Monday, April 6, 2009

Feeling the Draft '09: 3-4 Linebackers

Back again with another outside—as in far outside, past the bushes and the security guards—look at the Broncos’ needs in the upcoming 2009 NFL Player Draft.

Sure, other writers might just call it “the Draft,” but we here at the House prefer the veneer of legitimacy conveyed by “2009” “NFL” and “Player.” Consider it the lawyerly approach.

Judge us for our arrogance if you like; but please, do so in the comments section. Instead of, you know, court. Because, given the mindset we’ve established in paragraph one, we’d have to represent ourselves. And that would get ugly fast.

Enough chatter. Down below, a look at 5 linebackers who could potentially fit in Mike Nolan’s 3-4 defense.

1. Larry English, LB/DE, Northern Illinois. 6’2”, 255 lbs

English is a guy who doesn’t have a lot of name recognition outside the NIU campus but stands a real chance of going early in the draft. Possibly as early as the first round. He’ll most definitely be off the board by the end of the second. That’s a measure of the high value that 3-4 teams place on outside linebackers with his body type--although he’s a few inches shy of prototype height for the position--and ability to rush the passer (he’s the school’s career leader in sacks). He’s also, from all accounts, a good dude off the field and is a member of the University’s leadership council. Given the money that teams commit to players at the top of the draft, that plays pretty well these days. Unless you’re the Bengals.

2. Clay Matthews Jr., LB/DE, USC. 6’3, 240 lbs

Now, this is a name that might perk the casual fan’s ear, but more likely because casual fan is remembering Clay Matthews Sr., a linebacker who played seemingly a hundred seasons for the Cleveland Browns. Younger Clay has seen only one year as a starter, but it should be mentioned that he walked on to the team to begin with—if you turn yourself into a starter at USC, even if takes all four years, you deserve a little dap no matter your surname. He’s versatile, hard-working and a football-is-the-most-important-thing-in-the-universe type--although for all of his potential as a rush linebacker in the 3-4, he didn’t exactly produce a ton of sacks (only 4.5) playing at the Trojans’ version of the position, the “Elephant.” (Who came up with that name, anyway?) But the Draft is all about potential, and Matthews has it in spades.

3. Jasper Brinkley, ILB, South Carolina. 6’1”, 252 lbs

No, we haven’t forgotten that the 3-4 requires more than mere pass rushers, that it only works well when staffed by concrete-gnawing brutes in the middle who can fend off pulling guards and stuff the run. While scouts evidently weren’t impressed with Brinkley’s senior season or play at the East-West Shrine Game (we think that anyone who takes part in that contest should motor up to the stadium in a little car, wearing a fez), he made up for it with a better showing at the Combine. Not very fast, kind of Andra Davis-esque, but physically suited for the inside banging that the scheme entails.

4. Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia. 6’2”, 256 lbs

The most obvious presence on this list, Sintim was drafted to play in Al Groh’s 3-4 alignment at Virginia and did so with elan—he owns UVA’s record for career sacks by a linebacker, with 27. That experience, combined with his ideal body type, pass rush ability, arm length (33 ½ inches) and ability to drop in coverage, will likely make him one of the first rush linebackers off the board, alongside English. Plus, Clint is an appropriately monosyllabic first name for a linebacker.

5. Neefy Moffett, DE/OLB, Florida St. 6’0”, 260 lbs

The knock on Moffett, who played defensive line in college, is that he’s too short. To which we say: don’t short linemen have natural leverage? It’s not like the dude is a wide receiver. He’s a brute, physically, and ProFootballWeekly’s Nolan Nawrocki (read: actual draft analyst) speculates that he could carry 280 pounds on his frame, making for one heck of a rush linebacker. If Jason Gildon could play for the Steelers in the mid-to-late ‘90s at 270 or so, we see no reason Moffett can’t do the same.

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