NFL Draft 2011: Comparing the 3-4 Outside Linebackers

I made a table to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the offensive tackles in this year's draft and I was asked to make a table for other positions. Since these tables are based on my opinion, they may differ from your thoughts or the thoughts of scouts, but hopefully I did a fair and reasonable job. This table will be for the 3-4 outside linebackers who are often regarded as prospects who should be drafted in the first two rounds. I even did some math (not sure how realistic the math is) to determine where these players should be drafted in the first couple rounds.

 

Miller Quinn Smith Kerrigan Houston Ayers Reed Sheard Acho
Speed Rush 1 2 4 9 6 7 8 5 3
Bull Rush 8 2 4 1 6 9 3 5 7
Rush Set 1 2 5 6 8 9 7 3 4
Run Stuff 8 3 4 1 7 9 5 2 6
Block Shed 8 1 4 3 6 9 7 2 5
Coverage 2 4 3 9 7 1 8 6 5
Athleticism 1 2 4 9 8 3 7 5 6
Size 9 2 1 4 6 8 5 3 7
Upside 2 1 3 9 8 7 6 4 5
Floor 5 1 4 2 3 9 8 6 7
Average 4.5 2 3.6 5.3 6.5 7.1 6.4 4.1 5.5

Read my analysis after the jump!

When comparing speed rush, I examined how quickly a player could turn the corner and how fast they are able to reach the quarterback. Bull rush takes a look at how a prospect uses their strength to get into the backfield and make plays. Rush set looks at the arsenal of pass rush moves a player possesses and how well the player utilizes them (ie: Houston loses points for trying to run around the blocker all the time; Quinn gains points for maximizing his skill set). Run stuff is a combination of how well the prospect holds the point of attack while sealing the edge, as well as squared off against a lineman. Block shed is how well a player can disengage from a blocker to make the tackle.

Coverage is hard to grade because of how inexperienced the majority of these players are at dropping into coverage and it was more an evaluation of their combine footage during linebacker drills. Athleticism is a look at their combine numbers, but also how fluid they are on the football field. Size is seeing how close they are to ideal linebacker size. Upside is my judgment call on how much this player can improve as an athlete at OLB in the NFL. Floor is where I judge how safe of a prospect is, as a combination of proven production and potential weaknesses.

Quinn jumps out immediately as one of my highest graded prospects. Every time I watch Quinn, I see a player who is dominant, but I just worry about his off-the-field actions. I have Quinn rated as a top 10 prospect for the Patriots, but I believe his red flags will prevent the Patriots from trading up to grab him.

Next, Smith shows up at the number 2 ranking. I have a top 20 rating on Smith and he is a potential draft pick at #17, if he lasts. His only red flag is lack of experience as Belichick does not like to take inexperienced players in the first round. As a result, I see the Patriots passing on Smith, but I do believe that he would be a good fit with the team. He's not as explosive as Quinn, but he's a solid prospect.

I have Sheard and Miller as my next two rated OLBs and they both have an "end-of-the-first-round" rating. Miller will be off the table, so he's not a viable option, and I don't think he's work trading up to grab. Sheard, on the other hand, could very well be extremely available at the start of the second round and would be worth a pick with great value.

In the second round, I have Kerrigan and Acho receiving "top 50" grades. Kerrigan drops because he's not an athletic player who a lot of 3-4 OLB upside, but he should be drafted by a 4-3 team late in the first round. Acho seems like another viable option in the second round. I think he has some promise if commits himself to getting stronger. At 60th overall, Acho could provide solid value.

As late second round prospects, I have Reed and Houston showing up. I'm not very excited about either prospect and I feel like neither of them really fit with the Patriots in the 3-4 defense. Both are straight line players who appear to lack the fluidity to become more than just pass rushers. Both should be well off the table by the time they should be drafted, so I would take them out of the picture.

Finally, I have Ayers fulling up the rear with an early third round grade. He's not explosive on film, he gets washed out by linemen and he's not an elite pass rusher. I see him better off staying in a 4-3 defense as an OLB, or else opposing teams will run circles around Ayers on the outside in the 3-4.

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Those are my outside linebacker ratings. What do you think?

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