Part Two of our linebackers preview. Yesterday was Inside Linebackers so today is Outside Linebackers.
These days, outside linebackers are extremely important to their teams. Much more so than in the past. This is partially due the popularity of the 3-4 lately, but even so, their importance cannot be stated enough. Even Aundray Bruce could find a job if he were coming out of school today. Well, maybe not, but he sure looked good in that red Falcons uniform during his four years in Atlanta didn’t he?
That said, this is a pretty weak year for outside linebackers and really linebackers in general. There are only a handful of guys who can start right away. We’d probably be more worried about the lack of depth available at this position, but the Chargers and Bears are pretty much good to go at linebacker, so we’re handling it like professionals.
Lawrence Timmons – Florida State
6’3″ 232 4.60 79 tackles 5 sacks
Timmons is entering the draft early from FSU, most likely because Florida State is a total disaster and he doesn’t want to the star of a 7-6 team in 2007. Like Patrick Willis, Timmons is a freakishly athletic guy who can make a play anywhere on the field. He’s also what they call a “light” 232 pounds – meaning that he can still gain weight in the NFL. He’s probably better off as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but if he bulked up, he could play outside in a 3-4 scheme too.
His only issue is that he’s not as experienced as some other players (see below: Posluszny, Paul) which shows up when he’s in pass coverage. Florida State used to produce guys like this all the time and they still do put a lot of quality players in the draft but Timmons is their only real stud this year. That, more than anything else, shows how Bobby Bowden and his program are slipping badly.
Prediction: Late first round
Paul Posluszny – Penn State
6’1″ 237 4.67 116 tackles 3 sacks
You gotta feel for Paul Posluszny a little bit. He was a sure-fire top 10 pick last year as a junior, even with A.J. Hawk in the draft. Instead, he injured his knee and decided to come back for his senior season. When he got healthy, Penn State had switched defensive schemes (from 4-3 to 3-4) and made Posluszny switch from outside to inside linebacker, all while his knee was still recovering and he was getting used to playing with a brace on. And he still had 116 tackles and 3 sacks.
Timmons is really talented, but Posluszny is the best outside linebacker in the draft. Oh, and he could play inside in the NFL too. Never underestimate a linebacker who has the ubiquitous cut on the bridge of his nose. It’s the sign of a guy who makes plays.
He has the best instincts, playmaking ability, and leadership skills of this year’s crop of linebackers (though Patrick Willis is equally amazing). If his knee doesn’t remain an issue, he’ll be an excellent player in the NFL.
Prediction: Late first round
Jon Beason – The U (of Miami)
6’0″ 233 4.55 75 tackles 1.5 sacks
Beason, another early-entry refugee from a Florida college program in trouble, is all potential. He made plenty of plays on The U’s defense, but that team wasn’t great, so who knows. He’s got all the physical tools and then some. Scouts Inc. says the knock on him is that he’s had a history of injuries. His first injury was his freshman year and the major knee injury they mention was only a one-gamer, so we’re not sure what they’re talking about. He’s not a very fluid player, which is what’s keeping him from being a higher pick, but he’s got everything else that the NFL wants. He could probably start at some point as a rookie and definitely later in his career.
Prediction: mid second round
Rufus Alexander – Oklahoma
6’0″ 227 4.65 118 tackles 3.5 sacks
Alexander is a bit small for his position, but not by much. He’s within an inch and five pounds of average size for a linebacker in this year’s draft. Outside linebackers in the NFL do need to be a bit larger these days, though a 4-3 scheme would protect him enough so that he could make plays. He’s got plenty of speed but, like a few other guys this year, the question is whether his technique will catch up to his athleticism. If it does, he could be an effective player at the highest level. He’s basically facing the same problems everyone else is.
I’m starting to wish there was a questionable character guy in this draft somewhere. You know the type, amazing physical tools, but has been arrested three or four times in his college career (we’ll get our man when Willie Williams comes out). This draft needs one of those guys…badly. Sorry Mr. Alexander, you’re not one of those guys, which hurts your stock more than anything in my book – my book that means nothing whatsoever in terms of the real draft. The real question is whether Rufus or Buster is a cooler name for a linebacker.
Prediction: late second round
Prescott Burgess – Michigan
6’3″ 246 4.75 50 tackles 3 sacks
Prescott Burgess could be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, except that he doesn’t rush the passer well enough. He could be a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, except that he doesn’t try to get through run blocks and isn’t great in pass coverage. So, uh, we’re sure he’ll have a great time adjusting to the NFL.
If anyone can get better at those things, it’s Prescott Burgess. He made a hell of a lot of plays for Michigan and teams routinely ran away from him – hell Indiana was so afraid of him they didn’t even run the ball at all against Michigan, and Burgess didn’t even play in that game (that would have never happened if Terry Hoeppner was still alive). He seems like a guy who’s better than the draft scouts say he is. Recent history says that Michigan isn’t producing very many great pros, so the safe money is on him being a special-teamer for a while. At least he looks good with his shirt off. But can he make it rain?
Prediction: hell, I don’t know. Ummm, third round.
Other names worth noting:
Earl Everett – Florida, Scouts Inc. Rating: 75 (out of 100)
Stewart Bradley – Nebraska, Scouts Inc. Rating: 74
Tim Shaw – Penn State, Scouts Inc. Rating: 65
Dallas Sartz – USC, Scouts Inc. Rating: 39 (ouch)