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Billick on top linebacker prospects
Mark Herzlich | Dontay Moch | Bruce Carter | Greg Jones | Martez Wilson | Colin McCarthy | Von Miller | Justin Houston | Akeem Ayers
By this time, most of you have heard the wonderful story of Mark Herzlich and his tremendous overcoming of cancer.
What you may not remember is the dominating season he had in 2008 for Boston College. Just listen to this stat line: 110 tackles (13 for loss), three sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, six interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a partridge in a pear tree.
As you can imagine, Mark shows an ability to read his keys and process his responsibility quickly. Similarly, he reads run and differentiates play-action fakes and regularly puts himself in the right position on the field. From an athletic perspective, he stays balanced and shows great footwork, especially in his pass coverage, ready to break in any direction as the ball is released.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Herzlich measured in at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds. He competed 29 reps on the bench and ran a 4.96 40-yard dash.
While some may raise concern on his lack of overall speed, I believe that his elite instincts and rare effort more than make up for it. After being considered by many as a top-10 pick after his 2008 season, Mark won’t even be drafted in the first two days this year, but he will give you his full effort on every single play. I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back and consider him to be the steal of the 2011 draft.
Dontay Moch out of Nevada was one of the “workout warriors” of this year's NFL Scouting Combine. He measured in at 6-foot-1 3/8 and 248 pounds, but what set him apart was his 4.44 40-yard dash and his astonishing 42-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-8 broad jump.
Those are eye-popping numbers! Those numbers have encouraged NFL scouts, GMs, and talent evaluators to go back and review his tape in further detail.
What they will find is a defensive end turned outside linebacker who holds every Nevada pass-rushing record that is still very raw is his overall technique. He doesn’t show elite change of direction and backed that up at this years East-West game.
I believe he will need to further develop his hip movement and hand punch to take full advantage of his speed rush off the edge. One major concern is how he will hold up in the run game. When matched up against one of this year’s best offensive lineman Anthony Castanzo he struggled mightily.
There is no denying that Dontay Moch is an outstanding athlete, but I would encourage teams not to make the easy mistake of falling in love with his workout numbers. He is a raw talent that will need a lot of positional coaching. Will he be the next Vernon Gholston, or will he be able to translate his athleticism into a productive NFL player?
Where will teams look once outside linebackers Von Miller, Justin Houston, and Akeem Ayers have been selected? I think they’ll turn to North Carolina's Bruce Carter. Here is a more in-depth analysis ...
Bruce Carter is a tremendous athlete at 6-foot-1 1/2 and 241 pounds. In high school, Carter played quarterback, running back and safety.
After just six weeks at UNC, he took over as the starting outside linebacker. Unfortunately, because of a late-season knee injury, he was unable to display that athleticism at this year's Combine — it was rumored that he runs a 4.4 when healthy!
When watching him on the field, Carter shows a short explosive burst and reliable tackling technique. In pass coverage he plays very aggressively, often jumping underneath routes to makes plays on the ball. While he doesn’t have elite instincts, he does a pretty good job of reading his keys and reacting quickly.
He has good feet that allow him to chase plays down and not get caught up in the mess at the line of scrimmage. When evaluating Carter’s career, you will find a steady decline in numbers as teams were able to key and scheme around him (which wasn’t difficult considering half his team was suspended).
Obviously his progress from knee surgery will be a huge factor, but Bruce Carter shows the athleticism and skill set to be a great “value” pick in this year's draft.
Michigan State’s Greg Jones is one of the most productive players in school history after leading the Spartans in tackles four straight years.
Despite his impressive statistics, NFL scouts aren’t overly impressed by his size and strength. He did only 21 reps in the bench press and ran a 4.80 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.
I will say this, his leadership, work ethic and durability are going to persuade teams to overlook those lackluster combine numbers. Jones will give his future team versatility at linebacker by being able to play him either inside or outside — his college coach suggests that he translates better on the outside in the NFL rather than the middle that he played in college.
On tape, he shows great instincts and reaction and is rarely caught out of position to make a play on the ball. He has great hip movement in pass coverage and plays well in space. He is a reliable tackler who hustles through the whistle on every play.
I believe that the tape shows he plays a lot faster than the 4.80 40 time suggests. And forget being too small, Greg Jones hasn’t missed a game in the last three years! He adds great immediate depth at all four linebacker positions and will be a great special teams player until he settles into a starting role on the defensive side of the ball. Look for him to go in the late third to fourth round.
Martez Wilson entered the NFL Scouting Combine as the top rated middle linebacker prospect, and he backed up the hype with his workout.
Checking in at 6-foot-3 3/4, 250 pounds, he ran an eye popping 4.49 40-yard dash. That time was best among all linebackers, both inside and out. That speed is also on display when you watch Wilson’s tape — he easily runs with tight ends and receivers up the seam and plays well in man-to-man pass coverage.
