NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: Ladler

Kenny Ladler (Michael Chang/USA TODAY)

Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler can boast some of the best range, quickness and closing speed of any safety in the draft class. The hard-hitting Ladler, who had a hand in 10 turnovers as a senior, is dissected by NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas in this extensive scouting report.

Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler was the unquestioned leader of the Commodores' defensive unit since taking over those duties from Casey Hayward entering the 2012 campaign. Thrust into the starting lineup for nine games as a freshman, followed by six more appearances with the first unit as a sophomore, Ladler was the beacon for a young defense that came to rely upon his big play ability.

With his quick feet and hip flexibility, Ladler did an excellent job of not only mirroring the receivers and disrupting his opponent's route progression, but was the "ultimate savior" with his timely hits and "take no prisoners" approach to the game. His ability to track the ball in flight, along with outstanding leaping ability, saw him consistently win battles to get to the ball vs. much taller receivers, along with taking on big blockers and running backs after opponents managed to break free from the Vanderbilt front-seven defenders.

Throughout his career, Ladler has done more than his fair share of keeping his opponents out of the end zone. It is not hard to notice that he has the blazing speed to make plays at the opposite end of the field or when his linemen and linebackers fail to deliver in front of him.

In 50 games at Vanderbilt, Ladler delivered 63 touchdown-saving tackles after opponents broke free from other Commodores defenders, thinking that they had great opportunities to score. Forty of those touchdown-saving tackles came in run force, with another 23 resulting while defending vs. the pass.

Taking over the leadership role from Hayward in 2012, Ladler went on to become just the third defensive back in school history to lead his team in tackles during the course of a season, recording 90 hits as a junior, despite missing the Presbyterian clash due to an injury. The only other Commodore secondary performers to lead the squad in tackles were Manuel Young (102 in 1984) and Sean Richardson (98 in 2010).

In Ladler's personal version of "Can You Top This," he again led the team in tackles (91) during the 2013 schedule, making him the only defensive back in school annals to accomplish that goal. Additionally, since the Southeastern Conference began officially recognizing tackle figures in 1973, he is the only defensive back in the league to lead his team in tackles during consecutive seasons. In fact, he is only the 12th player, regardless of position, to lead Vanderbilt in tackles more than once in a career.

While the league's media strangely "missed the target" by according the free safety only second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors in 2013 (the SEC coaches named him to their first team), it is clear that those selections speak "volumes" for politics. Only Mississippi's Cody Prewitt (six) had more interceptions this season than Ladler's five thefts. The only defensive back in the league to register more tackles this year than the ‘Dores' safety is Alan Turner of Arkansas (97).

Among all the players on 123 teams in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks, only one of those performers recorded more that Ladler's school season record-tying five forced fumbles in 2013. He paced the Commodores with five interceptions and also deflected five other throws. On 92 passes targeted into his area, opponents have just 21 completions (22.83%) to show for their efforts, as he rerouted/jammed his pass coverage assignments away from 38 of those attempts, in addition to defending vs. 10 other throws.

Kenny Ladler

Vanderbilt University Commodores

6:00.1-207

Body Structure

Ladler has an athletic build with minimal body fat, along with room to carry additional bulk if a team decides to utilize him as a strong safety. He has good upper- and lower-body muscle definition with a good bubble and solid thickness in his thighs and calves. He has a well-developed frame that is built for power and has room to add more bulk without any loss in quickness. He shows good overall muscle tone with broad shoulders, a thick chest, good arm length and a long wingspan that he uses with great effectiveness going up to compete for jump balls. He displays a good bubble with thick thighs and tapered calves. He has a lean waist with minimal body fat. He has a tight waist and hips, along with tapered thighs and calves. With his overall muscular development and above average quickness, along with loose hips, he is an ideal candidate for the free safety position at the next level.

Athletic Ability

Ladler has cat-like quickness and above-average speed for his position. He shows very good footwork, agility, balance and body control, staying low in his pads when coming up to make plays in front of him. He has valid speed and range to make plays at the opposite end of the field, evident by his major college-leading 16 touchdown-saving tackles vs. the run and 11 more vs. the pass, coming out of his area to make the tackle (see 2013 South Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee). The thing you see on film is his ability to use his fine balance to change direction effortlessly. He possesses smooth hips and quick feet in transition, enough to possibly see some sub-package action as a Cover-2 linebacker and most definitely as a slot/nickel back in the professional ranks. He shows the ability to accelerate and generate that second gear needed to quickly close on the ball. He has fluid change-of-direction agility and above-average flexibility to make plays from sideline to sideline, demonstrating valid hands and excellent leaping ability to compete for the ball at its high point. He also knows how to use his arms effectively to reach over and around the receiver to make the pass deflection or simply disrupt the receiver's route progression. He demonstrates valid hands and excellent leaping ability to compete for the ball at its high point.

