Tuesday, April 21, 2015

DMN Print: Top Linebackers


TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (left) (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (left) (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
For years, all linebackers were grouped under the same heading, but now they are divided into two groups because of the evolution of the game. We have traditional (non-pass rush) linebackers and edge pass rushers. Today, we will look at those in the first group, and on Monday the big-money edge rushers will be on display. Ideally, teams want three-down, all-situation players who can run with NFL running backs in pass routes, yet stand up physically to the power running plays up the middle. As a rule, teams are reluctant to spend “top 100” picks on this position unless a player fits all the specifications.
Spotlight player
Denzel Perryman, Miami
Playing middle linebacker spot at Miami comes with prestige, especially if a player like Perryman wears Ray Lewis’ No. 52. He is a physical force and a destroyer who diagnoses the situation at the snap, then hits his gap with intent.
At just 5-10, he plays low to the ground, so he is tougher to block when he is running full speed. Between the tackles, he is a bit like Rolando McClain, with a physical edge you really like to see from that position. In defenses where they use the linebackers aggressively and occasionally send them after the quarterback, Perryman might be perfect. He seems a natural for the A-gap blitzing where he gets on a guard and can push him right back into the QB. He also makes a number of tackles behind the line of scrimmage by just beating his block and getting up field. This is where he is excellent. He is a very aggressive and confident player.
The big negative issue is his movement skills in space when forced to go backward and turn his hips and run. When teams see him on the field against shifty running backs in space, offenses may attack him until he proves he can deal with it. If he can’t, then he is only an early-downs linebacker, which hurts his value significantly. And that is where teams must proceed with caution high in the draft.
The best
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Kendricks is a true all-situations linebacker who has an older brother, Mychal, playing the same position for the Philadelphia Eagles. The 2014 Butkus Award winner plays linebacker in a safety’s body with a frame of 6-0, 232, so while he can turn and run hip to hip with almost any pass threat, the question for him becomes accepting the considerable wear and tear from playing between the tackles in the NFL and being the tackling machine that’s needed on Sundays. He is fast and explosive and an accomplished playmaker and has almost no negatives on his ledger. If his durability continues and he can break his habit of getting a bit too physical in pass coverage, he should be a name to watch for many years in the NFL.
Jordan Hicks, Texas
When Texas landed Hicks four years ago, it was a major win on the recruiting trail. But until 2014, he found it difficult to stay on the field in Austin. In his final season, he made some significant strides and made explosive, high-impact plays. He hits well, finds the ball in zone coverage and overall has NFL quality. He clearly will slide with the health issues that allowed him to play only seven games in 2012 and 2013 combined, but his makeup and skill set will get him a great opportunity in the NFL.
Best of Texas
Paul Dawson, TCU
Arguably the most impressive of the class on tape is TCU’s Dawson, who jumps off the screen as the focal point of the Horned Frogs’ defense in 2014. He is a fantastic seek-and-destroy player who takes on blocks and fights through them to get to the ball carrier. In space, he is athletic enough to run decisively and routinely gets to the ball. He does, however, come with some questions about his makeup and a really unimpressive showing at the NFL combine, which gave him a 40-time that did not agree with what the college tape showed.
Bob Sturm’s top five
Click on the highlighted names for Bob Sturm's individual analysis of players or here for his complete list of 2015 NFL draft profiles.
Rk., PlayerSchool  Comment
1. Eric KendricksUCLA6-0232Runs and covers like nobody else
2. Denzel PerrymanMiami5-10236Must prove he’s a three-down LB
3. Stephone AnthonyClemson6-2243Another roving force in middle
4. Paul DawsonTCU6-0235Will provide a playmaker with punch
5. Shaq ThompsonWashington6-0228LB or safety? That’s question No. 1

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