Apr 29, 2011
Apr 29, 2011
Bruno Boys Fantasy Football ranks the top 100 prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft based on which prospects project the best at the next level.
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Outside linebackers in the 2011 class represent pass-rushing threats of all varieties. Now that close to half of teams in the NFL use a 3-4 defense, the demand for outside linebackers has never been higher. A great pass rushing linebacker can wreak havoc on a quarterback, forcing him to make a bad throw or a poor decision. The good news for teams in need of 3-4 outside linebacker talent is that they should be able to find a solid player throughout the draft. That’s because the majority of the position’s top prospects project best to the 3-4. Also, given the hybrid defensive population that’s evolved in the NFL, expect to see teams draft players listed as linemen with the intention to convert them to 3-4 outside linebackers. Post-draft conversion candidates include Arizona’s Brooks Reed, Texas’ Sam Acho, Nevada’s Dontay Moch, and Fresno State’s Chris Carter.
By contrast, the outlook is not so good for teams that employ a 4-3 defense and hope to use the upcoming draft to upgrade or supplement their 4-3 outside linebacker corps. Franchises will no doubt find the pickings depressingly slim both in terms of quality and overall depth at the position.
While the outside linebacker group as a whole is stronger than the inside group, comes up a bit short on prospects with the potential to be big-time difference makers like Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware or Pittsburgh’s James Harrison. The undisputed headliner of the 2011linebacker class–inside or outside–is Von Miller from Texas A&M. The supremely talented and athletic Miller is a surefire Round 1 pick and top 10 selection. He could easily go in the top five depending on the draft priorities of the teams with those picks. After Miller, there are no other first-round locks at the position, although a few prospects could potentially hear their names called on Day 1.
UCLA’s Akeem Ayers showed playmaking ability as both a pass rusher and in coverage as a strong-side linebacker in the Bruins’ 4-3. In his two full seasons as a starter, Ayers compiled 123 tackles (24.4 for loss), 10 sacks, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and four forced fumbles (one returned for a score). He has the skill set to be an impact player at the next level is just about any defensive scheme.
Georgia’s Justin Houston played defensive end during his first few seasons and converted to outside linebacker when the Bulldogs implemented a 3-4 scheme in 2010. He should be high on the short lists of teams looking for strength and speed on the outside. Ayers and Houston are strong candidates for the second half of Round 1 or very early in Round 2.
The next tier features three college defensive ends expected to convert to 3-4 outside linebackers because they lack the ideal size to play with their hands on the ground at the next level. Arizona’s Brooks Reed is a hard worker who plays with effort, intensity and heart. He excels at getting after the quarterback and is quick off the snap. Though he lacks elite athletic ability and has limited experience playing in space, Reed is a high motor player who uses sound technique to be productive against the run and the pass.
Nevada’s Dontay Moch made some noise at the Scouting Combine with his eye-popping 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Moch’s superior athleticism, speed and quickness should draw considerable interest on Draft Day, however there are concerns about his ability to develop a secondary pass-rush move, play in coverage and hold his own against the run at the next level.
Sam Acho was a standout pass rusher at the University of Texas known for his relentless motor, sound technique, great energy and hustle. Acho has limited experience dropping in coverage and can be neutralized by stronger offensive linemen. His work ethic, impeccable character and off-the-chart intangibles will appeal to many teams.
Reed is a VERY longshot for Day 1, more likely that he’ll go in the first half of Round 2. Moch and Acho are Day 2 selections that could go off the board anywhere between Rounds 2 and 4.
The top two -4-3 prospects are North Carolina’s Bruce Carter and Washington’s Mason Foster. Carter is a first-round caliber talent who tore his ACL late in the 2010 season, had reconstructive surgery in December, and then saw his draft stock take a tumble. He is one of the best pure athletes in the draft. He’s a sideline-to-sideline run-and-chase linebacker with ability to make plays all over the field, plus the speed and agility to play in man coverage. Carter also proved to be a disruptive force on special teams with seven blocked kicks (six punts, one field goal) in his career. There are some questions about his instincts and ability to shed blocks. Carter’s durability will be a concern, however if he checks out medically, then he could be the steal of the draft for the team that grabs him in the second or third round.
Former Huskie Mason Foster’s stock has risen from a player who might have been taken in the middle rounds to one who could sneak into the second or third. One reason has to do with the 2011 class being weak at the traditional 4-3 linebacker position; the other has to do with Foster’s strong pre-Draft season. Momentum started to build with his 12-tackle, two sack effort at the Holiday Bowl, followed by an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl that broadened his exposure at the national level. Foster also helped his cause with solid outings at the Combine and his school’s Pro Day. He’s considered a good all-around linebacker, a consistent reliable tackler with great instincts and a nose for the ball.
The feel-good story in the group is Boston College’s Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his standout junior season when he was named the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Herzlich underwent seven months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation as well as surgery to insert a 12-inch titanium rod in his left leg. He was declared cancer-free in September 2009 and returned to the field for his senior season in 2010. Once considered a first-round prospect, Herzlich is a likely Day 3 pick.
The Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are among the teams that could use an early-round pick on an impact outside linebacker. Others, including the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, may look to bolster their linebacker depth with an infusion of youth.