He closes in quickly on the ball carrier and gets from sideline to sideline to make plays all over the field. Wilson uses his length to his advantage and often gets his long arms on ballcarriers even when engaged by a blocker in the hole. With that said, his read-and-react skills will need improvement to take his game to the next level. He often got drawn in on play action and was easily fooled on misdirection plays.
In college, he made up for those false steps with his speed and quickness, but that will be magnified and exposed in the NFL.
Martez Wilson has all the physical attributes to be an impact player in the NFL, and he will continue to improve with better coaching and increased film study. I look for him to be the first inside linebacker selected in the draft, but probably not until the middle of the second round.
Colin McCarthy is another in a long line of NFL prospects coming out of the "U". He played most of his career at Miami as an outside linebacker, but his skill set will translate better in the NFL on the inside.
I had the opportunity to watch him perform at the Senior Bowl and he was surprisingly agile and quick making plays on the defensive side of the ball as well as special teams. During the Senior Bowl, Colin showed great instincts and an aggressive yet under control style of play. He attacks strongly and brings his hips well when making tackles.
He can improve on his backpedal and man technique in pass coverage, but he looks extremely comfortable in zone coverage and always has his head on a swivel. Going into the Combine, it was important for McCarthy to run a good 40-yard dash time and show explosion in the vertical jump. He didn’t disappoint with a 4.65 dash and a 36.5-inch vertical leap.
I believe Colin McCarthy can be an excellent special teams contributor from Day 1, and he will provide solid depth at the linebacker position. He will challenge Quan Sturdivant (North Carolina) to be the second middle linebacker to be selected in the draft — late second-round to third-round prospect.
Von Miller proved at the NFL Scouting Combine what most already knew — that he should be the top linebacker taken in April’s draft. Miller checked in at 6-foot-2 5/8, 246 pound and ran an official 4.53 40-yard dash — good for second best time of all participating linebackers.
Folks, that is MOVIN for a young man his size!
On tape, Miller shows an explosive pass rush off that edge that has 3-4 teams salivating. As a junior he tallied 17 sacks and even after an ankle injury that hampered the first half of his senior season, he still was a force, totaling 10.5 sacks. He uses a quick, strong hand punch that causes offensive lineman to lose their initial balance and beats them around the corner with speed and great hip flexion.
While the tape is obvious that he can get after the quarterback, he has made it his mission to show NFL scouts he is not just a one trick pony.
Starting at the Senior Bowl and continuing at the Combine, Miller has shown an ability to drop back in coverage and play in space. He was not asked to do that very often in college, but NFL teams would love to have that versatility at their disposal. Finally, Miller will need to improve his ability to hold up at the point of attack. He has a tendency to speed rush hard up field leaving the defense vulnerable to running plays that attack his inside shoulder.
All in all, Von Miller is an explosive player that already had the attention of the 3-4 defenses near the top of the draft, but with his recent workouts, he is making a statement to the 4-3 teams as well. I have heard multiple NFL personnel people compare him to Clay Matthews and even Lawrence Taylor, and those are two names you simply can’t ignore!
Justin Houston is another outside linebacker whose pass rush ability has caught the attention of NFL brass. As a senior, Houston registered 10 sacks, and Georgia credited him with 44 quarterback hurries. Similar to Von Miller, Houston was mainly asked to be a force as a pass rusher and therefore rarely dropped back into coverage.
Throughout college, he lined up both as an outside linebacker and defensive end and is a little more reliable against the run compared to the other top 3-4 outside linebacker prospects.
His game tape shows that he plays low and uses his overpowering strength to his advantage. His Combine numbers back that up — 6-foot-2 7/8, 270 pounds, 31 reps on the bench press. Even more attractive at the Combine, at a bulked up 270 lbs (up from 258), he didn’t jeopardize any explosion. He still high jumped 36.5 inches and impressed with a 10-foot-5 broad jump.
As a coach and talent evaluator, we try not to fall in love with a young man based on his workout in tights at the Combine, but coupled with his game tape, Houston should be considered as an immediate impact player. It will be interesting to see how teams compare Houston to UCLA’s Akeem Ayers as the next best outside linebacker behind Miller — if it were up to me, I would go with Houston.
Akeem Ayers is another standout outside linebacker that receives a first-round grade. I don’t believe that both Ayers and Houston will be selected in the first round, but both are definitely capable.
Ayers will give his future team more of the traditional outside linebacker that can attack running lanes, drop back into coverage and occasionally rush the passer off the edge. During his career at UCLA, Ayers has shown his knack for making the big play. In his final two seasons, Ayers personally accounted for six interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdown) and another six forced fumbles.
With that said, he was also prone to play-action and often missed the sure tackle by going for the big hit instead. One reason I have him slipping behind Houston as my third best outside linebacker is because of the relatively disappointing workout he turned in at the Combine.
His 18 reps on the bench press was significantly less than Houston’s 31. Additionally, at 16 pounds lighter, Ayers’ 40-yard dash time of 4.88 was .2 of a second slower than that of Houston’s.
While both of these players are classified as outside backers, they bring a very different skill set respectively. Defensive scheme will be the determining factor when a specific team decides between the two.
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