NFL Draft Update: Linebackers
Mason Foster — Washington — 6012 / 245
From the Senior Bowl recap:
Mason Foster projects more as a traditional 4-3 weakside linebacker at the next level, despite the fact that he emerged as an effective pass rusher with seven sacks for the Huskies this season (to go along with an obscene 162 tackles, second most in the nation). Unlike an edge-rushing outside linebacker prospect like Von Miller — who’s cementing his status as a top-15 pick in the draft by dominating the week of practice at the Senior Bowl — Foster doesn’t have the good fortune of possessing the long arms necessary to gain leverage against opposing offensive tackles and probably wouldn’t be a fit on the outside for teams that run the 3-4. That said, he could probably play inside in a 3-4 scheme.
Where Foster does excel, however, is when it comes to the more intuitive parts of the game that cannot be taught; he has elite football instincts and understands how to read what the offense is doing and then react to it at the same time. Foster was a highly productive collegiate player (very opportunistic too, accounting for six forced fumbles and three interceptions during his junior year) who flows to the football and exhibits excellent technique as a tackler. He’s a sideline-to-sideline guy who flies all over the field and plays with an endearing brand of tenacity. Perhaps what sticks out most, however, is how comfortable he looks in space when asked to drop into coverage. Foster is a superb athlete who possesses fluid hips and changes direction with ease. I watched him play on three separate occasions this season (@ USC, @ Oregon, Holiday Bowl vs. Nebraska) and came away impressed each time. There is no question in my mind that Mason Foster can be a reliable, every-down linebacker at the next level. I expect he will have no trouble earning immediate playing time for whatever team drafts him. Honestly, I think Foster has the makings of a future Pro Bowler.
Reports out of the Senior Bowl indicate that Mason Foster is garnering a lot of attention from NFL teams and will likely see his draft stock rise in the coming months. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched him over the course of his college career.
Projected Round: 2nd/3rd
Edit: Can play either inside or outside linebacker. Some analysts seem to think he’d be a better fit inside in a 3-4, but I think he’d be equally as good as the middle or weakside linebacker in a 4-3. The guy is just a pure football player in every sense of the word and will be a fixture for some team’s defense for years to come.
Martez Wilson — Illinois — 6036 / 250
Ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at 4.49, which would have been an impressive time for a running back or wide receiver, let alone a linebacker who measures nearly 6-4 and weighs 250 pounds. That’s just beastly. Wilson might be the only player at his position to get drafted in the first round after finally putting all his physical talents together and posting an eye-opening senior season. Still, in order for me to be sold on a player, I prefer to see a track record of solid production, and that’s something missing from Wilson’s resume (even though he recorded 73 tackles as a sophomore in 2008). Even so, you can’t deny his awesome athletic skills.
Underrated/Flying under the radar:
Mario Harvey — Marshall — 5107 / 257
Harvey, of Combine snub lore and perhaps a tad miffed at the aforementioned slight, did end up running a good time. An incredible time, actually. He posted a 4.46 (not a misprint) at the Marshall pro day in mid March, which isn’t too shabby for a guy whose previous clocked time was listed as being in the 4.7-4.8 range. In fact, that would’ve been the best time of any linebacker at the Combine (Martez Wilson ran a 4.49). Harvey was also highly impressive in the positional drills and had scouts buzzing. At a shade under 5-11 and a solid 260 pounds, he’s built like a brick shithouse — and I honestly mean that in the most complimentary way. Combine that body type with sub-4.5 speed, and you have yourself, from a purely physical standpoint, a very enticing player. Harvey adds to the intrigue by having put together a stellar college career. I’ve already given you my scouting report on him, and here’s what legendary NFL player personnel executive (and current NFL.com analyst) Gil Brandt wrote:
Marshall Pro day: When Mario Harvey found out he was not among the invitees to last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, Marshall’s pro day emerged as this fiery linebacker’s key chance to show NFL teams what Marshall fans have raved about for ages. Of the 12 Marshall players and one small-schooler who worked out for NFL personnel on March 16, it was Harvey who made the most of his opportunity. The 5-foot-10 7/8, 250-pound fireplug registered a stirring 4.46 40-yard dash and put on a strong positional workout for onlookers, including a New England Patriots scout who took particular interest in the Thundering Herd defender. Harvey also logged a 32-inch vertical and 9-5 broad jump, with a 4.19-second short shuttle and 7.13 three-cone drill result. Harvey is an aggressive, energetic, play-making defender — some NFL team will take a chance on him for his special-teams promise and potential on defense.” (Here’s Harvey’s full player page, which is where this quote was found).
