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How the right NFL team can get the most out of former 5-star Martez Ivey

The former mega-recruit had a solid career at Florida. I talked to him about the scheme that shows how he can be a difference-maker in the NFL.

USA TODAY Sports photo, SB Nation illustration

Martez Ivey was a five-star recruit in the class of 2015, when he was the No. 2 overall prospect. The offensive tackle signed with Florida and started 44 games there. In 2018, he was part of a line that allowed 18 sacks in 13 games. Gators QBs got sacked on 4.1 percent of their drop backs, the 23rd-best rate in the country, despite playing in the SEC.

He’s not considered one of the top line prospects in the NFL Draft. But he had a pretty strong career at Florida, culminating in second-team all-SEC nods his last two years. Now, Ivey’s looking to prove he still has the potential to be the impact lineman many recruiting services projected him to be coming out of high school four years ago.

Ivey’s open-field blocking ability makes him an interesting prospect.

Ivey is a big, athletic offensive lineman who can make plays in space in the run game. It’s key for teams to find linemen who can make blocks in the open field, and Ivey is smooth in that regard.

Here’s an example from Florida’s game against Kentucky in 2018. Ivey is the left tackle pulling in front of the running back and sealing off a linebacker:

He’s not the most polished player in pass protection, but he likely won’t be immediately forced into a starting position. Ivey is the perfect “draft and stash” offensive lineman, and his favorite play to block is in just about every NFL team’s playbook: the outside zone.

Ivey’s favorite play at Florida was the Gators’ “18 read.”

It’s a two-part run play: outside zone on the front side of the formation, with the quarterback reading the defensive end on the back side. If that end crashes toward the running back on outside zone, the quarterback will keep the ball and run the other way.

Here’s how Ivey drew it up for SB Nation at the NFL Combine:

Ivey is the circle farthest to the left with the line headed towards the “M”, the Mike linebacker. The goal on outside zone plays is to stretch the defense horizontally, creating room for the running back to find a hole to exploit.

“Basically on outside zone, what we want to do is stretch and dent the defense, because we want the ball to bounce outside and come back into the A-gap off that tackle’s ass,” Ivey said. The running back will press outside toward the sideline before trying to find a crease to cut back towards the middle of the defense.

At times, Florida was able to catch teams off guard and have QB Feleipe Franks run for a big gain when he kept the ball instead of handing off to the running back. It all starts with reading the unblocked end, like the typical zone read that’s grown in popularity.

“We gotta read this end,” Ivey told me, pointing to the “3” on the diagram he drew above. “[The QB] will pull it. Feleipe pulled it on Idaho, I believe. Defensive end came inside, linebacker flew inside, he ran right down the field 30 yards untouched.”

Notice how the defensive end playing over the left tackle crashes down towards the running back at the start of the play. The linebackers crash hard towards the line of scrimmage, too.

The play works to perfection. It may look like Ivey doesn’t do anything here, but he’s in position to block the defender coming towards the line of scrimmage, in the event that the running back gets the ball. Ivey doesn’t know exactly what the QB is going to do, and he needs to block like the RB is getting the carry.

Here’s how the 18 read helps project Ivey at the next level.

Just about every team has outside zone in their playbook, even if they don’t use it as a staple in their running game. Under Sean McVay, the Rams have developed into one of the best outside zone teams in the NFL. Having a guy like Todd Gurley is pretty helpful too.

There are some differences between this outside zone play and the 18 read play that Ivey loved in Gainesville. For example, the Rams run it from under center, while the Gators run it from shotgun. However, neither team blocks the backside defensive end. On this Rams’ play, notice the tight end doesn’t block the defensive end in front of him, instead getting to the second level to block a linebacker.

If the Rams wanted to add a little wrinkle to their outside zone, they could have Jared Goff keep the ball and run into the open space vacated by the defensive end crashing down. Having a player like Ivey on these plays would be useful because he has the athleticism to get to the second level and take on linebackers. Offensive linemen that have movement skills like his are invaluable in schemes that require linemen to operate in space.

Some NFL teams let the QB keep the ball on these plays, but those are typically coming on plays where the quarterback is designed to keep it. Here, the Ravens score a touchdown with Lamar Jackson on a quarterback keeper — it isn’t an outside zone play, but you can still see the merits of getting an athletic quarterback into the open field with a bit of deception:

Ivey isn’t a finished product, but that’s OK. Whichever team drafts him needs to have a long-term plan for him that doesn’t involve rushing him onto the field right away. Once Ivey gets a chance to sit and hone his skills, he can help.