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Breakind Down the LB's

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I don't know if this has been posted...but I like the way it breaks down each player.


LB class might be best in years


By Nolan Nawrocki

Dec. 10, 2008



James Laurinaitis, Aaron Curry


This year’s LB class is very strong inside and outside and could be the gem of the draft, with intriguing versatility a signature of the group. With the addition of defensive ends being projected to rush linebacker, this year’s class really could turn out to be not only deep, but special — maybe even unmatched in its overall strength.


Outside linebackers


1. SLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest

6-1 3/4, 250, 4.61


A thickly built, strong, physical, hard-hitting ’backer with the size, instincts and overall athletic ability to line up at any position in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. Curry’s value in large part stems from his versatility, as few linebackers possess the skill set to be effective at any position in either system. Might not have the overall length desired in a rush linebacker but has been extremely productive playing over the tight end, and his strength at the point of attack and ability to shed blockers is rare. With knuckle-breaking hand strength, he ragdolls blockers and plays a big man’s game with power. The most complete ’backer to come out in a long time, Curry has few deficiencies in his game and easily could fit into the top five. Scouts love his physical skill set.


2. SLB Brian Cushing, USC

6-2½e, 255e, 4.6e


Despite playing over the tight end, Cushing kicked inside to replace an injured Rey Maualuga early this season and has the size, strength and striking ability to project inside in the NFL for a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. Injuries have slowed Cushing throughout his career, and his overall injury history will be scrutinized closely and detract from his value, but he has played in every game in ’08 despite breaking a bone in his hand and wearing a cast. He is very competitive and driven and has played best in big games against better competition. He is tightly wound and somewhat stiff in the hips, but his all-out demeanor and overall intensity should allow him to contribute right away in the pros and push him into the first round.


3. SLB Clint Sintim, Virginia

6-2 3⁄8, 250, 4.7e


Playing the same position at which Shawne Merriman excelled at Maryland, Sintim has been a force coming off the edge and has the experience rushing the passer to transition easily to the highly desired rush LB spot in a 3-4 front. Leading the nation in sacks from the LB position, Sintim has shown he can stick his hand in the dirt or drop into coverage. Having shed weight and shown better hand use and burst off the edge this season, he plays physically and also could be effective playing inside. However, he’ll warrant the most interest for his pass-rush ability and should fit into the first round.


4. SLB Mark Herzlich, Boston College (Jr.)

6-4e, 240e, 4.7e


A miniature version of former NFL LB Bill Romanowski, Herzlich is expected to remain in school and could benefit from another year of seasoning. Somewhat mechanical and robotic in his movement, yet athletic enough to make plays to the sideline, “Little Romo” plays smart, with good technique and hand use and gets the most out of his ability. Somewhat similar to Patriots LB Mike Vrabel with the length and power desired to rush the passer, Herzlich could project outside in a 3-4 front. Leading the team in tackles from the SLB position, Herzlich’s motor, intensity and playing demeanor project well to the pro game.


5. WLB Perry Riley, LSU (Jr.)

6-0½e, 240e, 4.55e


Having stood out and made more plays than more highly publicized teammate Darry Beckwith, Riley consistently cleans up ballcarriers from the weak side and has the potential to be the best ’backer to come out of LSU in the past 10 years. Tough, physical and instinctive, he shows very good range to the sideline and has the explosive movement skills to make plays all over the field and drive through contact. Does not have great size and can be engulfed if blockers get their hands on him, but when he is free to roam, he hits like a missile.


Inside linebackers


1. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

6-2e, 240e, 4.65e


Perhaps a victim of very lofty expectations, Laurinaitis has disappointed evaluators who were hoping to see a bullet like Dan Morgan who was going to knock the heads off ballcarriers. Scouts have downgraded Laurinaitis for his lack of explosiveness and physicality. He’s not a nasty, downhill, blow-up tackler but is very instinctive with a great nose for the ball, makes plays sideline to sideline and has a great feel for coverage. He has the versatility to play every LB position and might be best suited playing on the weak side where he is covered up and free to roam, in the same mold as former Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny, whom scouts also accused of peaking earlier in his career. However, despite not being a violent assassin, Laurinaitis’ character is exceptional and he might have the highest floor of any first-round talent because NFL clubs can know exactly what they are getting. Still should fit into the top 15.


2. Rey Maualuga, USC

6-2e, 250e, 4.7e


A true “Mike” linebacker with terrific strength at the point of attack, Maualuga still gets out of position too often and takes some questionable angles. When he has a clean window, he can strike with the authority of a small truck and level ballcarriers. However, he is tight in the hips, does not change direction cleanly and could be restricted on third downs, limiting his overall value. Durability and overall character still need closer examination, and perhaps the biggest question scouts will want answered is whether he can be more than a two-down, “Mike” ’backer in the NFL. A strong tackler with good overall instincts, Maualuga should contribute readily in the pros if he can stay focused.


