The inside linebacker is a very important role for any defense. Often times the ILB is the defensive playcaller, and the tone setter. Look at any of the great defenses in the history of the National Football League and you'll find a great ILB or MLB leading the way. Whether it's Jack Lambert, Singletary , Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis almost all of the great defenses in the NFL had/have a great inside linebacker. For the Steelers the ILB needs to be able to get into the backfield against the run, cover and most importantly get to the QB. The 2013 inside linebacker class is very similar to last years class in terms of talent and it has all types of players from the bigger linebackers who fit the Buck role to the smaller more athletic players which has become the new trend in the NFL. I cut the analysis down from 10 prospects to 5 for length because I assumed the length of the last post was daunting.
1) Manti Te'o, MLB, University of Notre Dame-
The 6'2" 255lbs senior Linebacker from Notre Dame could have enter the draft in 2012. He was considered a first round pick after an amazing season amassing 126 tackle, 13.5 TFL, and 5 sacks. Instead of going to the NFL Te'o returned to school to improve his game, In 2013 he became a more complete linebacker. The casual fan will look at his season stats of 103 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and 7 interception season and may think he wasn't as productive. This however isn't true however. Te'o lower tackle amount is the product of Notre Dame defense growing as a unit. With Te'o leading the defense Notre Dame went undefeated in the regular season, with Te'o winning both the Butkus and Bednarik awards for best linebacker and defensive player in college football.
- Pass Rush- Te'o was rarely asked to blitz the quarterback this last season. This was not because Te'o can't rush the passer but it was more evidence at Te'o improvement in coverage. Te'o is an athletic linebacker for his size. He shows good quickness and speed. On film Te'o shows all the ability to exceed blitzing from the middle at the next level.
- Coverage- This is Te'o most improved area from last season and it showed in the stat line. Prior to his senior year he had 0 interceptions and in his senior year alone he has had 7 interceptions. In coverage it is a awesome to watch Te'o. He does an amazing job of using his eyes and seeing the play in front of him. He keeps his feet moving and uses his change of direction skills to flow in zone coverage. He reads the QBs eyes and does a great job of feeling the route behind him. In man coverage he has the athleticism to stay with a tight end or runningback. His does a nice job of recognizing routes in front of him ad breaks on the ball when in the air. He rarely takes false steps and recognizes play action fast. For a linebacker he has a pretty good ball skills. He has made some amazing catches and excels in when the play breaks down into a tip drill.
- Run Defense- For a linebacker of Te'o's size there are a lot of misconceptions about his play against the run. I heard that Te'o is supposed to be physically imposing and a player who takes on blockers to win. On tape however Te'o is much more than that. Manti Te'o does an excellent job of diagnosing the play as it happen. His footwork in traffic is almost flawless as he shows the ability to shift through the masses untouched and get to the QB. He has very good lateral mobility and plays sideline to sideline. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is to where is teammates are supposed to be. Playside he will attack the block and force the runningback back to his help. Te'o is a good but not great tackler, display good from in most of his tackles to get the ball carrier down. There are a few flaws I have see in Te'o game. The first is in his backside pursuit. At times he is too aggressive in his backside pursuit and will overrun the play or miss the tackle. While Te'o does an excellent job of diagnosing the play at time he will hesitate to attack allowing the blockers to get to him. Te'o can also improve his ability to get off of the block as it is lackluster at times he will let the lineman into his body. Due to his size will struggle in space at times.
- Conclusion- It is clear to see why Te'o decided to return to Notre Dame for the 2012 season. On route to an undefeated season Manti clearly polished his play in the both the run game and in coverage. He went from a run defender who would almost too willing take on blockers to a player who can take on blocker or avoid contract in traffic to get to the runningback. In coverage he cleaned up his footwork, he worked on staying low and really improved his coverage ability in both man and zone. Te'o is clearly the most polished ILB in this draft and while I would like to see him be more aggressive playside at times, Te'o should have a good career in the NFL. Manti Te'o in my opinion has the ability to play both inside and outside linebacker in the 4-3 and would really excel at the Buck in the 3-4 defense. Closest Player Comparison- James Laurinaitis, MLB St. Louis Rams.
