Today we’ll handle the linebackers, both inside and out. The outside linebackers in the 2011 draft class are quite a bit better than their inside counterparts, but a lot of the OLB class are also being considered for transitions to 4-3 Defensive End. Regardless, there are at least two clear-cut first round talents at OLB in this year’s draft as well as a dearth of other talented prospects with the potential to become upper-tier linebackers in the NFL.
The Bucs could certainly use a linebacker in this draft. Barrett Ruud’s status with the Buccaneers is in jeopardy and with regard to outside linebackers the team could potentially look at moving Geno Hayes inside or just adding depth outside during this year’s draft. Either way, the Bucs will probably take an outside ‘backer this year.
Here are the top OLB’s in the 2011 NFL Draft:
1.) Von Miller, Texas A&M - Von Miller is an absolute beast of an athlete, the Bucs would be lucky to have a shot to draft him, which they absolutely will not. Barring a move to the top five, the Bucs have no shot at Miller. Miller is exceptionally gifted and has massive raw potential, but he’s still very green. With all due respect to the Texas A&M coaching staff and scheme, Von Miller’s role in college can basically be described as “see ball, get ball.” He will develop quickly, and has all the intangibles you want including the maturity, work ethic and character to be a great NFL player, but he is not out-of-the-box ready in the way some of the ‘backers have been in recent draft. Ultimately he should develop into an elite NFL talent that excels in pass rushing and coverage, a truly well-rounded outside linebacker.
2.) Akeem Ayers, UCLA - Ayers is a player the Buccaneers could certainly target. He could stay at outside linebacker or he could also be converted to play the end in a 4-3. Ayers is a very capable pass rusher who possesses great quickness and athleticism, but not elite top-speed. He genuinely seems to enjoy the physicality of hitting and has no reservations about sticking his nose in the run game, based on his size and quickness he may be a better rush-end in a 4-3 and his ability to anchor and play the run would allow him enough versatility to stay in the game most downs. He could also play inside or outside at linebacker and be effective, I have seen him compared to DJ Williams off the Broncos in several publications. Played in all 37 career games. Is exceptionally bright, earning a History degree with honors.
3.) Justin Houston, UGA - Initially a defensive end, Houston is a very talented pass-rusher with tremendous burst up-field, he’s not really going to be big enough to play defensive end at the next level so he will feature more as pass-rushing outside linebacker. Lacks a ton of technique as a pass-rusher and has relied more on his burst and quickness historically to get past blockers, but with coaching he could become extremely effective. He is above average against the run but needs to develop his coverage skills if he wants to stay on the field more. He might be a fit for the Bucs but it would be in more of a specialist role. Frankly he’s more of a fit for a 3-4.
4.) Dontay Moch, Nevada - Moch is former Defensive End that runs a 4.4. He looks to be a very good outside linebacker in the NFL. Unlike Houston who switched his senior year, Moch will be shifting his rookie year in the NFL. Moch will be capable of playing good zone coverage, will be solid against the run and should be an excellent speed rusher, but will struggle in man coverage due to stiff hips. Needs to develop a double-move and more complete pass-rushing repertoire in order to be most effective against NFL tackles. Would fit better into a 3-4 scheme but possesses the speed and zone coverage skills to play in Tampa.
5.) Bruce Carter, UNC – Carter has eye-popping athleticism that some scouts have compared to recent top-ten pick Aaron Curry. Carter, however is no where near as polished. Carter relies heavily on athleticism and his aggressiveness, oftentimes to his own detriment. Has the ability to be a very good 4-3 outside linebacker, can cover tight ends and running backs man-to-man and come up and play the run well. Also able to generate a very good pass rush, typically a speed rusher but has some strength as well. Needs to work to develop more pash rush moves in order to become a more complete pass-rusher. Carter would make sense for Tampa in the third round.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Brooks Reed, Arizona – Reed is a bit of a tweener, he’s a bit too small to be effective agaisnt NFL linemen but may not have the agility and fluidity to be an effective outside linebacker. Ultimately will find a role as a special teamer and pass-rush specialist.
7.) Sam Acho, Texas - Very hard-working, intelligent player from a major college program. Lacks high-ended athletic potential but could ultimately be an effective linebacker. Limited potential as a pass-rusher.
8.) Chris Carter, Fresno State - Too small to play end in a 4-3 and has very little experience playing off the line. Instincts of a defensive end in a linebackers body.
9.) Adrian Moten, Maryland – Good fit for a Tampa-2 style system, will be more of a coverage special with limited pass-rush and run-stopping skills.
10.) Lawrence Wilson, UConn - Blue collar player who lacks a ton of athleticism or flashiness but manages to get the job done nonetheless. Has a surprising knack for rushing the passer, very instinctual. Will be a quality special-teamer at the very least.