3. Brandon Spikes, Florida (Jr.)

6-2½e, 245e, 4.75e


In a similar mold as former Gator and Miami Dolphins 2005 third-rounder Channing Crowder, Spikes is instinctive, has a knack for the ball and fits the mold of an old-school “Mike” linebacker. Very leggy and somewhat bow-legged, he is not a great natural athlete, has a tendency to let his pads rise and too easily can be cut. However, he is limber with great stride length and overall range, and when he plays with bent knees he can knock ballcarriers backward. Has a reputation for running his mouth and plays the game with a lot of vinegar and intensity, setting the tone for the defense. Brings emotional, on-field leadership qualities highly desired by many coaches and initially was expected to declare early for the draft. However, he lacks great speed and could benefit from another year of training at Florida.


4. Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia

6-0 7⁄8, 240, 4.55e


Might work out and test as well as any linebacker in the draft, possessing exceptional speed and power. However, as much as the weight room might be his domain, he has not been able to transfer his workout numbers consistently to the field and his performance as a senior has slipped. Is naturally explosive and plays with good knee bend but has been too tentative and does not consistently uncoil. Having missed 3½ games with injury, he has gained some weight and not appeared quite as quick as he did chasing down ballcarriers a year ago. However, he still can run like the wind and might warrant even more interest on the weak side. Has run into problems off the field, and his character could affect his draft value.


5. Darry Beckwith, LSU

6-0½, 240, 4.6e


Scouts would like to see Beckwith play more physically. He lacks great size and take-on strength and too often has struggled locating the ball as a senior, not showing the natural instincts to consistently produce. He gets good depth in coverage and has good movement skills, but too much of his game is based on finesse and he needs to become a more forceful tackler to play inside in the pros. Having missed time in September following a knee scope, he has not played at full health, but the injury does not justify him being out of position as much as he has this season.

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Here is another breakdown by National Football Post:

By National Football Post

Posted November 29, 2008

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NFL Draft: Top 10 Linebackers


Only three linebackers were selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft, but the 2009 linebacker class is poised to become much more fruitful. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of the National Football Post break down the top 10 linebacker prospects for our NFL Draft partner, Rivals.com.


1. MLB Brandon Spikes, Florida

THE BUZZ: He’s the kind of athlete you can build an entire defense around. Spikes is a long-limbed, rangy athlete who does an excellent job at quickly reading and reacting to plays. He finds the ball instantly, takes good angles and reads gap assignments well. He displays excellent closing speed and power in pursuit of the ball while making a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. He not only has sideline-to-sideline range but also has the power to take on blocks. He is fluid and flexible in his hips and does a nice job getting a deep drop into zone coverage. He covers a lot of ground in coverage and displays the range needed to stay with tight ends down the seam. At times he gets caught watching the ball and will get cut off by blockers at the second level. Spikes isn’t as instinctive making his way through traffic and needs to do a better job protecting his legs. He plays with a lot of emotion and has a great motor. His passion really seems to rub off on his teammates.


2. MLB Rey Maualuga, USC

THE BUZZ: He shows excellent burst and pop at the point of attack, and he tackles with a vengeance. He’s an instinctive middle linebacker with a good head on his shoulders. He makes all the play calls at the line of scrimmage and looks natural in coverage. He jumps underneath routes well but allows too many receptions in front of him. He’s content to just wrap up or deliver the big hit instead of breaking on the pass. He protects his legs well when moving through traffic and never takes a false step at the line of scrimmage. Maualuga reads and diagnoses plays quickly and has the ability to shed blocks and get to the ball. He is always around the ball and has the athleticism to run sideline to sideline.


3. OLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest

THE BUZZ: Curry is a thickly built linebacker with a solid frame. He’s an extremely fluid athlete with an explosive first step and excellent closing speed. He has the ability to run sideline to sideline and packs a punch on contact. He’s natural dropping into coverage and displays a smooth backpedal and transition. He lacks awareness in moving traffic, and he needs to do a better job keeping his head on a swivel and finding blockers. At times, he will take a false step at the line of scrimmage and run himself out of plays. Curry is a powerful, explosive linebacker, but he needs to continue to improve his instincts.


4. MLB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

THE BUZZ: He’s an instinctive linebacker who diagnoses plays quickly. Laurinaitis displays a fluid hip turn and loses little in his transition. He gets a deep drop into zone coverage and can close in an instant. He’s an aggressive tackler who has good technique, but at times he will overrun plays and take bad angles toward the ball. Laurinaitis is comfortable in man-to-man coverage and has good anticipation skills. He does a good job at the line of scrimmage shifting through the traffic in front of him. He uses his hands well to his protect his legs and keep blockers from cutting him. He has shown a willingness to take on the lead blocker but struggles to shed the block quickly. Overall, he is a great combination of athleticism and instincts in the middle.


