It only took about a half an hour into free agency for the Buffalo Bills to make their first big splash by signing defensive back Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the most versatile defenders in all of free agency, and the Bills hit a home run in terms of his scheme fit and contract.
The money is modest annually, basically paying Hyde the same amount they were paying Aaron Williams. As we all know, Williams’ long term health was in question, and the organization made the right move by releasing him. The annual amount falls in line with the pay of most #3 corners (slot CB), which is where I think he will play most of his snaps.
In my opinion, Hyde offers more versatility and obviously more stability long term than Williams, at this point. Last season was Hyde’s 5th with the Packers, who drafted him in the 5th round. As much as I love the signing, I will acknowledge that it is surprising that the Packers organization didn’t re-sign him. Typically, GM Ted Thompson likes to re-sign the talent that he has hand picked. But, in the end, they have a bunch of young guys on the roster that they will move forward with.
In 2016, Hyde started most of the games from the slot corner position in Dom Capers’ defense, where he had a very productive season. He concluded the season with 50 solo tackles, including 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 6 QB pressures. That’s incredible production for a guy that was labeled a ‘tweener’ coming out of college from the University of Iowa.
Hyde is 6’0″, 197 pounds and has good arm length at 31.5 inches. With Buffalo having needs at safety and cornerback, where do they plan on playing him? You’re guess is as good as mine, but he has some very good traits that will translate.
Doug Whaley has always valued speed since becoming GM of the Bills, but Hyde is not necessarily cut from that cloth. He ran the forty yard dash back in 2013 in the 4.56 range, which is right in line with safeties Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman, who were on McDermott’s defense in Carolina.
The Packers utilized Hyde as a force player in their nickel package. This is an important role nowadays because of the run support responsibilities and the type of receivers that align in the slot.
As you can imagine, Hyde has to make up for his lack of top end speed with intelligence. His ability to diagnose, process and execute is much faster than his forty time. Scouts refer to this as play speed. The root of it can manifest on the field in many ways, including knowing how an offense is going to attack a certain defense and recognizing route combinations, but it can also come from many hours of film study and and applying it on the field. While in Green Bay, Hyde would attend both safety and corner meetings on a daily basis and it is abundantly clear that Hyde does his homework.
In week six of the 2016 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott runs a simple run-pass option (RPO) against the Packers’ defense. The offense is in a stacked WR set and the Packers defend it with Hyde in press versus WR Butler and CB Goodson in off coverage. With that much space, Prescott fires it outside to Beasley. Hyde holds his leverage and Goodson comes up for the tackle. A three yard gain and not much harm done.
Flash forward to the Divisional round of the playoffs against the same team. Hyde shows off his mental processing, play speed, and ball skills in dramatic fashion. The Cowboys utilize the same motion from a trips bunch set, and on the snap Dak one steps and fires it out wide. Bryant is unable to get a piece of Hyde, and he picks it off to end Dallas’ drive. Incredible recognition displayed by Hyde.
That type of intelligence and instincts is something that the Bills’ staff will welcome after a down year in 2016. Hyde should flourish in this defense with the multitude of disguised and trap coverages that the staff will implement.
Based on his years in Green Bay, in my opinion, Hyde is primarily a zone defender. Although he is listed as a safety, he plays with zone corner instincts. He has very disciplined ‘zone eyes’ and is very good at recognizing routes and combinations with the depth of the QB’s drop.
On this play, the Vikings are in the red zone and employ a 3×1 WR set to the top of the screen. Hyde is the hook to curl defender to the top. Post snap, the Packers drop into cover 2 with a defensive lineman dropping into the shallow zone. Hyde checks the vertical release of the #2 WR, then gets his eyes on Bradford. Sam gets sloppy with his eye discipline and zeroes in on the TE Rudolph. Hyde recognizes that Sam’s front shoulder and eyes are aimed at Rudolph, so he plants and makes a play on the ball.
This was just a heady play by the veteran, and that kind of spatial awareness could lead to opportunities on the defensive side in 2017.
He possesses the recognition of a corner, and the thought of him possibly playing outside crossed my mind, but is not likely. He’s aligned in the slot to the top of the screen. Hyde diagnoses the combo and takes away the in breaking route right at the first down marker. This shows very good awareness, communication, and change of direction.
The former Hawkeye has been groomed in one of the most diverse defenses in the NFL. It is a defense that utilizes a lot of coverage concepts. Hyde appeared to be one of the leaders in that secondary; anytime there was motion and the coverage changed, you would see him setting the defense. On this play, he does just that. The offense motions to get Hyde matched up versus Dez Bryant. Hyde has inside leverage as the ball is snapped, and he opens up to the sideline expecting Bryant to run deep. Bryant runs a dig, but Hyde remains calm, quickly flips his hips, and helps take away Dak’s primary WR.
His lack of speed can sometimes lead to struggles in man coverage versus fast/shifty WRs. The Packers did a great job of preventing that kind of matchup for most of the year, but it isn’t totally preventable. Take this play versus the Vikings. Hyde has inside leverage on 3rd down and is matched up with the WR Diggs. Diggs sticks inside and runs to the back corner of the end zone, while narrowly catching the pass for the touchdown.
