Is Matt Ioannidis the Redskins Secret Superstar?

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Matt Ioannidis doesn’t have the name recognition of more prominent interior defensive linemen, but that could soon change. I’m here to explain why you should take advantage of this buy window. Pick Ioannidis up as a DE3/DE4, then watch smugly as others fight over scraps for injury and bye week replacements.


College years

Ioannidis played college football at Temple, gaining a reputation as a versatile player capable of playing anywhere along the line. He earned the captaincy in his junior year along with the nickname “The Professor” due to his ability to learn the defense so quickly. That same year he was also assigned jersey number “9”, one of 5 single-digit jerseys awarded to players deemed to be the toughest by their team mates.

In his time at Temple between 2012 and 2015, Ioannidis earned All-America Third Team honors, All-Conference First Team, and was selected to play in the Senior Bowl where he acquitted himself well.

 

The Draft

As the 2016 draft approached, Ioannidis was lauded for his physicality and tenacity as much as he was criticized for a perceived lack of burst. He performed reasonably well at the combine, placing in the middle of the pack for most disciplines. He did stand out in the bench press, leading his position group with an impressive 32 reps.

Despite an impressive senior bowl performance, draftniks continued to knock Ioannidis’ athleticism, noting that he didn’t have the “twitch” of other prospects at the position. This was not a wholly unfair appraisal, his SPARQ score of 100.2 put him in just the 22nd percentile among other interior D linemen.

Check out his pre-draft athletic measurables courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com:

In what has proven, retrospectively, to be a deep class for interior linemen, the Redskins selected Ioannidis in the 5th round of the 2016 draft with the 152nd overall pick. Considering players such as DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones, Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed and Javon Hargrave were in the same class, it is not totally unsurprising that Ioannidis wasn’t taken until the later rounds.

 

Early struggles

Chris Baker initially took Ioannidis under his wing, the two shared the connection of playing for the same coach at the college level. Despite Baker’s mentorship and Ioannidis’ knack for learning the playbook quickly, he had an uphill climb just to make the roster. So when he was waived on September 3rd 2016, nobody was too surprised. After all, research suggests that a Defensive lineman selected in the 5th round has only a 13% chance of becoming a consistent starter.

 

Overcoming adversity

Ioannidis made sure he was going to be one of those 13%. A day after being waived he was signed back to the practice squad, then just two weeks later was promoted to the active roster. Despite playing sparingly in his rookie year, things started to really improve in year 2.

In his 2017 sophomore year, Ioannidis earned a starting spot and took full advantage, playing in 14 games and registering 4.5 sacks and 34 hurries, one more than Fletcher Cox. He even earned PFF’s 6th highest Pass Rush Productivity rating (PRP) amongst all interior defensive linemen (min. 100 pass rush attempts).

Not bad for a 5th round pick who was struggling to make the roster less than year beforehand!  However, his position was not safe yet. The Redskins spent first round picks in successive years on their D line, taking Jonathan Allen in the 2017 draft and Daron Payne in 2018. Logic dictated that the odds were once again stacked again Ioannidis.

Ioannidis overcame those odds once again, he seemed determined to prove that despite being overlooked he would not be overshadowed. Now finding himself as one of the less heralded names on what had fast become a very talented D line, he proved doubters wrong yet again.  He put together a career year in 2018, registering highs in tackles and sacks (7.5). What’s more, he did this despite being slowed by injuries. Those injuries forced him to miss two games and limited him in others.

 

Elite Pass Rusher?

His pass rush prowess really begins to become evident when we dig into the detail. As PFF’s Ben Linsey noted back in April, Ioannidis particularly excelled on 3rd and 4th down. In those key situations, the only interior defender getting more total pressure was Aaron Donald. To illustrate this point more clearly, compare below how Ioannidis measures up to his peers in terms of pressures earned per attempted pass rush on all downs in 2018. He is in elite company:

 

 

One of his most talked about plays from the season can be seen in the clip below, first posted by ESPN reporter @John_Keim. In it, Ioannidis tosses Ezekiel Elliot aside like a rag doll. John correctly points out the size difference between the two players. Remember, Zeke is a 230 lb RB, Ioannidis a hulking 300 lb lineman, so the outcome is not wholly unsurprising. Nonetheless, it is fun to watch!

So what does the future hold?

The Redskins rewarded Ioannidis’ fine play earlier this offseason, inking him to a 3 year extension worth $21.75 million including $14 million guaranteed. In doing so, they clearly demonstrated that they value his contributions and have big plans for him moving forward. Still only 25 years old, his best years should be ahead of him.

He isn’t likely to receive additional attention from opposition O lines either, thanks largely to the pedigree of others in the Redskins front 7. Payne and Allen return along with the always reliable (and similarly underrated) Ryan Kerrigan. New 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat should also be an able replacement for the departed Preston Smith. Simply put, this Redskins line should feast.

IDPGuy @MorganMcLane covered the Redskins defensive unit as a whole in June. Ioannidis got a mention there too.

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Why isn’t Ioannidis already at least a fantasy DE2?

Fair question. Given his rare pass rush ability and continued opportunity moving forward, why is Ioannidis not already considered among the better DE’s in the league in fantasy circles?

The main reason is that to date, he hasn’t registered as many tackles as the guys being ranked above him. Compared with his fellow Redskins, Jonathan Allen had 61 total tackles in 2018 while Daron Payne had 56. Ioannidis, meanwhile, managed only 31. It just isn’t nearly enough to give him a decent floor in fantasy from week-to-week.

It isn’t until we look at how he fared on a tackles-per-snap basis that we realise Ioannidis actually did pretty well . He may have amassed only half the tackle totals of his team mates but Payne played 796 snaps, Allen 777 while Ioannidis only managed 440:

PLAYER SNAPS TACKLES TACKLES PER SNAP
Ioannidis 440 31 7.05%
Payne 796 56 7.04%
Allen 777 61 7.85%

So the issue isn’t that he doesn’t register many tackles when he plays, its that he hasn’t been on the field enough to put up better numbers. So the question then becomes, why was he not on the field more?

 

Injuries

I’ve already touched on the injuries Ioannidis had in 2018. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason opener vs the Pats which slowed his start to the season. His playing time was again diminished in weeks 13 through 17 due to shin and thigh injuries.

None of these injuries were serious, but they were enough to stand in the way of more playing time. It is important to note that when he was healthy he played quite a lot. His snap count spiked for the month prior to his injury in week 12. During that 4 game stretch he was playing approximately 70% of all defensive snaps, almost identical numbers to team mate (and first rounder) Daron Payne.

Bearing that in mind, and considering that his tackle count increased despite playing almost 25% less snaps in 2018 than he did in 2017, it isn’t unrealistic to expect a jump in tackle numbers again as we look forward to a (hopefully) healthier 2019 season.

 

Conclusion

The bottom line is this. Ioannidis has improved in almost every fantasy relevant statistical category in each of his 3 years in the league. He has proven to be very productive on a per-snap basis. He is reportedly fully healthy going into the 2019 season, so it isn’t a reach to predict another career year.

So what does a career year look like for a DE who plays predominantly in an odd front? He may not be a top-20 or even top-30 fantasy DL, but we can’t rule that out on the basis of what we’ve seen so far. What I am confident in predicting is that he has a very good chance of easily outperforming his ADP and ranking. Consider picking him up as a late round bargain and reap the rewards.

 


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