far away to recover in time to help make a stop. In the final play against Texas, Phillips is in the right A gap about five yards off the line of scrimmage. Texas runs a read play and ends up handing the ball off to the running back. The mesh play freezes Phillips and causes him to just stand in place. He takes too long to attack the line of scrimmage, leaving him in no position to help make the run stop.