2) Kevin Minter, MLB, Louisiana State University-
In a talented LSU defense the player who had the stand out year was their 6'1" 245lbs junior MLB Kevin Minter. After recording only 61 tackles as a sophomore in 2011, as a junior in 2012 he put up 130 tackles, 15 TFL, 4 sacks, and an interception. Even more impresses Minter had 5 games with 10 or more tackles. His Florida tape is one of the most impressive of any ILB I have seen this year as he had 20 tackles, 3 TFL and 2 sacks. Minter is an instinctive and explosive leader of an LSU defense that was pretty damn good in 2012.
- Pass Rush- Minter is an explosive straight-line athlete. He may not have an elite long speed or lateral speed but he can accelerate to his top speed quickly. He is powerful and built low to the ground making it hard for runningbacks to block him blitzing up the middle. Minter has displayed excellent instincts in timing the snap as well. I believe Kevin Minter can be effective blitzing up the middle in the NFL.
- Coverage- While Kevin Minter doesn't have great lateral speed he make up for it in his instincts and ability to diagnose plays. He does a good job of reading both the play and the receiver at the same time. Minter has a good first step allowing him to react quick in zone coverage. There are some technical issue with Minter coverage ability. He plays flat footed and often stops his feet while reading coverage. This allows receiver to get enough separation to make a play. Minter also struggle feeling the plays behind him. In coverage Minter is much better playing in zone and reacting to the play in front of him and preventing yards after the catch.
- Run Defense- Kevin Minter is at his best playing as a downhill linebacker. Against the run he does an excellent job of reading the play quickly and attacking. He has impressive lower body strength and leverage and because of this he is ability to drive blockers back closing holes. Minter also has good hand placement when engaged. This allows him to disengage from block and make a play. Like many top linebacker Minter also shows the awareness and feel on the playside to avoid blocker and get to the ball carrier. Minter is a relentless backside player and usually take good angles in pursuit. He is a great tackler in traffic but will struggle making a tackle in space.
- Conclusion- Overall Kevin Minter is an instinctive linebacker who is at his best playing downhill. He has a good first step which allows him to excel blitzing up the middle and has adequate coverage ability. What make Minter special is his lower body strength and leverage while engage. Because of this I am lead to believe Minter would be at his best taking on lead blockers as a 3-4 Buck linebacker. His coverage skills may limit his interest in the 4-3 defense but he has the ability to play the 4-3 MLB in the pros as well. Closest Player Comparison- Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
3) Alec Ogleltree, ILB University of Georgia-
Alec Ogletree is a 6'3" 234lbs ILB for the Georgia Bulldogs 3-4 defense. He was converted from safety to ILB in 2011 and though his season was shorted due to a foot injury flashed some amazing athleticism for the position. 2011 he put up 52 tackles, 7.5 TFL and 3 sacks in 8 games. In 2012 he looked to improve on his number as he began his second year at ILB. This year he put up 111 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 1 INT, and 3 sacks. It would be considered a very good year for an ILB but as I watched film I can't help but feel he is just starting to tap his potential.
- Pass Rush- Alec Ogletree displays impressive athleticism for a safety. He has an impressive first step and the acceleration of a safety. Ogletree has the top end speed to get to the QB while blitzing the middle. He has the lateral agility to effectively perform stunts. He does play high making it easier for runningbacks to get underneath him when trying to pick him up on a blitz.
