On running plays, it was difficult to know exactly what Jordan Hicks’ keys were. An educated guess was that he was keying on the play-side guard, because it rarely seemed as if he was keying on the running back, as most MIKE linebackers are instructed to do —- you know, the old hat on a hat assignment.
As a result, Jordan Hicks made the vast majority of his tackles (118 in 2021) in the neighborhood of 4-8 yards from the line of scrimmage. Because of the consistency of Jordan Hick’s approach, one can reasonably assume that Hicks was doing what DC Vance Joseph and LBC Billy Davis were instructing him to do within the frameworks of their “bend, but don’t break” philosophy.
If the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy was indeed the case, then versus the run, Jordan Hicks was danged good at what he was asked to do —- which was basically to make as many tackles as he could within a 4 x 5 yard box.
In pass coverage, Jordan Hicks showed marked improvement this season playing the hook areas of the Cardinals’ zones. However, in man-to-man coverage, as was the case with the majority of his fellow 3-4 linebackers, Jordan Hicks was given coverage assignments on TEs and RBs that put him at a competitive disadvantage. Despite that, one could not fault Jordan Hicks for the effort he made in trying to cover his man.
In today’s NFL, classic run stuffing MIKE linebackers are no longer in vogue, The trend now amongst DCs is to play smaller, faster hybrid-type athletes who possess the speed to cover running backs. What DCs are looking for are 3 down linebackers who are equally effective making tackles versus the run as they are in making plays in tight pass coverage. Finding defenders who can tackle and cover with equal consistency is not easy.
While Jordan Hicks had his fair share of struggles in man coverage —- if you recall, in the playoff game versus the Rams, Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford on several occasions tried to isolate Jordan Hicks in man coverage on Sony Michel and Cam Akers, whom they sent out of the backfield on out passes and wheel routes. One wheel route to Akers was featured on the 40 yard flea flicker pass from Odell Beckham, Jr. On that play, Jordan Hicks had the discipline to stay in coverage on Akers, but without prompt safety help, Akers was able to beat Hicks up the sidelines. Again, one can’t blame Jordan Hicks for a blown assignment or for a poor effort. It was a play that most linebackers would have had a hard time covering.
However, turning back to the strengths of Jordan Hicks’ game, one area where he perhaps excels the most is in storming the A and B gaps on pass blitzes (pictured above). This past season, Jordan Hicks recorded 17 QB pressures and 4 sacks. Hicks’ blitzing ability in itself, could carve him a special niche wherever he plays next season. He is relentless in that role.