Johnson known to miss some plays
Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 12 linebacker prospects in the draft:
• OLB Derrick Johnson (Texas)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 3¼, 242 pounds, 4.52 in the 40.
Numbers game: Was a Parade Magazine All-American selection in high school, where he reportedly recorded 30 tackles and four forced fumbles in one game. Three-year starter for the Longhorns, opening in 40 of 50 appearances, and finished his college career with 458 tackles, 65 tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, 39 pressures, 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and nine interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Recorded 120 or more tackles in each season as a starter and had four interceptions each in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation's top defensive player and the Butkus Award as the best linebacker. Was a consensus All-American and named to the all-Big 12 team.
Upside: Fluid athlete with great flexibility, loose hips and great speed. Can chase down plays all over the field. Good range, covers a lot of space with only a few steps. Knows how to pick up his feet to avoid getting caught up in the trash. Moves laterally with a lot of facility. Can go sideline to sideline. Instinctive and aware, a solid diagnostician. Fine closing speed. Very productive in every phase of the game. Definite team leader.
Downside: The critics feel he avoids too many plays. His supporters contend that you can't have more than 450 career tackles by not taking people on. But watch him on tape and you can see the detractors make a good point. He runs around way too many plays and, even with all those tackles, he whiffs far too much. Doesn't stack the way he should and will not stand up the lead-blocker. More of a drag-down tackler. Not an explosive blitzer.
The dish: We're not sold, and neither are a few scouts whose opinions we value, but we are in the minority. Could be the first defensive player off the board and almost certain to be among the top dozen prospects chosen.
|In preparation for the NFL draft (April 23-24, ESPN), Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton will roll out a position-by-position look at draft prospects, along with a breakdown for each position. Click here to see the complete schedule.|
Vital statistics: 6 foot 4 3/8, 272 pounds, 4.68 in the 40.
Numbers game: In high school, averaged nearly 150 tackles per season as a three-year starter. Started in 17 of 38 appearances during three-year college career, didn't start for a full season until the '04 campaign, when he lined up at the "Leo" position, a hybrid end/linebacker spot on the strong side. Registered 189 tackles, 32½ tackles for loss, 22 sacks, 27 pressures, four forced fumbles and three recoveries. Had 85 tackles and 17 tackles for loss in 2004. An all-ACC choice in 2004.
Downside: Doesn't quite redirect as well as he could. Perhaps a little tight in the hips. Will overrun some plays because he is so naturally aggressive, then sometimes struggles to recover. Has to remember to bend his knees more consistently and to get his pad level down. Some scouts feel he has gotten so big that he will have to line up at end.
The dish: Incredible combination of size and speed. His value is certainly enhanced by the reemergence of the 3-4 front because he is the kind of hybrid "edge" defender so many teams are seeking now. Should be a top-12 pick.
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Vital statistics: 6 foot 4, 251 pounds, 4.56 in the 40.
Numbers game: Only played two seasons of football in high school and was recruited as a skinny wide receiver. Probably better known in high school as a basketball player and track star. Played in 44 games at end and started 35 of them. Had 201 tackles, 58 tackles for loss, 27½ sacks, 76 pressures, 10 forced fumbles and four recoveries. Twice named to the all-Conference USA team and was the conference's defensive player of the year for 2004 season. Also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award in 2004.
Upside: Natural outside pass-rusher, explodes out of his stance and gets upfield, can flatten out and close on the passer. Like a heat-seeking missile at times. Over a 10- or 15-yard space, there are few players in this draft faster than he is. Terrific athlete, can run all day, changes direction nicely. Good body control, seems to just flow to the ball. Agile and loose. Long arms so, when he gets into blocker, he can extend and create separation. Has shown some ability to drop into the flat and play in space.
Downside: Very raw, hasn't had much exposure to the game, and certainly not to the linebacker position, which is where he will be asked to play by some teams. Long, lean frame isn't all that strong, and he might need another 10 pounds. Doesn't always play with leverage and will get washed out at the point of attack. Will have to use his hands better and get off blocks quicker. Like most smaller-school players, relies a lot on just his physical skills.
The dish: Another "tweener" defender who will be very popular with 3-4 teams. Has skyrocketed up draft boards and could be chosen in the top half of the first round.
• OLB Darryl Blackstock (Virginia)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 5/8, 247 pounds, 4.70 in the 40.
Numbers game: Registered an amazing 29 sacks as a high school senior, then spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Virginia in 2002. Started in all but one of his 39 appearances and finished with 237 tackles, 42½ tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 46 pressures, two forced fumbles, four recoveries and an interception. Also had one blocked punt in 2002. Led the ACC with 11 sacks in 2004 and is the school's career leader in quarterback takedowns.
Upside: Another premier athlete with basketball-type movement skills and NBA-caliber leaping ability. Good pursuit player and an excellent blitzer off the edge. Nice feel for when and where the holes will open for him in the blitz. Plays with an economy of motion and lifts his feet through the garbage. Good awareness when playing in space. Has displayed some cover skills.