5. OLB Mark Herzlich, Boston College

THE BUZZ: He is a muscular outside ‘backer who displays better fluidity and flexibility then his body type would indicate. Herzlich is physical and loves to play with his hands. He does a nice job getting a good bump on tight ends at the line of scrimmage. He redirects well in space and shows the body control to stay with his assignment in man coverage. He lacks great range and straight-line speed to the outside. He doesn’t have a great first step in space and isn’t a real stop-and-go athlete. Herzlich may be best-suited to play outside in the 3-4 because of his power, quickness and pass-rush ability. He’s an excellent blitzer off the edge. He’s a tough, blue-collar player. He’s always flowing toward the ball and has a real passion for the game.


6. OLB Clint Sintim, Virginia

THE BUZZ: He’s a big, physical outside ‘backer/defensive end hybrid who is a perfect fit for a 3-4 scheme. Sintim is physical off the edge and showcases natural pass-rush ability. He possesses a good burst out of his stance and can really get off the ball. He has the lateral mobility to make linemen miss on the outside and showcases a powerful outside slap to keep tackles off of his body. He’s a physical tackler who does a good job wrapping up and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He lacks fluidity in space and struggles changing direction on his backpedal. Like most 3-4 outside ‘backers, Sintim is at his best attacking downhill.


7. OLB Brian Cushing, USC

THE BUZZ: Cushing possesses an ideal build to play outside linebacker; he has a thick lower body and muscular upper half, with long arms. A knee injury caused him to miss most of the 2007 season. Cushing is an aggressive linebacker who loves to attack the line of scrimmage. He plays with good power and technique and does a good job fighting through blocks. He has a consistent motor and has a great first step. He has the ability to rush the passer as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and does a nice job fighting off blocks. Cushing lacks a lateral burst and struggles making offensive linemen whiff; he is more of a straight-line athlete. He does have exceptional closing speed and a nose for the ball. He could be looked at as a strongside ‘backer or weakside end in the 4-3 or an outside ‘backer in the 3-4, and he should be successful in any role.


8. OLB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri

THE BUZZ: A short, compact weakside linebacker prospect who has good athleticism, Weatherspoon is an instinctive player who reads and reacts quickly to plays. He does an excellent job shooting gaps inside and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He is a technically sound tackler who takes good angles to the ball and wraps up well on contact. He is explosive, can run sideline to sideline and gets to the ball in a hurry. He can be overwhelmed at the point of attack by offensive linemen and struggles shedding blocks. He gets washed out too easily on plays run right at him and lacks the pop at the point of attack to stuff the fullback in the hole. He does a nice job getting a deep drop into zone coverage and has the range and straight-line speed to get his hands on a lot of balls. Weatherspoon closes well on the ball in the air and demonstrates the awareness to turn and break up the pass. He is an ideal 4-3 weakside linebacker with great athleticism and speed. He would be a nice fit for any “Cover 2″ team.


9. OLB Rico McCoy, Tennessee

THE BUZZ: McCoy is undersized and has a slight frame, but he moves well and plays bigger than his frame would indicate. He is natural in his drop and has an excellent first step. He has good instincts at the line of scrimmage and does a nice job reading and reacting. McCoy plays with good leverage and tackles with near-perfect technique. He has a great motor and isn’t afraid to take on lead blockers. He has great straight-line speed and athleticism, with the range to run sideline to sideline. He has the body control to stop on a dime and shoot a gap inside, but he lacks girth and power and can be washed out of plays at the line of scrimmage. He also struggles dealing with bigger offensive linemen at the point of attack, but he uses his hands well to slip blocks. He’s natural in man coverage and can stay with tight ends and backs out of the backfield. He is best-suited for a “Cover 2″ scheme where he can play in space.


10. OLB Marcus Freeman, Ohio State

THE BUZZ: He has good lower-body thickness and girth in his base. Freeman is a smart, instinctive player who does a nice job quickly reading and reacting. He does an excellent job finding the football and rarely takes a false step, and he always seems to be flowing toward the play. He is always shooting the right gaps and filling the right lanes. He’s a sure tackler who breaks well down in space and takes proper angles to the ball. He’s a natural athlete with good range and burst out of his stance, and he consistently makes plays all over the field. He does a great job sniffing out running plays and has the athleticism to cover man-to-man. There aren’t many negatives on this guy, and he looks like one of the safest picks at linebacker in the 2009 class.

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