According to Eagles historian and Hall of Fame football writer Ray Didinger, with whom I exchanged e-mails last week, scouts think Harvey’s too small and will get swallowed up by NFL offensive linemen. Ah, the classic “too small” label, even though the guy is damn near 260 pounds, absolutely yoked in his lower half, put up 27 reps on the bench, and ran a fucking 4.46. Didinger did, however, opine that Harvey’s measurables and eye-popping production can’t be ignored and warrant a late-round selection. Works for me. All I know is he’ll make an NFL roster and initially earn his keep on special teams. Mario Harvey’s going to be a good NFL player. An eventual starter, too.
Von Miller — Texas A&M — 6025 / 246
From the Senior Bowl recap:
Wow. That’s the word that most often comes to mind when you watch Von Miller play. A 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker, he’s a freakish athlete with unparalleled explosiveness, and his speed off the edge is breathtaking (he should run in the 4.5 range). Offensive tackles literally don’t stand a chance. If you’re thinking about raising concerns over his height and weight, don’t waste your time; Miller’s 34” arms and 80 2/8” wingspan allow him to gain considerable leverage against would-be blockers. I’m not going to bog you down with a long-winded analysis and superlatives about his ability as a football player because I don’t feel like typing that much. Just know that this guy can do it all and will be one of the game’s elite sack artists in no time. He also has no issue dropping into coverage and playing in space. As if his dominance on the field wasn’t enough, Miller was equally impressive away from the gridiron, with a number of executives remarking that he was among the most pleasant young men they’d ever met. I don’t think I’ve heard a single negative about him, in any capacity. Von Miller is going to be a top-10 pick, and deservedly so. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see him make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. In fact, I’m kind of expecting it.
Brooks Reed — Arizona — 6024 / 263
From the Senior Bowl recap:
I’m a big fan of this guy. I’ve known about him for a while but rarely got a chance to see him play. The long, flowing locks of blonde hair flapping in the wind will have people doing a double take and wondering if it’s Clay Matthews coming around the edge. Reed played defensive end at Arizona, but he’ll almost definitely be switched to 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros. He had a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl, flashing an impressive array of pass rush moves while at times simply dominating opposing offensive tackles that dared try to block him. What’s more, he didn’t look out of place when asked to drop into coverage and play in space. In the game itself, I particularly noticed the way Reed used his hands and the balance he showed when executing a spin move. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention his relentless effort (or “motor,” in NFL lingo) — just constant hustle until the whistle each and every play. On more than one occasion, it really did look like Clay Matthews had taken time off from preparing for the Super Bowl to participate in the game.
Brooks Reed’s intriguing combination of size, strength, and athleticism will make him an increasingly hot commodity as the draft approaches. I think the legendary exercise routine he cultivated at Arizona will translate very nicely to the combine, where I expect him to achieve “workout warrior” status and leave scouts and player personnel executives drooling. As of right now Reed is probably a mid-round pick, but he could end up going as early as the second round if he separates himself at the combine and during individual workouts/interviews.
One side note: Turns 24 at the end of February.
Chris Carter — Fresno State — 6011 / 248
From the post-Combine report:
Ran the second-fastest time (4.62) of any outside linebacker and was one of the nation’s most productive pass rushers in 2010, notching 11 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. Although he played along the defensive line in college, Carter will be converted to a 3-4 edge rusher (he actually came to Fresno State as a linebacker before being switched to defensive end). Love his size/weight/speed combination, even if he’s undersized, and explosion off the line. What stuck out to me most when watching Carter play was how effectively he dipped his shoulder and maintained balance, which allowed him to slip by blockers. He’s going to need to develop more sophisticated pass rush moves and learn how to use his hands to complement his raw ability because he won’t be able to just get around offensive tackles in the pros like he did in college. Still, from an athletic standpoint, Chris Carter has everything you want from a 3-4 outside linebacker/edge rusher and could be a steal in the middle rounds.