2010 NFL Draft Linebacker Position
By Lance Epstein
The NFL draft is only a week away. Each day leading up to the draft, I will breakdown one of the seven major positions on the field. Those positions are secondary, linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, wide receivers/tight ends, running backs/fullbacks and quarterback.
With each position, I will breakdown the best player at the position, two sleepers, a overrated player, a late-round gem, and the player(s) the Eagles should select.
Today's installment is the second part of the seven part series. I will be breaking down the linebacker position.
Coming into the 2010 season, the linebacking corp will receive a huge upgrade from without even signing or drafting anyone. In training camp last year, starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley torn his ACL and missed the entire season.
Before his injury, Bradley was on his way to become one of the better middle linebackers in the league. SI's Peter King even put him on his 2008 ALL Pro team in his first full season as a starter.
When Bradley went down, new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had to find his replacement, but the Eagles failed to find that player. The Eagles traded for Will Witherspoon and signed a blast from the past in Jeremiah Trotter to try and fill the void, but they stumbled in the Eagles biggest moments.
The Eagles used six different middle linebackers and 11 different linebacker combinations over the course of the season. Besides Bradley going down, Akeem Jordan was on his way to a fine season until a leg injury cost him four games and nagged him for the rest of the season.
Also, at the end of the season, rookie seventh-round draft pick Moise Fokou emerged as the starting SAM linebacker. While Chris Gocong found himself losing minutes and since has been trade to Cleveland for linebacker Andy Hall. Hall should compete with Fokou for the starting SAM linebacker position in 2010.
Ultimately, the Eagles need to upgrade this position or at least bring in some competition via the draft. Fokou is unproven as a starter and Jordan has not shown the ability to stay healthy for a full season. The Eagles could draft a middle linebacker incase Bradley takes longer than expected to recover from his knee injury.
The Best: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri, 6-1, 239 lbs
Weatherspoon has the type of athleticism, size and strength to be a dominating force at either weak-side or strong-side linebacker. He plays the game with a relentless motor and never gives up on a play. Furthermore, he has the range to guard tight ends, running backs and even slot receivers. His intelligence helps him in taking good angles, maintaining gap control on running play and will always be in the proper position to make a play. Moreover, he uses his hands very well to shed bigger blockers. Despite all his accolades, Weatherspoon still has room for improvement. If he can learn to be a better blitzer, he might be one of the best players to come out of this draft.
Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State, 6-2, 243 lbs
Usually, Ohio State linebackers have problems transitioning to the NFL game due to their lack of speed and athleticism. Gibson should not have those difficulties. Over the past two seasons for the Buckeyes, he showed an ability to react quickly to plays developing in front of him and be in the right position to make a tackle. Additionally, he was able to keep up with more athletic tight ends in coverage and demonstrate good agility and quickness. While Gibson needs to add on some bulk to his frame and make better use of his hands to shed blockers, he has the chance to be a sleeper in round three for some team.
Perry Riley, LSU, 6-1, 239 LBS
In just two seasons with the Tigers, Riley has become one of the better outside linebackers in America. His size, speed and athleticism are ideal for the position. Moreover, he uses his leverage very well and can make the tackle in the open-field. Riley has also demonstrated that he can read routes out of the backfield and make a play on the ball. However, scouts believe Riley lacks the quickness to be a great in coverage and needs to improve his footwork. In spite of that, he is a nice project for a team in the fourth round that may blossom into a starting caliber linebacker.
Overrated: Navarro Bowman, Penn St., 6-0, 242 lbs
Before the combine, Bowman was projected to be a lock for the first round. Since then he has fallen all the way to the late second round and even third round. There is a reason for that, which is he has average size for the position. Additionally, he had trouble staying healthy for the Lions over his career. Furthermore, he has made some poor off-the-field decisions, which will also made his draft status drop. While he is quick to react to plays, natural instincts and good range, his character and ability to stay healthy screams red flag.
Dekoda Watson, Florida St., 6-1, 240 lbs
While the Seminoles defense did not play up to its potential, Watson had a very good season. In 2009, he registered 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles. Of course, Watson needs to add some bulk and strength to his frame to be an elite outside linebacker. Still in college he managed to use his leverage to get to the ball carrier and make a play. Unlike most of the players in this draft at the position, Watson is great at rushing the quarterback. Although his technique and covers skills need some work. Either way, Watson can contribute on special teams as a sixth round pick, but has the potential to be a solid pickup in round five or six.
