NFL draft: Dallas Morning News: Sizing up the linebackers
By Rick Gosselin
The Dallas Morning News
A.J. Edds, Iowa
Joe Haden and Kyle Wilson are the top two cornerbacks in the 2010 draft and Eric Berry the top safety. Iowa's A.J. Edds had more interceptions than any of them.
Edds is a linebacker. He's supposed to tackle ball carriers, not intercept passes. Edds does tackle, finishing fourth in a Top-10 defense last season with 78. But his skills in pass coverage are driving his draft stock.
Few linebackers in this draft can match the coverage skills of Edds. He intercepted five passes in 2009 and broke up four others.
"A lot of it is film study, knowing what a team is trying to attack," Edds said. "When I'm out there covering a wide receiver it seems like a liability for our defense and teams try to expose that. But I pride myself in not being the weak link, not being the guy who gives up big plays.
"So I'm kind of almost daring them to throw the ball. Five times quarterbacks tried to squeezes the ball in there when there wasn't a window and I came up with it."
Edds draws comparisons with one of his Iowa predecessors, Chad Greenway, who became a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. Greenway intercepted three passes as a junior and broke up eight more as a senior.
"I'm a little bit bigger than he is but he's a little more athletic," Edds said. "He went from playing a position at Iowa to playing almost the exact same position with the Vikings. He could step into a defense that he knew pretty well. Some aspects of our game are similar."
This is as lean a year for linebackers as the NFL has seen in the last decade. There are some quality pass rushers who fit a 3-4 scheme but the traditional 4-3 backers with the size to play the run are lacking.
Player School Ht. Wt. Noteworthy
1. i-Rolando McClain Alabama 6-3 259 Butkus Award winner
2. o-Sergio Kindle Texas 6-2› 250 22 tackles for loss in 2009
3. o-Jerry Hughes TCU 6-1› 255 4.59 speed in the 40
4. o-Sean Weatherspoon Missouri 6-1 239 Two-time All-Big 12
5. i-Sean Lee Penn St. 6-2 236 School's No. 4 all-time tackler
6. o-Daryl Washington TCU 6-1› 230 4.53 speed in the 40
7. o-Navorro Bowman Penn St. 6-0› 242 Two-time All-Big Ten
8. i-Brandon Spikes Florida 6-2› 249 Three-time All-SEC
9. o-Ricky Sapp Clemson 6-3› 252 41 career tackles for loss
10. o-Eric Norwood S. Carolina 6-0› 245 Three-time All-SEC
11. o-Perry Riley LSU 6-1 239 97 tackles in 2009
12. i-Jamar Cheney Miss. St. 6-0› 242 4.51 speed in the 40
13. o-A.J. Edds Iowa 6-3› 246 7 career interceptions
14. i-Rod Muckelroy Texas 6-1› 246 102 tackles in 2009
15. i-Pat Angerer Iowa 6-0 235 145 tackles in 2009
o-outside LB; i-inside/middle LB
Rolando McClain, Alabama
McClain became the second linebacker in Alabama history to win the Butkus Award, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas. McClain gave up the chance to become a rare four-year starter for the Crimson Tide to turn pro in 2010. There wasn't a whole lot more for him to accomplish on campus. "When I came to college I had goals," McClain said. "I accomplished all of those goals. I led my team to a national championship and an undefeated season. What better way to go out?"
Chris McCoy, Middle Tennessee
McCoy was a high-school basketball player who didn't take up football until his junior year. An 11-sack senior season earned him a scholarship to Middle Tennessee, but McCoy didn't start for the Blue Raiders until his senior year. A seven-sack season in 2009 earned him Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year honors. An end in college, McCoy projects as a pass-rushing linebacker in the NFL in a 3-4 scheme.
Legends: Eric Norwood set South Carolina records for career sacks (29) and tackles for loss (55). In all, Norwood tackled opposing quarterbacks and running backs for 292 yards in losses in his college career. Norwood, by the way, has his early football roots in Dallas. He lived in Mesquite from the ages of 8 to 14, then moved to suburban Atlanta, where he became all-state in high school. He went on to start three years at South Carolina and become the first three-time All-SEC selection in school history.
All in the family: UCLA's Kyle Bosworth is the nephew of former first-round draft pick Brian Bosworth, Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield is a cousin of NFL players WR Bobby Engram and DE Vonnie Holliday, and South Florida's Kion Wilson is the nephew of former San Francisco 49er Elliott Walker.
Linebacker U: Sean Lee had the college career to be a first-round NFL draft pick. But so did Paul Posluszny and Dan Connors, his former mates in the Penn State linebacking corps. Posluszny became a second-rounder in 2007 and Connors a third in 2008. "The draft is a process," Lee said. "My attitude is wherever I go isn't going to change my attitude any. I'm coming in next year ready to play, ready to help a team win football games. That's how Dan feels now. He said looking back, the whole process got a little bit hyped up. He got a little bit into it. Now he's playing football for a team, helping that team win. That's what I love doing. No matter where I'm drafted, I'm going to come in and try to help a team win football games."
300 Club: Only Mike Singletary ever collected more tackles in a Baylor uniform than Joe Pawelek. Singletary became a second-round NFL draft pick and went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears. Pawelek projects to go much later in his 2010 draft despite a sterling resume. He was a four-year starter, a four-time academic All-Big 12 in the classroom and a two-time All-Big 12 performer on the field. He also was a three-year captain and graduated with a degree in economics last December.
Here's a list of the top tackling linebackers in this draft:
Player School Tckl
Joe Pawelek Baylor 422
Sean Weatherspoon Missouri 413
Boris Lee Troy 395
Jason Beauchamp UNLV 334
Sean Lee Penn St. 325
Kavell Conner Clemson 313
Brandon Spikes Florida 307
Patrick Lavine Okla. St. 300
Size matters: The NFL draft is all about measurables and Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran lacks one key measurable. He stands just 5-10 seeking employment in a league that prefers 6-2 and 6-3 linebackers. "Everyone knows this is a little bit of a beauty contest," said Curran, a two-time All-SEC performer. "I might not look as good as some of the other guys who are 6-3 and 6-4 — the Rolando McClains and Brandon Spikes. But I feel I can put my stats up against anyone. My film will speak for itself." Curran led the SEC with 130 tackles last season.
Best of Texas
Sergio Kindle, Texas
and Jerry Hughes, TCU
Kindle (Dallas, top) and Hughes (Sugar Land) were both accomplished prep running backs. Hughes rushed for 1,412 yards as a senior and Kindle 5,632 yards in his career. But both moved to the defensive side of the ball in college and both developed into elite pass rushers. Now both loom as first-round NFL draft picks in 2010. Hughes was a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
Draft projection: 1st round