Saturday, May 05, 2012

Draft Profile: Rd 4 - Kyle Wilber - LB - Wake Forest

The following is the 2nd in a series of draft profiles for the Dallas Cowboys selected players from April's draft. These profiles are put together after watching significant amounts of tape from each player, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and play to get an idea of how they might fit in best with Dallas come training camp.

Kyle Wilber
Wake Forest
6'3, 249
40 time: 4.78, Bench Press: 25
April 26, 1989 (23)

When you are a team in a 3-4 defense, you are constantly looking for more linebackers. When Bill Parcells converted the defense in 2005, there were daily discussions in the media press briefings about needing to find 7 and sometimes 8 linebackers that could be counted upon so that things ran seamlessly. You can never have enough linebackers.

The Cowboys took Wilber with the #113 pick of the 2012 draft. Anytime you pick a player over 100 players deep in a draft, you concede that there will be some questions to his game, but seeing things in his skill set that you think can be developed and useful over the next 4 seasons (until his rookie contract expires). These teams spend all season fully realizing that these are the rounds in the draft (3-5) where the better teams are able to consistently hit for a higher average than the field.

After taking a hard look at Wilber in several games, it is fairly easy to see what the Cowboys want when they grabbed the linebacker where they did. He has exceptional speed and absolutely jumps off the screen when he is pursuing a play from the backside. In fact, without getting too carried away, you can almost see DeMarcus Ware chasing down a running back on a stretch play in the other direction. He is that impressive at traveling across the tackle box at impressive speed.

Also, in coverage, Wilber is quite capable. And that must be where Jason Garrett was coming from when he started the idea of Wilber being in the mix at the "SAM" position. Here was the head coach's quote: Kyle Wilber is a guy we see him as a SAM linebacker, who does an outstanding job defending the run. We feel like he has a chance to be a pass rusher from the edge. He's an outstanding special teams player and again the right kind of guy. You look at the list of the seven players we drafted. We really feel good about the kind of people they are and Kyle Wilber certainly is one of those.

This might be where Garrett will have a lot of development on his hands or we will have to disagree. "SAM" linebacker in this scheme is primarily the man tending the flank on the tight end side on any run plays. This requires him to "set the edge" and turn running plays back to the inside and there are real concerns on tape at the college level about his ability to hold up at the point of attack. There are a few spots from what we broke down where he appears to be "wearing roller skates". This is a coaching saying that was last used to describe Bobby Carpenter when the front office (Parcells) thought he was a SAM candidate out of college only to find out that he was pushed way out of the play and sometimes the screen when somebody put a block on him and he could never plant his feet to push back.

Anthony Spencer is not the best in the league at standing up to this type of "direct run" situation when a running play goes right at him, but he is far and away the best the Cowboys have and also the primary reason why the Cowboys know Victor Butler is more of the weak side variety that DeMarcus Ware is. I understand this is nuance and might not seem like a big deal, but there is a reason that Clay Matthews is constantly tested with running plays right at him up in Green Bay. If you review Super Bowl 45, you will see Pittsburgh run right at him continuously because of this same question (although nowhere as bad as Carpenter, of course). Run away from Matthews and he will run the play down. Run right at him and you can wear him out is what the book on him was out of USC.

Back to Wilber, he will get pushed around on plays right at him. The only other disconcerting element of his game is that he doesn't seem to pack much "thump" in his game. Certain linebackers jump off the screen with their physical presence - especially when surrounded by other college players who don't have NFL pedigree - but Wilber does not seem like a very big hitting presence. So, if you cannot drop anchor and if you don't hit hard, you see why he was not taken in the 2nd or 3rd round.

His pass rush is promising with some explosion on the edge. Just 3.5 sacks in his senior season should tell us to offer realistic expectations, but he is a player who will turn in explosive plays with 36 explosives (sacks + tackles for loss) in his last two seasons. His pursuit puts him around the ball and he will tackle runners for loss with regularity.

Understanding the expectation level for a player in this spot of the draft is important. 4th and 5th Rounders are often the types who have extremely quiet rookie seasons where they are merely expected to pitch in on special teams and the occasional specialty package in the defense. From there, they should be slowly groomed to do more and more in years 2 and 3. The 4th round has been a mixed bag in the post-Parcells run, with Doug Free and Tashard Choice being found there on the positive side of the ledger, but with Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Isaiah Stanback in the "we can groom and develop this guy" category that never worked out. Meanwhile, at the linebacker position, we have Brandon Williams and Victor Butler as similarly-positioned picks that were to provide a promising young player who might turn into something. Williams did not see year #3 in Dallas after a strong career at Texas Tech and Butler is a fan favorite who has never impressed the coaches enough to work his way closer into the mix.

He wears #97 for the Demon Deacons:

Vs NC State

Vs Baylor, 2008 (very abbreviated highlights, but flashes of his speed)

Summary: Again, he is not without flaw, but you get the distinct idea that the Cowboys want to find SAM candidates who still possess great quickness. When doing that, you are always going to flirt with undersized players (Wilber weighs about 250) who are athletes so that you are not worried about their cover ability. He can clearly cover and he should be great on special teams. The question is whether he can grow into a role where teams do not try to run right at him because they question whether he is physical enough to be the SAM. He is one of 3 clear OLB reserves with Alex Albright and Butler, and I believe time will tell which OLB spot suits him the best. I think it is way too optimistic to assume he is Spencer's replacement in 2013, but that doesn't mean I don't believe he has promise. He may actually be Butler's replacement with Victor's rookie contract expiring next winter. Time will tell. He is a prospect who will need to answer questions, but a worthy idea in the middle of Round 4.

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