Player(s) Eagles Should Pick Up:
Daryl Washington, TCU, 6-2, 230 LBS
In his first full season as a starter, Washington became one of the best linebackers in the country. In 2009, he led TCU in tackles with 109 and vaulted a good defense into the No. 1 defense in the country. Washington possesses ideal size and athleticism to play SAM linebacker in a 4-3. He is also an instinctive player that understands angles very well and is an adequate open field tackler. Where he excels at is in coverage, where he has shown good agility and speed to shut down opponent’s tight ends. What makes Washington even more attractive to teams is that he is willing to play special teams. Washington makes a ton of sense for the Eagles at 37 and his name has been linked to them through multiple draft sources.
The Best: Rolando McClain, Alabama, 6-2, 254 lbs
There is no doubt that the best middle linebacker in this class is McClain. He is an instinctive player that can do it all at the MLB position. McClain is able to get off and shed bigger blockers, has discipline not to lose his gap control and can cover running backs out of the back field due to his balance and ability to read progressions of a quarterback. However, where he thrives is blitzing the quarterback. His power makes him very difficult to block and get out of his grasps. He has all the tools to become an All Pro at the next level.
Darryl Sharpton, Miami (Fla.), 5-11, 236 lbs
It just seems that every linebacker that comes out of Miami goes on to have a pretty good career regardless of how great they were in college. While Sharpton is undersized to play inside linebacker, he still was very productive at the position with the Hurricanes. In 2009, he recorded 106 tackles and 8.5 went for a loss. Of course, the downside to Sharpton's game is that he is not durable since he is very undersized for a tough position. One of the major questions surrounding Sharpton is his ability to shed large blockers, but he just makes plays when he is on the field.
Donald Butler, Washington, 6-1, 245 lbs
Butler is not expected to go until the late third round or early fourth, but he was an outstanding two-year starter with the Huskies. While Butler has good size and strength, he does not have the ideal speed for the position. He makes up for that with good footwork, balance and gets to the ball carrier before he cuts loose in the open field. Even with a lack of speed, he has shown the ability to be a decent in coverage due to his natural instincts. On top of that, Washington will be able to contribute immediate to any team that drafts him on special teams.
Jamar Chaney, Miss St., 6-1, 242 lbs
Even though Chaney is coming off his best season of his college career, he still is projected to high. He has decent size, strength and athleticism for the position. For a middle linebacker, he is a bit below average against the run since he is not able to shed blockers consistently, but is able to make a play in space very well. The thing that attracts scouts to him is his high motor and instincts. Yet, he should not be a third round pick considering he has a history of being an injury concern.
Kion Wilson, South Florida, 6-0, 239lbs
While in junior college and at South Florida, Wilson performed at a high level and was a key leader on defense. Even though he is small and has average speed for the position, he plays with great instincts and can be a force if used in the right type of defense. Of course he will struggle to get off blockers, but if used in the right system, he could be a nice find late in the draft.
Player(s) the Eagles Should Select:
Sean Lee, Penn St., 6-2, 236lbs
Lee might not be the most athletic player in this draft at his position, but he has a good size and the strength to shed blockers. He also has shown good range and solid technique that makes up for his lack of athleticism. The only reason that Lee is not going higher in this draft is because he is coming off a major knee injury, which makes him a red flag candidate. Lee would be a pleasant addition for the Eagles and an insurance policy incase Bradley does not return to form.
Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-3, 250 lbs
At one time this season, Spikes was considered to be the best linebacker coming into the draft. Then he got suspended and his stock continued to fall. Despite his character flaws, he is strong and a physical force at the middle linebacker position. He is bigger than Jeremiah Trotter, but his game is very similar. He strives as a downhill type of MLB and is a good tackler in the open field. Additionally, he is difficult to block and sheds tackles very well due to his extraordinary strength. The area in which Spikes needs to improve is his technique in pass coverage. He often gets beat by running backs and tight ends. That said, he would allow the Eagles to move Bradley back over to his natural SAM linebacker position. He instantly gives the Eagles leadership in the middle and improves the LB corps as a whole.
Tomorrow look for the breakdown of the Defensive line...