- Coverage- In coverage Alec Ogletree's agility makes him a dangerous weapon. He has good acceleration and can get to the route in front allowing lit yards after the catch. His 6'3" size and athleticism allow him to excel in man coverage. He will mirror runningbacks out of the back field stride for stride and allows little separation against TE. In zone Ogletree does a nice job of reading the play and has ball skills of a safety. However Ogletree still needs work in pass coverage. When reading plays he often is not moving his feet. This allows the receiver to get initial separation though Ogletree closes well with his acceleration ability. Ogletree is susceptible to falling for play action passes often biting on the run play.
- Run Defense- When Ogletree successfully reads the play in front of him it is fun to watch. He will do a good slipping pass blocker to get the ball carrier. Backside when he see a hole in the blocking he will shoot through the gap to try and make a play. The problem is Ogletree is slow to read the play. Too often is he caught in the same spot he was presnap and lets the linemen get to him. He plays high so when the linemen gets to him he rarely wins the battle. He struggles at disengaging from blocks to make the play, lacking the lower body strength as of now to hold his ground.
- Conclusion- Alec Ogletree has the athleticism to impress in the NFL. He does a great job back side and maneuvering through the traffic and getting to the ball carrier. In the passing game his acceleration makes it easy for him to close the gap in man coverage or prevent very little yards after the catch. However the concerns you'd have about a converted safety are all present. Moving closer to the line means the game happens faster and the player needs to read and react faster. Ogletree still struggles with this. Other concerns with a converted safety would be the needed physicality to take on blocker. Again Ogletree struggles with this, but does have a frame to put on more weight if needed. As the game slows down for him Ogletree could be special. I believe he will be most successful as a 4-3 Will linebacker or the 3-4 Mack linebacker. He seems to be the new mold for the Mack backer similar to a Lawrence Timmons but the player he most reminds me of is Daryl Washington. Washington was more instinctive coming out of college though. The potential is high for Ogletree. Closest Player Comparison- Darryl Washington, ILB, Arizona Cardinals
4) Arthur Brown, MLB, Kansas State University-
Originally committing to the University of Miami after being a highly recruited highschool player Brown left the program in the wake of an NCAA investigation. He transferred back to his home state of Kansas to play at Kansas State. After sitting out 2010 because of NCAA transfer rules, 2011 he showed why he was so highly thought of putting up a team high 101 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks and 1 INT. After deciding to return for his senior season 2012 he help K-State to a high ranking and put up 100 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack and 2 INTs. Brown is only 6'1" and light at 228lbs but his leadership and technique indicate he could have an impact in the NFL.
- Pass Rush- Brown was not asked to rush the passer a lot at Kansas State however if asked to do this in the NFL I have confidence he can get the job done. He has very good athleticism for a linebacker and can accelerate quickly through a gap in a delay blitz. When meeting a blocking back he gets low to maximize his ability to drive the blocker back. He also shows the ability to dip around the edge against tight ends or poor blocking tackles when blitzing from the outside.
- Coverage- Dropping in coverage is where Arthur Brown shows his exceptional football intelligence. In all of his film he does a great job of successfully reading run or pass without wasted steps. In schemes he gets to his land marker and keeps his head on a swivel looking for potential receivers. When his receiver is leaving his zone he calls it out so the defender whose zone he is entering is aware of his new responsibility. When the ball is in the air he accelerates quickly to his man to allow little yards after the catch. In man coverage he can get exposed. His size makes him a poor match up against TE who are usually 3" taller and 15lbs heavier at minimum. While he does recognize, down distance and route development, his size is his biggest hindrance in man coverage.
- Run Defense- For a linebacker of his size one would guess he would lack physicality. Brown however is very physical. He does a great job of getting low taking on the lead blocker in the hole. He understands where his help is coming from in the defense. He does a great job black side at moving through the traffic and getting to the ball carrier. Play side he can shed blocks of TE very well but will struggle at times with the size difference of linemen. There are plenty of plays where Brown attempts to take on offensive linemen blocks head on but is just overwhelmed. While his size and quickness does make it harder on linemen he can't consistently stack and shed blocks this way. Brown is at his best when his defensive line keeps him clean and he can flow side line to sideline.