Downside: Despite weighing nearly 250 pounds, doesn't play that big or that strong. Not stout enough on the plays run right at him and tries to run around too many blocks and redirect to the play from the backside. Too much run-and-chase to his game and way too much finesse. Will have to use his hands a lot better at the next level.
The dish: There's plenty of nice foundation here and a ton of natural ability. Will need some more bulk and a better understanding of leverage, but a top-shelf prospect.
• OLB Kevin Burnett (Tennessee)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 7/8, 235 pounds, 4.61 in the 40.
Numbers game: Played running back in high school and was primarily recruited by the Vols to play safety. Moved to linebacker during his freshman season. Missed all but one quarter of the 2002 season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. Played in 49 games and started 28 contests. Chalked up 274 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 10 pressures, three forced fumbles, three recoveries and one interception. Had 120 tackles, including 90 solo stops, in 2004. An all-SEC selection in 2004 and was twice named to the conference's all-academic team.
Upside: Very active, but economical at the same time. Sees the ball quickly, takes solid angles and gets into the play. Compensates for a lack of explosiveness and closing speed with instinctive style. The kind of defender who looks fairly unremarkable during a game but, when you check the stat sheet, has 10 tackles. A very sure tackler, won't slide off ball carriers, and will step into the hole. Hits with a natural, rising motion.
Downside: A good, but not great, athlete. Not nearly as complete a pass-rusher as some of the other linebacker prospects. Might be more of a drop-and-cover player and, in that area, will have to get better at tracking receivers from the backfield. Plays off his feet a little too often and sometimes has lapses in which he struggles to disengage.
The dish: Nice player who has competed at a high level and knows how to play the game. A solid second-round pick.
• ILB Odell Thurman (Georgia)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 0 1/8, 233 pounds, 4.62 in the 40.
Numbers game: Was a partial qualifier in 2001, then, after some off-field and academic problems, played at Georgia Military Academy in 2002. Transferred back to Georgia in '03 and started in 22 of 23 appearances. Had 186 tackles, 29½ tackles for loss, 9½ sacks, 24 pressures, two forced fumbles, three recoveries and two interceptions. Returned one interception for a touchdown. Was all-SEC and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award in 2004. Was suspended for the first three games of the '04 campaign for violating unspecified team rules.
Upside: Huge hitter who strikes a natural, rising blow and really gets his legs and hips into a tackle. When he smacks you, chances are you're going down. An explosive first-contact defender who can jolt a ball carrier and stop him in his tracks. Wraps up on tackles and drives through people. Reads keys well and gets up into the hole. Hustles and will make plays outside the tackle box. A decent inside blitzer. Plays with a chip on his shoulder. Solid work ethic.
Downside: His motor might actually run a little too high he bites easily on play-action fakes. Has a tendency to overrun some plays and doesn't redirect back into the flow. Not very good in coverage and will struggle in space. A ton of off-field issues, including two suspensions, and definitely lacks maturity.
The dish: Just grading him on football skills, probably the best inside linebacker in the draft, and maybe the premier backer, period. But teams that are doing background checks on him can't like some of the stuff being unearthed. No worse than a second-round pick on ability, but it will be interesting to see how much the character red flags will hurt him.
• OLB Matt McCoy (San Diego State)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 0, 234 pounds, 4.62 in the 40.
Numbers game: Redshirted as a freshman. Three-year starter, opened in 29 games and finished with 270 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Had 18 tackles in a 2004 game against Michigan. Missed the final game in '04 because of a wrist injury. Was twice named second-team all-Mountain West Conference.
Upside: Just a good, steady defender who is never going to be flashy or athletically jaw-dropping, but a guy who makes the plays he is supposed to make. A sure, wrap-up tackler who is always in position. Solid cover skills and can run deep. Big heart and big motor and a solid character guy.
Downside: Lack of bulk means he gets engulfed every once in a while. Will go through stretches where he gets blocked too easily. Needs to get stronger.
The dish: Might have been the best player not invited to the combine. On a steady rise, has made a lot of visits the past month, and some teams rate him as a possible second-round prospect.
• ILB Barrett Ruud (Nebraska)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2½, 241 pounds, 4.75 in the 40.
Numbers game: A starter on three state championship teams in high school. Started 37 games and appeared in 50, posting 432 tackles, 50 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 29 pressures, seven forced fumbles, three recoveries and one interception. Had a fumble return for a touchdown. Averaged 146 tackles over his final two seasons, and his 143 stops in 2004 led the conference. An all-Big 12 pick in 2004 and was also named to the conference's all-academic team last season.
Upside: Intense, smart and, as his numbers indicate, very productive. Competes on every snap. Uses his hands well to shed blockers and does a nice job of keeping people off his legs. Plays on his feet and under control. Moves his feet well and very fluid in going laterally down the line. Does a nice job of ducking under blocks and sliding underneath a play. Drops well and has nice awareness in the coverage game.
Downside: A sure tackler, but not a guy who will jolt you. Doesn't strike through the tackle or hit with natural rising action. A step slow on some plays.
The dish: Played mostly outside linebacker in college but might have to make the switch to the inside at the next level. A productive player in four different defenses during his college career, so change is nothing new to him. A second- or third-round pick.
