Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Outside Linebackers

Outside Linebackers
The Patriots need a pass rusher. I could toss out a whole bunch of stats from the past few years, I could quote hundreds of analysts discussing the topic, or point out examples from specific games last year; but why bother. The Patriots need a pass rusher, it’s as simple as that.
Position need:
Very high
6’2” – 6’4”, 255-270lbs., freakishly athletic. Way too fast and agile for their size; these guys need to do it all rush the passer, drop into coverage, set the edge in the run game. Versatility is essential for an OLB in the Pats system. OLB’s must be able to do everything mentioned above when in the Base 3-4, and be capable of playing Rush DE when the defense switches to sub-packages in passing situations. Given how pass happy the NFL has become, the Patriots spent nearly as much time in sub-packages last year as they did in their base D. Look for someone who has experience dropping into underneath zone coverage at the college level.
Draft Depth:
Lots of quality pass rushing DE’s, but most are better fit for the 4-3 and don’t have the versatility required for the Pats system. Most of the players that fit the prototype are rated as 2nd-3rd round players.
Guys likely to be gone:
Von Miller (A&M), Robert Quinn (UNC)
Fits but not the pick:
Brooks Reed (Arizona)- 6’2”, 263lbs. A guy with a non-stop motor and the work ethic that fits the Pats mold. A team captain, and has a huge passion for the game. Noted as one of the better pass rushers in the draft, but struggles some at setting the edge against the run. The fact that he was once a teammate of Gronk is almost enough to sell me on him. Seems to lack the agility to play in space at OLB. Also, projections have him going in the mid/late first round, whereas his skills seem to be more in line with a 2nd round player. I would love to see him end up on the team, just not in the first round.
Justin Houston (UGA)- 6’3”, 270lbs. I’ve seen a few people project Houston to the Pats, and it’s easy to believe given Belichick’s affinity for SEC defenders. Another top notch pass rusher who struggles against the run. Projected late first rounder with 2nd round value.

Akeem Ayers (UCLA)- 6’2”, 254lbs. A bit small, but still an effective run defender, proving capable of setting the edge. Has plenty of experience in pass coverage and does well, but is not an elite pass rusher. Also, has a less physical style than the Pats typically look for on D. Was a Team Captain.
Mid-round Options:
There are a lot, so I will just list a few that I wouldn’t be surprised to see end up in a Patriots uniform should they wait to select one:
Greg Romeus (PITT)
Ricky Elmore (Arizona)
Cliff Matthews (S. Car)
Sam Acho (TEX)Jeremy Beal (OU)
The pick:
Jabaal Sheard (PITT)- 6’3”, 265lbs. A team captain that fits the prototype size requirements that the Pats look for. Noted as one of the top pass rushers in the draft; relying on relentlessness, strong hands and a wide array of moves. Not a great run defended, but does an adequate job of sealing off blockers and setting the edge, which is key to run defense in a 3-4 scheme. Noted as having excellent instinct and play recognition skills. Has proved effective at dropping into zone coverage, and seems to be the all around player the Pats will be looking for. Look for Sheard to be picked with one of the two 2nd round picks. Also, saved an old lady from a burning building when he was in high school so he’s got that going for him; which is nice.

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