- Conclusion- Arthur Brown is a player who plays bigger than his size. He is an athletic sideline to sideline player whose football intelligence show on the field. Despite his size he does a good job taking on fullbacks in the hole do to natural leverage and exceptional technique. In zone coverage he also flourishes. Browns size will always be a concern. In man coverage opposing QBs will take advantage him covering TE. In the run game he can't consistently shed blocks of the much larger O-linemen. It is because of these concerns that I believe Brown would be at his best as 4-3 MLB. Brown could potentially play the Mack if he can put on weight. Honestly Brown reminds me of Ray Lewis on tape but his heart will be in questioned in NFL draft rooms. This was something no one would dare question of Ray. Closest Player Comparison- Ray Lewis, MLB Baltimore Ravens
5) Gerald Hodges, OLB, Pennsylvania State University-
Penn State has the moniker of "Linebacker University" with linebackers like Sean Lee, NaVarro Bowman, Dan Connor, Paul Pozluszny, Tamba Hali, and Cameron Wake, it is easy to see why. The 6'1" 239lbs Gerald Hodges is the next backer to enter the NFL after playing at Penn State. In 2011 Hodges had a good year with 106 tackles, 10 TFL, 4.5 sacks and 1 INT. In 2012 as a senior. He chose to continue to be the leader in a locker room for a team hit hard by NCAA sanctions and transfers. Hodges put up 109 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack and 2 INTs. Hodges often switched from the Will and the Sam in the Nittany Lions 4-3 defense.
- Pass Rush- On the blitz Gerald Hodges shows a surprisingly quick step. When coming off the edge he shows a good job of staying low to dip around the corner. Need to do a better job of using his arms to prevent the tackle from getting his hands on him. His hand placement is erratic, never in the same spot which hurts his pass rushing skills. In reality at Penn State Hodges was asked to blitz on the outside when Penn State played a three man front and was unpolished. His delayed blitzes were also mostly outside but in the NFL he is not a pass rusher on the outside. In the NFL he would be blitzing up the middle. In the few times I saw him do this in tape he excelled at waiting for the O-line to part and shooting through the hole to get to the QB.
- Coverage- Gerald Hodges displays a surprising quickness in coverage. He uses his eye well and drops to his keys in zone coverage. He rarely takes false steps and understands how to play low with his feet moving. When he sees the play he goes and is an excellent tackler in space. While he reads plays well he doesn't show the anticipation or instincts to jump routes. Hodges isn't the best in man coverage as well. While he is physical enough to match up with TE he struggles playing the ball no matter how little separation he allows. Against receivers he just isn't quick enough in man coverage.
- Run Defense- The Penn State linebacker is nothing if not physical. He displays impressive stack and shed ability and slips blocks to make the play. He does a good job of reading the play and doing his job to prevent cutbacks on the backside. He is as mentioned above a great tackler in space and a solid tackler all together. Again Hodges will be caught reading the play too long and allow the Linemen to get to him while he does shed the block he is forced to make a tackle five yards down field because of it. Play anticipation is the real concern. He does a great job of seeing the ball carrier through traffic and when he sees his opportunity he will shoot an opening. When holding the outside he displays the correct technique however he will be too aggressive and give up the edge to attempt to make the play.
- Conclusion- Gerald Hodges is a leader and a fundamentally sound player. In coverage he reads plays well and is great a tackling in space allowing little yards after the catch. In the run game he has a good ability to find the ball carrier with his eye in traffic. He does a good job of stacking and shedding. I compare his play to another former Penn State linebacker NaVarro Bowman. Like Bowman, Hodges plays faster on the field then he will time at the combine. Unlike Bowman however Hodges doesn't display natural instincts. If I was a GM in need of depth at 3-4 ILB I'd take a filer on Hodges who will probably go somewhere between the late third and fourth round but could develop into a fine starter in the NFL. Closest Player Comparison- NaVarro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco 49ers.
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