He is a competitive player who doesn’t get intimidated. In fact, he likes the challenge. The Vikings routinely attacked him with speed. Hyde utilizes the 5 yard contact box, gets his hands on the receiver, and as the receiver breaks inside he quickly peeks in the backfield and changes direction with Diggs. This is a fantastic display of mental toughness and belief in his skills to force fourth down.
Hyde possesses very good ball skills for a so called ‘safety’. On this play, he is in off coverage in the slot to the top of the screen. He shuffles until the receiver exceeds the ‘quick’ route depth. The receiver bends it to the post, so Hyde breaks on it and makes another play on the ball.
In man coverage he will give up his fair share of catches. In 2016, he allowed 58 receptions for 642 yards and 6 TDs (in 19 games). The longest reception he gave up was this 32-yarder to Rishard Matthews. Hyde actually is with Matthews step for step, but as he begins tracking the ball over his shoulders he slightly loses balance. This doesn’t allow Hyde to make a play on the ball at the catch point. It’s a display of good coverage and ball tracking skills, but he just has to clean up at the catch point.
He may not be your typical cover 1/3 center fielder, but he can still run with most NFL talent. Don’t believe me? Watch him cover running back Theo Riddick down the field. He does a great job of playing the man, then squeezing the running back to the sideline.
After looking over several games from his past two seasons, one thing I noticed was that he really wasn’t utilized like a normal safety. He wasn’t used a often in single high looks or two high sets; he mainly played the slot. As a result, he was rarely in the tackle box making run stops. This was one of those rare occasions where he dropped into the box and made a run stop.
Most of the run stops were off the edge on run blitzes like this or tackles several yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
This is not a bad thing, but that is the way the Packers utilized him. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered 11 total tackles versus the run all season. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Bills plan on using him.
Part of the reason the coaching staff and front office targeted Micah Hyde was due to his pass rushing ability. In 2016, McDermott rushed his corners a total of 42 times. Between the two corners that split duty as the slot corner in Carolina, they rushed the QB 23 times and created nine total pressures. The main rusher was Leonard Johnson, and he finished the season 3rd in pass rush productivity (22.6%) among all corners who started 50% of snaps. Hyde rushed the passer the 2nd most in 2016. He attacked the QB 7.4% of the time (32 snaps) and registered two QB hits and five QB hurries. On this play, Hyde rushes from field. As Witten crosses the formation to pick him up, Dak senses pressure so he hops up into the pocket. Hyde recognizes it and changes the angle of his rush. The sudden change of direction is too much for Witten, and Hyde registers the sack.
Check out this play. Hyde is aligned as an outside linebacker, and he rushes Andrew Luck. He temporarily loses contain, but continues to pressure, and it leads to an interception.
Micah Hyde was a very, very smart signing. He is pegged as a ‘versatile’ player for good reasons. He has good size and speed. He could quite easily play any of the defensive back positions in Frazier’s cover 2 defense or McDermott’s cover 3 defense. According to NFL.com, he was a three team captain in high school, and held the captain title for the Packers in their play off matchup against the Giants.
He is a leader on the field; he consistently helped get the secondary in their proper coverages. His prized trait, though, is his intelligence. He displays the ability to process and react accordingly to what is going on in front of him. This includes diagnosing run vs. pass, routes, and concepts. From the safety position he has just enough range to play center field if needed, but will fit perfectly in a half field role.
His main role in Green Bay was as a slot corner. He leverages the ball and takes really good angles versus the run. In the passing game, he can matchup with any tight end and/or running back in man coverage. He uses his hands well within the contact box to help him stay in phase during the receiver’s drive phase. He can struggle at times versus shifty receivers due to slight stiffness in his hips, but he will never back down from the challenge. In fact, that competitive toughness is what makes him a great player. Overall, the Bills’ staff should feel comfortable with him playing man coverage in the short to intermediate areas versus any style of receiver.
Teams tried attacking him on multiple occasions on 3rd and medium. Hyde sometimes gave up the reception, but made a sure tackle in the open field to force 4th down.
His open field tackling on bigger WRs and tight ends is one of his strengths. In zone coverage, he possesses very good ‘zone eyes’, trusts them, and utilizes his instincts to make plays on the ball.
The defensive staff will enjoy having a player like Hyde on the roster. He gives them freedom. He can tackle, blitz and cover. But where he can be maximized is versus tight ends and running backs. If the staff is able to match him up versus the Gronkowskis, Dwayne Allens, Julius Thomases of the league, then that will help defend the middle of the field to a greater extent. Hyde will be able to neutralize those big bodied tight ends and receivers and will not intimidated by them. If he loses a play and they catch the ball, then he will minimize yards after the catch with his sure tackling.
Hyde displays the ability to carry bigger receivers and tight ends down the seam if necessary, something that will assuredly be asked of him if McDermott incorporates his cover 3 match defensive concepts. This is important, considering the utilization of receivers and tight ends down the seams by the Pats and many other teams to open up the underneath routes for the smaller, shiftier receivers.
All in all, Hyde is going to be McDermott’s ‘swiss army knife’. He has the ability to return punts and contribute on all of the special teams units. But there is no doubt that McDermott and Frazier will use him all over the field, match him up with tight ends and running backs, and ask him to be the leader of the secondary. This is the most important role on a Sean McDermott led team.