Football Sense

It is very rare to see him lose focus, especially on the top end. He has a "linebacker's mentality" when it comes to stepping into the box and support vs. the run. He picks up stunts easily and has very good awareness when eyeballing the quarterback, as even the best passers can not fool him with play action or misdirection. He is smart and instinctive enough to make the calls and handle the assignments in the secondary. He needs only minimal reps to retain and does a good job of taking the plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He plays with solid football instincts and awareness. He shows the ability to anticipate the receiver's moves and should not have any problems handling the mental aspect of a complicated playbook. He is a highly intelligent player and will have no problems digesting a complicated playbook. He has a "take no prisoners" approach on the field and even though he has no concern for his own safety, he is not the type that will overpursue or get too reckless on the field. He is an intense player with good field savvy, making quick decisions that are usually right. He takes the plays from the chalkboard to the playing field immediately. Ladler is the type who picks up plays quickly. He shows very good field vision and awareness. He keeps his head on a swivel, doing a nice job of tracking the ball in flight. Ladler is an instinctive player who generally makes proper calls. He is a good student of the game, with the ability to man either safety position. He has very good field vision and is quick to make his reads and break down the plays. The mental aspect of the game has proven to be no problem for him. His quick instincts and knowledge of both man and zone concepts will see him contribute immediately in nickel and dime packages.

Competitiveness

Ladler plays with great emotion and desire, knowing he has the ability to deliver crunching tackles when asked to play near the line of scrimmage (see 2013 South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee games). He competes with a total disregard for his own safety and is the type that plays through pain. Wherever the coaches want him to play, whatever scheme they need him to perform in, Ladler is more than up to the task, having experience at both safety positions, in addition to excelling on special teams (see 2012 South Carolina, Northwestern, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wake Forest; 2011 South Carolina, Army and Florida games). He is a tough, physical tackler who gives total effort until the whistle. He plays with a high intensity level, whether in games or practices. His toughness lets him compete in the box, as he relishes mixing it up in the trenches. He is fun to watch on the field, as he is the type that will hit anything that gets into his territory. He competes with good aggression and is a high-motor type that will always hustle in pursuit. While he shows no fear when throwing his body around with a vengeance in run support, he is surprisingly durable for a player his size and can deliver with solid "oomph" behind his hits. He has no fear and while he likes to hit vs. bigger opponents, he is equally effective and aggressive taking on lead blockers or using his hands to jam or reroute receivers in press coverage. He also impresses with his strength, which allow him to face up to offensive linemen in run support, as he will not hesitate to combat in the trenches, showing great run support skills when stepping up in the box. He plays with good urgency and is quick to digest the play. He is not the type who will get reckless with his hands when competing for the jump balls (no pass interference penalties or defensive holding penalties as a senior). What impresses me about this talent is that he is a fearless defender that attacks the ball well and shows no hesitation when asked to step up inside the box to help neutralize the run.

Key and Diagnostic Skills

Ladler has keen football instincts and field awareness. He shows good urgency taking proper angles to close and shows a good feel in zone coverage to pick up and anticipate on the switch-off and combo routes. He processes the action in front of him well and gets a quick jump on the ball in run support. It is rare to see him get caught out of position, but even if he does get a little overaggressive at times, he is quick to recover and has the second gear and loose hips to get right back on the play. Once he finds the football, he closes ground in a hurry. His timing is excellent going up and timing his leaps to deflect the pass at its high point (see 2013 UAB, Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee games). Whether dropping back to play in the shallow zone or stepping into the box to plug the gaps at the line of scrimmage, Ladler's keen instincts and field vision have him always in position to make the play. He has a good feel for blocking schemes and makes sudden reads off the snap to keep the ball in sight. He reacts decisively to the run or pass and is quick to jump into the play. It is rare to see him caught out of position, as he has a very good feel for blocking schemes. The thing you notice on film in is his improvement keeping his shoulders squared (used to turn them slightly) when tackling, doing a nice job of holding position at the point of attack. Against plays in front of him, Ladler is quick to react, taking good angles to close on the ball. He is very effective in press coverage, and as aggressive as he is as a wrap-up tackler, you will never see him spend too much time attacking his man rather than playing off them. He seems to always anticipate the quarterback's moves, making those quick decisions when working in the box, rarely ever jumping the play before it develops or doing something foolish that will result in costly penalties. When operating in the deep zone, he reacts well to the ball in flight, showing very good timing, leaping ability and extension away from his frame to make the big interception. When working on deep routes, he has the speed to recover when beaten. The thing you see constantly on film is his ability to identify his keys and react in an instant as the play develops (no need to digest).

