Breakdown: 4-3 Defensive Ends & Linebackers

April 19th, 2009
Paul Kruger could be a smart fit for the Bucs in the third round. NFL Draft guru Justin Pawlowski explains in great detail.

Utah defensive end Paul Kruger could be a smart fit for the Bucs in the third round. NFL Draft guru Justin Pawlowski explains in great detail.

Can you feel it? Just six days until the NFL Draft.

Fantastic draft guru Justin Pawlowski offers an in-depth look today at college linebackers and defensive ends and how they might fit into a 4-3 scheme. Justin breaks down these guys in detail and explains how they may — or may not — fit into the Bucs defense.

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4-3 Defenders – By Justin Pawlowski

Outside Linebackers:

Aaron Curry – OLB – Wake Forrest
6’2’’ – 254 lbs – 4.56
Top 5 Pick

Why I’m taking him: I have Curry rated as my top player in this year’s draft for a reason.  He obviously has the size to come up, take on offensive linemen, and stop the run.  He also has the speed to dominate in coverage.  He’s a sure tackler in space, and wins a one on one match up a majority of the time.  It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Curry has never missed a game due to injury.

Why I’m staying away: There isn’t much to dislike about Curry.  He could improve as a blitzer, since his pass rushing is very limited right now.  He also can tend to be a little too aggressive and over run plays.

Impact on the Bucs roster: A pipe dream that isn’t happening!!!!

NFL Comparison: DJ Williams:  After being a mid first round pick a few years back, Williams has turned into one of the premier linebackers in football.  He has done anything the Broncos have asked of him, including playing both inside and outside linebacker.  Curry shows the same versatility and the same potential in the NFL.

Brian Cushing – OLB – USC
6’3’’ – 243 lbs – 4.68
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: To me, Cushing is the throwback prototypical linebacker.  He’s got good size and is an extremely reliable tackler.  He’s tough and a hard worker that’s willing to go the extra mile to help his team succeed.  Cushing’s also very strong helping him in tackling and shedding blockers.  He’s a smart player who will also have some value on special teams.

Why I’m staying away: I’d have to say that durability is my main concern with Cushing.  He’s missed at least a part three of the past last four seasons due to injury.  He’s a beast in the weight room and possibly a “workout warrior” as he doesn’t always play to his measurables.  While being such a good tackler, Cushing lacks in coverage because of poor agility and being stiff in movements.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Cushing is definitely a possibility for the Bucs.   The Bucs have {+++} many questions at outside linebacker: Jermaine Phillips moved to linebacker, Crowell coming off knee surgery, and the opportunities for inexperienced Quincy Black, Geno Hayes, and Adam Heyward.  Cushing would be an upgrade over some of the aforementioned players. But would he carry as much value as another player might carry at the 19th pick?.  After preaching about how certain players just need an opportunity to be successful, Raheem “The Dream” would be taking the opportunity away from those players if Cushing is selected.

NFL Comparison: Keith Brooking:  Cushing is a leader in the same mold of Brooking.  Before being released this off-season, Brooking was the undisputed leader for the Falcons defense for over 10 years.  He was and still is tremendous against the run, but his coverage skills leave something to be desired.

Inside Linebackers:

Rey Maualuga – ILB – USC
6’2’’ – 249 lbs – 4.70
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Watching Maualuga play, I get most excited about his ability to take over and dominate games at times.  He is a vicious tackler who makes sure ball carriers always hit the ground when his hands are on them.  Maualuga is aggressive and physical while possessing a great burst to close.  He was obviously very productive at USC, but Maualuga also had a knack for making a big play just when the Trojans needed one most.  That tells me that Maualuga might be at his best when the pressure is highest.

Why I’m staying away: Character is an issue with me.  This isn’t just a positive drug test for marijuana.  He was arrested and disciplined for fights at parties in both 2005 and 2006.  Speaking of discipline, Maualuga can play undisciplined at times putting him out of position to make plays.  From a broken finger to a sprained knee to a pulled hamstring, the question of durability has become much more significant in the past year.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Although he’s a heck of a player, the Bucs already have Barrett Ruud, so the idea of them drafting another middle linebacker might not be in their plans.  If drafted by the Bucs, Maualuga would be forced to outside linebacker and have to learn a new position.

NFL Comparison: Junior Seau:  Much like Seau, Maualuga patrols the middle of a defense with a swagger and is always looking to knock an offensive player out.  Both players played viciously and relied mainly on their outstanding instincts.

James Laurinaitis – ILB – Ohio St
6’2’’ – 244 lbs – 4.80
2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Let’s face it, next to the word “football player” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Laurinaitis.  He is the type of player that loves football and will work his ass off to succeed.  He’s been very durable throughout his collegiate career, and has been a leader both on the field and in the community.  He is a very reliable tackler, who has enough speed to get sideline to sideline and has excellent instincts and football smarts.

Why I’m staying away: Laurinaitis might have limited potential as he might have maxed out his upside in college.  He doesn’t have elite strength and needs to be more physical in the NFL.  Because of this, Laurinaitis struggles to take on and shed blockers.

Impact on the Bucs roster: The Bucs don’t have a need for a middle linebacker, but would they move Laurinaitis to the outside?  He is a solid player that should improve a defense, but far from the Bucs’ biggest need.  The only way I see Laurinaitis on the Bucs roster is if they trade down to the top of round 2.