• ILB Channing Crowder (Florida)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¼, 245 pounds, 4.67 in the 40.
Numbers game: Played mostly at tailback in high school and delayed enrollment at Florida while he rehabilitated a knee injury. Played in 20 games and started 17 of them, recording 179 tackles, 13½ tackles for loss, four sacks, one pressure, two forced fumbles, three recoveries and an interception. Voted a team captain as a sophomore. Was an all-SEC choice in 2004. Was twice suspended, one game on each occasion, for scrapes with the law.
Upside: Has an undeniable swagger to him. Plays with a sense of urgency. Vocal on the field and just a naturally intense defender. Cuts through the traffic to get to the ball and, when he arrives, is an explosive hitter. Tries to de-cleat the ball carrier every chance he gets. Fancies himself an intimidator and, at times, certainly fills the role. Sheds nicely, really uses his hands well, strong enough to slap blockers away. Makes plays outside the box and can get out on the edge. Has some rush ability and times his blitzes well.
Downside: Not as fluid as you want, especially through the hips, and falls into the habit of not breaking down into a textbook football position. Sometimes allows his emotions to take over and will play out of control and with a lack of discipline. Got away with some freelancing in college that won't cut it at the next level. Has had knee problems and some off-field issues that could be a factor.
The dish: Teams are looking hard at his character and examining some of the off-field incidents in which he was involved, but seem almost as concerned with his knees. Might still sneak into the bottom of the first round, depending on individual teams, but could just as easily slip into the third round.
• ILB Alfred Fincher (Connecticut)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 1 3/8, 248 pounds, 4.68 in the 40.
Numbers game: Three-year starter, played in 47 games, starting 35 of them. Posted 354 tackles, 33½ tackles for loss, five sacks, seven pressures, eight forced fumbles, five recoveries and four interceptions. Had one interception return for a touchdown. Had 90 or more tackles, including 140 stops in 2004, in each of his final three seasons. His 140 tackles in '04 led the conference. Chosen for the all-Big East team as a senior.
Upside: Tough, gritty overachiever, kind of flew under the radar screen until UConn moved to the Big East and he began to get some exposure. A good athlete, has a feel for the game and, when you stop the video, he's almost always in the frame. Knows how to scrape off a blocker, how to get up inside the flow and how to make the play. A sure tackler who will step up into the hole. Enough speed to turn and run deep down the middle, so could be a good fit for "Cover 2" teams. Competitive and feisty.
Downside: Doesn't explode into tackles. Occasionally tries to do too much instead of just taking care of his own responsibilities, and will get out of position. Gets caught inside a little too much.
The dish: A player on the rise, has a nice foundation on which to build, and figures to be a first-day choice.
• OLB Jordan Beck (Cal-Poly)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2 3/8, 233 pounds, 4.60 in the 40.
Numbers game: High school wide receiver and defensive back. Moved to linebacker as a true freshman in 2001 and appeared in 10 games. Started in all but three of 43 outings, had 449 tackles, 51½ tackles for loss, 16½ sacks, 16 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and three recovered, and four interceptions. A monster year in 2004, when he totaled 135 tackles, 5½ sacks, six forced fumbles and four interceptions. Arguably one of the best overall seasons in the country by a linebacker at any college level. Captured the Buck Buchanan Award in 2004 as the top defensive player in I-AA football. Was also named the Great Western Conference defensive player of the year.
Upside: Bright, aware player, made most of the defensive adjustment calls in college and always scored high with coaches in the cerebral side of the game. Consistently productive throughout his career. Doesn't go many snaps without making a play. Has good burst and can fly to the ball. Much better athlete than he originally appears and posted a 41-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine. Has some cover skills. Goes hard every snap.
Downside: For as quick as he is, the speed is largely straight-line, and he is not a big change of direction guy. Played way off the line of scrimmage in his college defensive scheme, so some questions about how well he takes on blockers. Doesn't use his hands well. Hasn't played against big-time competition.
The dish: A few teams feel he moves well enough to switch to safety. An interesting guy, might have to play in a scheme where he is covered and protected and just allowed to run to the ball.
• OLB Trent Cole (Cincinnati)
Vital statistics: 6 foot 2¼, 243 pounds, 4.77 in the 40.
Numbers game: Sat out his freshman season to work on academics. Began his career at defensive tackle, then moved to end, but projects best to linebacker. Played in 38 games, starting 33, and finished with 238 tackles, 48 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 35 pressures, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Upside: Impressive-looking athlete. Despite playing end for most of career, seems to have linebacker-type abilities. Plays nice gap control, takes care of his own business, and grades out well in terms of assignments. Good knee bend, can work across blockers, and not afraid to take people on head-up. Good motor.
Downside: Lacks fluidity and, when stacked up against better competition in the Senior Bowl practices, didn't step it up. Will hang back too much at times, and might not be a good diagnostician. Plays off-balance and is on the ground more than you'd like.
The dish: Innate pass-rush skills, raw athleticism and potential could get him into the first day of the draft.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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