Man Coverage Ability

Ladler was used more to cover the deep part of the field, but has no problems "manning up" in pass coverage, evident by the 32 times he jammed and/or rerouted receivers away from balls thrown into his area as a senior (see 2013 South Carolina, Massachusetts, UAB, Missouri, Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee games). He shows the foot quickness and body control to make smooth and quick adjustments on the move and with his acceleration he is quick to close on plays in front of him. He has the functional speed to run stride-for-stride with the quicker receivers one-on-one, and he shows good hand usage to prevent the route progression of most of his opponents. Working in the intermediate area or over the middle of the field, his ability to make good angles lets him mirror the slot receivers with great ease (only eight of the 82 passes thrown into his area produced first downs in 2013 and just two were completed for more than 20 yards). He has very good balance and feet, which allow him to stay tight on running backs and tight ends when accelerating to the ball in the short area. Ladler possesses the acceleration to quickly recover if beaten. His size makes him very capable of handling the larger receivers and most tight ends on the underneath routes. When given the opportunity to press, he knows how to use his size to his advantage, as receivers struggle to shield the ball from him. He can reroute, flip and run, showing crisp stop-and-go action. Whether playing the man tight or loose, Ladler somehow always manages to be in good position to make the play. He can mirror the tight end with ease, and also displays very good ability to "man up" vs. the speedy outside receivers. He keeps position well and is not the type that will "eyeball" the backfield too long. With his loose hips and quickness in transition, he rarely loses leverage on deep patterns. He has enough speed and power to run with backs and slot receivers in the short area, doing a nice job of keeping the plays in front of him. He has the change-of-direction agility and the hip snap to shadow and trail and allows little cushion underneath. He does a good job of spotting fakes, jukes and hip snap to stay tight on the receiver throughout the route. He can press, turn and trail his assignment well, especially when asked to mirror the tight end, along with showing the valid recovery burst needed when a quick receiver gets behind him.


Frederick Breedon/USA TODAY)

Zone Coverage Ability

This is one of his better assets. Ladler has solid awareness playing in the zone. He sees things develop quickly and has that innate feel for being in the right position. He has good route recognition ability and is rarely caught out of position. He looks very comfortable attacking the ball and has the ability to adjust and make plays on the move. He has a good feel for the routes and does a good job when he is the deepest player on the field. Ladler is quick to react to action in front of him and is very quick getting over on deep activity. He takes good drops in curl, flat and underneath coverage. He will sometimes freelance a bit, but it is very rare to see him neglect any responsibilities, as he generally shows good awareness and reactions to handle combo routes and smoothly switch off assignments. He demonstrates that he has that wide range and movement agility to cover the deep third of the field well. With his vision, he scans the field and sees the play develop (see 2013 South Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee games). He makes good adjustments, whether playing in deep or shallow assignments. His range allows him to cover a lot of field in a hurry, but it is his ability to keep everything in front of him that is rare in a player his age. He stays tight with his switch-off assignments when playing in the zone and seems very alert and aware of his surroundings. He's become a master at slipping blocks (see 2013 South Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M games) and has a good feel for the play developing, keeping good relationship with his man throughout the route's progression.

