Looking For Barrett Ruud’s Replacement?April 21st, 2011
Legions of Bucs fans would stand and applaud if the Bucs snagged Barrett Ruud’s replacement next week in the NFL Draft.
Of course, a rookie would have a brutally hard time filling Ruud’s shoes in 2011. And is there even a prospect out there capable of being a stout NFL middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense?
NFL Draft guru Justin “The Commish” Pawlowski, of WDAE-AM 620, explores all things inside linbackers in his latest breakdown below. Don’t forget all of The Commish’s in-depth draft coverage is archived here. At this point, the archive is an unmatched Bucs-focused online draft magazine with more than 50 stories, breakdowns, podcasts, mock drafts and more.
1. Martez Wilson – Illinois
6’4’’ – 250 lbs – 4.49
Why The Commish would take him: I think it’s quite obvious Wilson’s size and speed combination is very attractive. He is also very good at rushing the passer as a blitzer. Wilson has a lot of natural ability and very good upside.
Why The Commish would stay away: I’m skeptical whether Wilson is stout enough to play middle linebacker in the NFL. He’s very long and lean. Wilson also lacks the ideal instincts of an NFL middle linebacker. Wilson is also not very fluid in pass coverage.
Commish’s Final Say: Can Wilson man the middle of a defense? I have serious doublts. Wilson might be best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Wilson’s potential will make him pretty attractive in the 2nd round.
Comparison: Manny Lawson – San Francisco 49ers
2. Quan Sturdivant – North Carolina
6’1’’ – 241 lbs – DNP
Why The Commish would take him: Sturdivant’s biggest strength is how smooth he is in coverage. He matches up very well with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Sturdivant should also do very well in zone coverage with how fluid he is. He can also play inside or outside linebacker with his great instincts and awareness.
Why The Commish would stay away: Power and strength are the major concerns with Sturdivant. He doesn’t really lay big hits on ball carriers and struggles to shed blocks from offensive linemen. Sturdivant has a history of hamstring injuries dating all the way back to high school.
Commish’s Final Say: Sturdivant is a solid player but far from elite. Hamstring injuries do concern me, and a history of them makes me very worried. I like his versatility, but he’ll need to be much better against the run in the NFL.
Comparison: Barrett Ruud – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Kelvin Sheppard – LSU
6’2’’ – 250 lbs – DNP
Why The Commish would take him: Sheppard is very stout against the run. He is a reliable tackler and will deliver the big hit. Sheppard was a great leader for LSU’s defense and had the reputation of having a very good work ethic. Sheppard also shows good instincts and awareness on the field.
Why The Commish would stay away: As good as Sheppard is against the run, he is equally bad against the pass. He is not very fluid or smooth in coverage. Also, for as big as Sheppard is, he isn’t the most physical football player on the field.
Commish’s Final Say: By being so good against the run and not very good against the pass, I think Sheppard’s best fit in the NFL might come in the middle of a 3-4 defense.
Comparison: Brandon Spikes – New England Patriots
4. Colin McCarthy – Miami
6’1’’ – 238 lbs – 4.65
Why The Commish would take him: McCarthy was a 4-year starter and captain for Miami. McCarthy is a very smart football player with great instincts for a linebacker. His best attribute might be that he does such a good job at taking on and shedding blocks.
Why The Commish would stay away: McCarthy is not an explosive athlete and is not very fluid or smooth in coverage. McCarthy also lacks ideal strength.
Commish’s Final Say: McCarthy is a tough and smart football player, but just isn’t the athlete you want him to be. I think naïve analysts will compare him to Barrett Ruud because of their skin color, but I think those two players are very far apart.
Comparison: Tyrone McKenzie – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Nate Irving – NC St.
6’1’’ – 240 lbs – DNP
Why The Commish would take him: His nickname is “The Predator,” I think that’s all that needs to be said as a middle linebacker. The best part of Irving is his determination, leadership, and work ethic. Irving also has very good instincts and reads plays quickly. Irving tends to live in opposing team’s backfields. He ended 2010 with 21.5 tackles for a loss and 7 sacks.
