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Making the Leap, No. 27: Saints DC Rob Ryan

Around The League will profile the top 40 players (or, in this case, coaches) we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 27 on the list: New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Why Ryan is on the list

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was hired in February to repair a unit that sunk to historic lows in 2012. It wasn't a good year for Ryan, either, but the Saints hope the mouthy twin brother of Rex can flip the switch in The Big Easy.

Ryan has become one of the league's most recognizable assistants, but his results on the field are a mixed bag. After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired Ryan after last season, Ryan went public saying he was "shocked" to be let go, telling reporters, "Better coaches than me have been fired. Just not many."

We wouldn't go that far, but Ryan has proven adept over the years at creatively adapting to injuries and difficult situations. Tasked today with fixing a Saints defense that gave up a record-breaking 7,042 yards last season, Ryan might have the toughest gig in the NFL.


In four coordinator stints over the past decade, Ryan's numbers are suspect. During his five seasons with the Oakland Raiders from 2004 to 2008, Ryan's defense finished 30th, 27th, 3rd, 22nd and 27th, respectively. With the Browns from 2009 to 2010, Cleveland's D finished 31st and 22nd, respectively. In Dallas, with a talented roster, Ryan's Cowboys wound up 14th and 19th over the past two years. Numbers are just part of the story, but Ryan-led defenses, on average, have finished 22nd in the NFL.

Ryan is a creative architect, but he gets into trouble when he throws too much at his players. Communication breakdowns were an issue in Dallas, leading Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones to say after Ryan left town, "Too many schemes can cause problems."

To his credit, Ryan routinely wins over his players. Browns and Cowboys defenders were upset to see him go, but New Orleans is thrilled to have him. Bringing Ryan's new cast of Saints players along at the right pace -- not his pace -- would suggest he has grown as a coach.

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2013 expectations

"Those 7,042 yards don't mean anything now," safety Malcolm Jenkins said last month. But the Saints, on their third coordinator in as many seasons, will be challenged to right the ship on a roster lacking elite defensive talent.

As Ryan shifts the Saints from a 4-3 defense to his beloved 3-4, the loss of edge rusher Victor Butler to a torn anterior cruciate ligament is particularly crushing. Martez Wilson, Junior Galette and rookie Rufus Johnson have potential, but there's no DeMarcus Ware here. Still, this is a team hungry to prove it isn't last year's train wreck.

At his third stop since 2010, it's time for our friend with the snowy Shakespearian locks to live up to his own billing.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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