Backpedal Skills

Ladler gets an excellent jump on the ball. He has natural hands for the interception and a fire in his belly competing for the jump balls. He is quick to anticipate the quarterback's arm motion, which allows him to get into position to make the play (see 2013 UAB, Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee games). He takes good angles to shorten the field and attack the ball, staying low in his pads to deliver forceful hits on the move. He has very good vision for tracking the ball in flight. He does a very good job of stepping in front of the ball and has the leg drive to break tackles on the interception. He has the speed to stay on the receiver's hip. He shows no stiffness flipping his hips and looks fluid in his turns coming out of transition. You can see on film that he has the feet and balance to turn and stay on his man's hip. He is sudden in his movements changing direction and looks natural and continuous flipping his hips and coming out of his breaks cleanly. He demonstrates the smooth transition in his hips and change-of-direction agility to take good angles and close on the man. You can see the hip snap in his turns that are very crisp. He can plant and drive with good efficiency, especially for a safety and looks natural and smooth breaking on the ball.

Ball Reaction Skills

This is where Ladler excels, evident by his eight passes defended and high amount of success rerouting receivers away from the ball (prevented receivers from getting into their routes on 64-of-147 passes targeted into his area since the start of the 2012 season). He has a good forward burst to close, whether in front of him or moving laterally; along with above-average ability to close ground and catch up when the play gets behind him. He shows good range off the hash and demonstrates valid quickness working underneath. He does not take many wasted steps in transition out of his breaks. He has a very good feel for turning and locating the ball. He is quick to read, recognize and react, seeing the horizon and making plays on it. He anticipates the passer almost immediately to break on the thrown ball. He is explosive getting to the catch point and times things out well to attack and beat the receiver to the ball. Ladler is "one tough cookie" for quarterbacks to try to fool with misdirection or play action. He is fast and aggressive when attempting to fit in run support and closes on the ball with good urgency (see 2013 South Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M games). Because of his keen eyes and patience, he gets a good jump on the ball to make the plays in front of him. His timing is above average when delivering the tackle and he does a nice job of taking out the front leg of a running back to prevent the opponent from falling forward for extra yardage.

Range/Recovery

Ladler has superb recovery speed and burst. He explodes off the snap and can stay stride for stride with the receivers. He has the loose hips needed to quickly change direction and displays good explosion closing on the ball. He shows great acceleration when closing, and it is rare to see him get outside his frame with his hands. He can cover ground suddenly tracking the ball in flight and has no problems running or trailing receivers throughout the route. He has the range to make plays all over the field, as 43 percent of his tackles in 2013 came away from his assigned territory. He shows good desire and effort when closing on the ball and has enough acceleration to reach across the field to come up with the big hit. He is very fluid and shows nice quickness coming out of his breaks, and shows the flexibility and balance needed to turn and run on the ball. When he stays on the hip of the receiver going deep, he has the acceleration to recover if than man does manage to get behind him. He is best when covering ground with the ball in the air, as he knows how to track it and takes good angles to shorten the field. He has more than enough burst to get back into deeper play. He really enjoys chasing down ball-carriers on the corner, making him an excellent "eighth man" playing in the box (made 47 plays vs. the run in 2013, including 16 touchdown-saving tackles — see 2013 South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee games).

Jumping Ability

Ladler is fearless going for the ball in a crowd. He times his leaps well and does a good job of attempting to catch it with hands extended away from the framework. His size lets him win most contested balls from the taller receivers. He can even do a good job of jumping on the run, as he is very fluid making body adjustments when he attempts to go vertical. He has the size and speed to get to and shield the ball. He displays natural hands for the interception and excellent jumping ability, as he is textbook-perfect when timing his leaps in order to make the play (see 2013 South Carolina, UAB, Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee games). He has the body control to make proper adjustments in attempts to get to the ball in flight.

Hands

What a remarkable "coming out party" for Ladler as a pass thief in 2013! Proving beyond a doubt that he has valid hands, the safety looks the ball in well and will extend to catch away from the framework. He is a natural hands catcher who consistency high-points on the ball. He can extend, secure and snatch the ball with ease. He has also developed a strong punch in press coverage, using his hands effectively to disrupt the receiver's route progression. He shows a pretty good hand punch to jolt the lead blocker in run support or to simply latch on to a receiver's jersey. His hand strength and activeness also come into play when he uses them to stave off and slip past blocks when working near trash. He does a good job of extending and plucking the ball away from the body's frame. He zones in on the pass once it is thrown and will do whatever he needs to attack the pass and prevent the reception. In press coverage, he displays forceful hand usage, knowing how to reroute tight ends and slot receivers when jamming them at the line. He also uses his hands effectively to ward off blocks aimed for his legs when working through trash. His ability to extend for the ball has resulted in several spectacular interceptions (see 2013 UAB, Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee games). His hands are large enough to properly secure the ball. He catches the ball with his hands properly extended from the body's frame. When he competes for the ball, he will generally get a piece of the pigskin. He looks the ball in well and will extend to catch away from the framework. He does a nice job in extending, securing and snatching the ball with ease when catching outside his frame.