Why The Commish would stay away: Although he performed well on the bench at his pro day, Irving’s strength really doesn’t translate well on film. He struggles to shed blockers and can be engulfed at times. Irving also needs to improve as a tackler. He tends to go for a big hit or to rip the ball out and sometimes misses the tackle.
Commish’s Final Say: A horrific car accident sidelined Irving for the entire 2009 season with a collapsed lung, broken leg, and separated shoulder. There were many questions about whether Irving would even play football again. He did and was great in 2010.
Comparison: D’Qwell Jackson – Cleveland Browns
6. Greg Jones – Michigan St.
6’0’’ – 242 lbs – 4.76
Why The Commish would take him: Jones has excellent instincts, is great in pursuit, and can play sideline to sideline. Jones was very productive at Michigan St. wit over 100 tackes in each of his last 3 years including 154 tackles in 2009. Jones was a great leader and displayed great work ethic. Jones was also very durable as he had a streak of 40 consecutive games played. Jones is very good on special teams.
Why The Commish would stay away: Jones does not have the ideal power or strength to take on NFL offensive linemen. He will struggle to shed blocks. Jones also does not make very many impact plays in coverage
Commish’s Final Say: Jones was very productive at Michigan St, however, his lack of ideal size and playmaking ability will drop him on draft day. If teams are looking for a consistent and reliable linebacker, then Jones will be there guy.
Comparison: Gary Brackett – Indianpolis Colts
7. Mike Mohamed – Cal.
6’3’’ – 239 lbs – 4.70
Why The Commish would take him: Mohamed’s biggest strength is play recognition and instincts. He was very productive and durable at Cal. I like Mohamed’s size and speed combination as well. Mohamed was named to the Pac 10 All-Academic team three times while at Cal.
Why The Commish would stay away: Mohamed is not a great athlete. He needs to get stronger. His lean physique might make him struggle against the run. He also struggles with being smooth in pass coverage.
Commish’s Final Say: Mohamed has a good blend of size and speed. He could be attractive in the later rounds with that size and speed along with a terrific motor and work ethic.
Comparison: DeAndre Levy – Detroit Lions
8. Josh Bynes – Auburn
6’2’’ – 240 lbs – 4.82
Why The Commish would take him: Bynes was a 3-year starter at Auburn and was a captain for their national championship team in 2010. Bynes has excellent leadership skills and is very fiery on the football field. Bynes does very well against the run as he is a reliable tackler and will deliver big hits.
Why The Commish would stay away: Bynes will struggle in pass coverage with his lack of agility and quickness. Bynes also struggles to shed blockers.
Commish’s Final Say: For some reason, Bynes was not invited to the combine. You’d think that the captain from a national championship team that was as productive as Bynes was would’ve been invited. I think Bynes could give good depth in the NFL and be a good addition on special teams.
Comparison: Dakota Watson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Casey Matthews – Oregon
6’1’’ – 231 lbs – DNP
Why The Commish would take him: Like his brother, Casey has outstanding instincts, football smarts, and awareness. He is a reliable tackler unafraid to come up and stop the run. Also like his brother, Casey has a motor that won’t stop.
Why The Commish would stay away: Unlike his brother, Casey is not explosive and not a great athlete. Matthews will also struggle with shedding blocks and start to try and run around them.
Commish’s Final Say: I know that Casey is the brother of Clay Matthews, but he is no where near the same player. Matthews will be best as depth and on special teams. That said, he is the type of player you want in your locker room and on your team.
Comparison: O’Brien Schofield – Arizona Cardinals
10. Akeem Dent – Georgia
6’2’’ – 242 lbs – DNP
Why The Commish would take him: There is a lot of good leadership with Dent. He was voted team captain for 2010 and won different leadership awards as well. Dent was productive in 2010 as well with 126 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. Dent proved to be much better against the run than the pass.
Why The Commish would stay away: Dent is a liability in coverage as he is very stiff and lacks quickness out of his breaks
Commish’s Final Say: Dent might be destined as a backup middle linebacker and contributor on special teams.
Comparison: Abdul Hodge – Carolina Panthers