NFL Comparison: Barrett Ruud:  Much like Ruud, Laurinaitis has the ability to dominate and make big plays, but also like Ruud, he isn’t consistent with that.  Ruud tends to wear down as the season progresses, and with a lack of elite size, Laurinaitis might be in for a similar career.  

Defensive Ends:

Robert Ayers – DE – Tennessee
6’3’’ – 272 lbs – 4.80
1st Round

Why I’m taking him: Ayers is a very balanced defensive end who plays the run as good as he rushes the passer.  He tends to make a lot of plays behind the opponents’ line of scrimmage.  He’s strong enough to take on blockers and quick enough to rush off the edge.  Ayers offers tremendous versatility with the ability to play defensive end, tackle or outside linebacker.

Why I’m staying away: Ayers had some character issues early in his career at Tennessee when he was arrested for aggravated assault.  He was also not very coachable early on in his career.  It has been noted that he has matured since.  Also, he is not an elite pass rusher and tends to get to far up the field at times, taking himself out of plays.  Ayers tries to time the snap count rather than go on movement, this leads to offsides penalties.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Defensive end is a need for the Bucs, and if Ayers is available, the Bucs will definitely consider him.  Ayers might not be the elite pass rushing defensive end Jim Bates seeks, but he is a balanced defensive end who would be a tremendous upgrade at what the Bucs have at left defensive end.  If drafted, Ayers would start immediately.

NFL Comparison: Charles Grant:  Charles Grant is considered a very good defensive end in the NFL.  Grant doesn’t necessarily sack the quarterback all the time, but he does a lot of the small things that make him stand out.  Ayers follows in Grant’s footsteps.

Michael Johnson – DE – Georgia Tech
6’7’’ – 266 lbs – 4.61
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Johnson’s potential might be limitless.  He also has an unbelievable combination of size and speed for a defensive end.  He is also an excellent leaper and will bat many passes down.  Johnson has an outstanding physique and looks the part of a premier defensive end.

Why I’m staying away: He might look the part of a premier defensive end, but he has never played like one.  With all the talent that Johnson has, he has never recorded double digit sacks throughout his collegiate career.  The reason behind this might be Johnson’s poor work ethic that has been in question for quite some time.  He’ll need time learning the position better as he tends to run himself out of plays.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Raheem Morris said earlier this off-season that he wanted his team to get better bodies and wanted them to be ripped.  Johnson is just that.  He is also a defensive end, and that’s a position the Bucs are in the market for.  Johnson could become like Jason Taylor was for Jim Bates back in the early 2000’s.

NFL Comparison: Gaines Adams:  Like Adams, Johnson has all the talent in the world, but has never put it all together.  It might take him some time to adjust to the NFL.  By the way, Adams is still adjusting to the NFL.

Paul Kruger – DE – Utah
6’4’’ – 263 lbs – 4.80
2nd – 3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: Kruger is a tough player that tends to work harder than other players to help himself succeed.  His frame will allow him to get bigger which is very encouraging.  He also possesses a non-stop motor which helps him in pursuit.  He’s a reliable tackler, a team leader and one of the more mature players in this year’s draft.

Why I’m staying away: Kruger is not really elite in any aspect of his game other than effort.  He’ll need to get stronger in the NFL to take on offensive linemen.  Also, his pass rush moves are limited.  Although he’s one of the older prospects in this year’s draft (24), Kruger only had 2 years of experience at Utah.

Impact on the Bucs roster: With the Bucs looking for a defensive end, if Kruger fell to the 3rd round, he will definitely be part of their discussion.  Raheem “The Dream” has said that he wants tough football players who give all-out effort.  Well, Kruger is that type of player.

NFL Comparison: Patrick Kerney:  Although it will be a daunting task to have the career that Kerney has had, Kruger falls in the mold of the type of player Kerney is.  They are both extremely tough and hard workers.

Lawrence Sidbury Jr. – DE – Richmond
6’2’’ – 266 lbs – 4.64
2nd – 3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: This guy is a pass rushing specialist.  Hell, one of his moves has its own name, “The Sidbury Spin.”  He has extremely long arms and enough strength to bull rush.  Sidbury also has a terrific motor, is a team leader, and has a ton of potential.

Why I’m staying away: I guess the biggest concern is Sidbury’s level of competition.  When engaged, he has a tough time getting off of blocks, which would hurt him in both the run game and rushing the passer.  Actually, Sidbury is just average against the run.

Impact on the Bucs roster: If the Bucs are going to run a true “Jim Bates Defense”, Sidbury could be an ideal fit for them.  He excels in getting up the field and rushing the passer.  The problem is that Sidbury projects as a late 2nd or early 3rd round selection.  The Bucs would either have to trade up from their 3rd round pick or trade down from their 1st round pick and acquire a late 2nd round pick in addition to that lower 1st round pick.  If the latter was the case, they might still have to trade up to a little earlier in the 2nd round to secure Sidbury.  However, if the Bucs did it right, they could end up with a late 1st round selection (P. Harvin, R. Brace, C. Matthews, J. Freeman, D. Butler), Sidbury at latter end of round 2, and a 3rd round selection to boot.

NFL Comparison: Osi Umenyiora:  I understand that Sidbury has a lot to learn, but he has a lot of potential and could mirror Umenyiora, who was an unknown out of college as well.  They both also have similar size and long arms.

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