Akron linebacker Jatavis Brown is one of 15 defensive players the Pittsburgh Steelers have brought in for a pre-draft visit, but he's the only linebacker in the group. The recent departure of reserve inside linebackers Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency have left the Steelers with little depth at the position. Brown, a senior captain, could provide great value for Pittsburgh in the middle rounds, both as a backup for Ryan Shazier, and a contributor on special teams.
Brown possesses many of the traits the Steelers front office have coveted in its linebacker prospects in recent years. On tape, the first thing that sticks out is his tremendous speed and explosiveness, which allow him to get from sideline to sideline, and track down ball carriers with ease. Brown opened the eyes of several NFL Scouts who were on hand to watch him run a 4.47 at the regional combine in Houston in early February.
At 5-foot-11, 222 lbs., Brown is a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, but that doesn't stop him from playing with a high degree of violence and aggression. He uses his low center of gravity to play down hill and finish tackles, something that should translate well on special teams at the next level.
Scouts from 22 NFL teams were on hand to watch Brown work out at Akron's pro day on March 18. The Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year put on quite a show, bench pressing 33 repetitions of 225 lbs., while posting an unofficial 40-yard dash time of somewhere between 4.38 and 4.44 seconds.
Due to his lack of size, there has been talk of Brown transitioning to safety at the next level, but he still sees himself as a linebacker.
"I believe I'm a linebacker and I will play linebacker in the NFL," Brown told the media at his pro day.
Brown is one of the more versatile linebacker prospects in this year's draft class. Despite being undersized, he plays stout against the run, and gets after the quarterback when asked to blitz (recorded 12 sacks in 2015). He looks natural dropping in space to cover tight ends and wide receivers. Like UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Brown was asked, on occasion, to line up in man coverage as a nickel defender in the slot.
"I am versatile," Brown told NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Dane Brugler in a recent interview. "I can do it all, honestly. Not to sound cocky, but I can be a run stopper, rush the passer, run with receivers down the field. I love special teams - they want me focusing on defense so they don't let me play special teams this year."
Brown flashed his versatility and play making ability with a monster performance against the University of Pittsburgh last season, finishing the game with 16 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Perhaps the biggest concern among NFL scouts is Brown's ability to stack-and-shed against 300-pound guards at the next level. Despite being incredibly strong, he's hindered in this area by his small frame and short arms.
Brown is probably best suited to play the will linebacker position in a 4-3 alignment, but in my opinion, will do just fine playing the mack in a 3-4 front.
For the Steelers to have a shot at Brown, they'll more than likely need to pull the trigger with the No. 89 overall pick in round three. Will they do so? That depends on whether or not they see Brown as more than just a backup inside linebacker and special teams ace. If Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin feel he can also contribute as a box safety or spur linebacker in sub packages, I believe the answer is emphatically, yes.