Run Defense

This is what Ladler does better than any safety in college football. He attacks the fullback with a vengeance and uses his strength well to plug the inside rush lanes. He closes on the runner with his shoulders properly squared, and has developed very good hand usage to shed when working in-line. He will never have the size needed to stuff offensive linemen, but is strong enough to do it on a regular basis (see 2013 South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky games) He is also perfectly capable to slip and avoid combo-blocks to make the play when working around the line of scrimmage. His timed speed is a rarity in this business for a safety that hits like a linebacker. He has a fluid flow to the ball along the perimeter and can redirect to neutralize the cutback lanes. He rarely gets reckless or overpursues, but when he does, his recovery burst puts him right back into the play. He just runs the field well and has more than enough speed to cut off the outside play. Few safeties can make plays from sideline-to-sideline like Ladler can (made 43 percent of his tackles away from his assigned area in 2013). He Ladler is a classic downhill player who hits with pop on contact when playing inside the box. He breaks down well in space and stays low in his pads when making the tackle. He knows how to slip past and avoid blocks on the move. He is quick to come up and fill the gaps and stays low in his pads to prevent the lead blocker from blowing him off the ball. He is best when working in the box, as his ball anticipation skills and instincts make it very hard to fool him on draw plays or misdirection. Simply, he plays smart. Once he is able to locate the ball working through trash, he is quick to close. He comes up to hit with urgency and is not the type you will see playing along the fringes much.

Tackling Ability

Ladler is an explosive hitter who can cause a receiver to hesitate before getting to the ball, knowing that the safety is about to deliver a vicious hit. He has the ability to be an effective wrap-up tackler, as he has the strength to thump on contact and will throw his body at the ball-carrier. He is best when allowed to make plays in front of him rather than taking a side. When he can keep the action in front, he is a reliable tackler who will explode into the opponent. He shows good tackling form, as he faces up, hits with physical pop and causes fumbles with his ability to reach around and try to dislodge the ball from his opponent (see 2013 Missouri, Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee games). He is a consistent hitter who can get ball-carriers down in space, coming to balance quickly. He plays low in his pads and strikes with good force. He never gets reckless in attempts to wrap, and when he strikes opponents, they feel it. Ladler does a nice job of "forming up" and coming to balance before making the tackle. Facing up to ball-carriers, he is a sure tackler who wraps up and brings the "lumber" behind his hits (eight opponents left games in 2013 with various injuries after being tackled by Ladler). He has the athletic agility to run laterally, clear trash and deliver the keen hit. He is a functionally strong striker who does a nice job of impeding the runner's forward progress by attacking the outside leg of his man.

Compares To

T.J. Ward-Denver: Much like Ward, Ladler does not get any of the media attention his steady play deserves, and he is often overlooked when it comes to postseason awards. But, most professional scouts will agree — Kenneth Alfonzo Ladler Jr. is a player who can boast some of the best range, quickness and closing speed of any safety in the 2014 draft class. He is an athlete with good size, along with excellent field awareness and reactionary skills to be a productive free safety at the next level.

Ladler has the strength to take on and reroute tight ends and running backs at the line of scrimmage and the timed speed to stay stride-for-stride with split ends and flankers on deep routes. He is the type of player whose quick reactions and lateral movement will generally put him in position to make the play, especially vs. action in front of him. He has the change-of-direction agility to roam the field and is smart enough not to bite on pump action or fakes by the quarterback.

Ladler is a true playmaker with very strong wrap-up technique. I feel he is better suited to roam the field, much like Seattle's Earl Thomas, due to his closing speed and urgency getting to the ball. He is sort of an "assassin" when it comes to tackling, so some teams might see that tackling technique as those of a strong safety. If he remains at the free safety position, he appears to have the same hard-hitting qualities of Ward, as he really brings the "lumber" when attacking ball-carriers, and, like Ward, he is quite effective stepping inside the box to make plays near or behind the line of scrimmage.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

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