Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 Inside Lineback Rankings

By Justin Rasile

1)     Reggie Ragland, Alabama Crimson Tide
Career Stats: 220 Total Tackles, 4 FF, 17.5 TFL
Height: 6’1                    Weight: 247
Forty: 4.72
Three Cone Drill: 7.55

Another big Alabama prospect hits the top of this scouting report.  Reggie Ragland, a beast among men has been exciting to watch during his college career.  He is a hardnosed and old school linebacker that drives through the ball carrier, thus forcing them into the dirt with great force.  He brings his feet with him and is a sure tackler, something that is a must for today’s linebackers that may be considered a little “heavy in the feet”.  Ragland brings a swagger about himself that rallies his teammates around and brings out the best in everybody.  A lot has been said about his coverage skills but I see a middle linebacker that can hold his own on obvious passing downs.  He sure does a hell of a job being quick twitched enough to tackle ball carriers in space, so why can’t he cover tight ends and some running backs out of the backfield?  Also, if you know your middle linebacker is vulnerable in coverage, then something may be wrong with your defense or somebody blew a coverage because there are ways around the situation of them dropping into coverage.  I personally don’t think Ragland is that bad in coverage.  Nick Saban knows how to coach a defense and Ragland was always in the center of everything and a player that no player wants to see in the hole.  An imposing force, he can patrol the middle of the field looking to murder somebody.  Something that many “experts” are overlooking about Ragland is the obvious drop off after him at middle linebacker.  At least he can drop back into some type of coverage and not be an immediate liability.  Clearly his best qualities are when he is running downhill towards the line of scrimmage and taking a running back off his feet with a crushing blow but some people just don’t see middle linebackers as worthy of a first round pick.  I do.

2)     Scooby Wright III, Arizona Wildcats
Career Stats: 270 Total Tackles, 5 FF, 43.5 TFL
Height: 6’0                    Weight: 239
Forty: 4.90
Three Cone Drill: 7.25
Production. Check.  Athleticism. Check.  Pass rushing moves. Check.  Time and time again, Scooby found a way to get to the ball.  He may not be the biggest or fastest but he makes it work.  Every time you watch that Arizona defense, you always had to keep an eye on big number 33 and account for him.  He flies all over the field despite not having enough “quickness” but he makes up for that by being a smart and gritty player.  His relentless motor is something that I have come to fall in love with, especially when you combine his incredible instincts.  But how can you not love a player that gives 100% all the time.  When his knee was injured, he came back way before anybody expected but he needed better advice as he came back too quick and a sprained foot shortened his season.  As a linebacker, you have to be smart about tackling and Scooby knows how to do that.  The former Wildcat knows when to go for the ball and try to rip it out of the ball carrier’s hands or to just wrap up and make the sure tackle.  As a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 or one of the inside linebackers in a 3-4, I think he would excel at either position as noted by his 17 career of sacks and his ability to mold to what the team needs.  If you want to see what this Wildcat is capable of, check out his Sophomore year in 2014.  His statistics are astonishing: 164 total tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, AND 15 effing sacks.  The kid was a production monster that year.  If Scooby was even remotely close with his stats this past year, we would be talking about him going much higher in the draft.  He has the potential to put up somewhat comparable stats in the NFL.  Scooby said this, “Put me in sweats and ask me to run around cones, and I’ll do an okay job.  But put me in pads and ask me to lead your defense, and there’s a lot of evidence that I can help you win”.  The combine isn’t everything and definitely should not have that much emphasis on a player’s draft stock but all you need is one team to fall in love with you.  Plus, Scooby is an awesome nickname. 

3)     Joshua Perry, Ohio State Buckeyes
Career Stats: 296 Total Tackles, 1 FF, 18 TFL
Height: 6’4                    Weight: 254
Forty: 4.68
Three Cone Drill: 7.24

Another piece of one of the most talented defenses college football has ever seen, Perry is that big and daunting linebacker standing at 6’4 and 254 pounds.  He also moves incredibly well for a larger human being.  Being big, strong, and deceptively fast can only take you so far though.  You need to have the instincts to coincide.  Perry has this issue of guessing where the ball carrier is going to go instead of using his eyes to determine where he can meet him for the tackle.  This leads to him shooting the wrong gap and can leave the defense vulnerable to a big offensive gain.  When he does finally get within closing distance of the offensive player, he can lay down a crushing blow with pretty good technique.  There are some instances on tape when he uses his overpowering size to make the tackle instead of wrapping up and driving the carrier back. This obviously won’t work every time in the NFL as every player is big and strong but it is a slight adjustment that he can make.  I love that he pursues plays down the field.  Those are the types of plays that can save a game or a season and will get your teammates to fall in love with you.  I believe that Perry has the ability to play a 4-3 strongside linebacker or an inside backer in a 3-4 so with that said, most teams will be looking at him.  And with a player this big, it is hard pressed to look around him.

4)      Antonio Morrison, Florida Gators
Career Stats: 287 Total Tackles, 3 FF, 20 TFL
Height: 6’1                                Weight: 232
Forty: 5.1
Three Cone Drill: 7.69

A very integral part of a vaunted Florida Gators defense, Morrison was the outright leader and a big time play maker that always found his way around the ball.  He brings a lot to the table but above all, he is a good and strong linebacker.  Morrison is one of those players that the angrier he becomes, the better he plays.  As a Gators fan that was obvious to me.  He plays with reckless care for human life but that’s what you get with an old school linebacker.  He flies around the field looking to decapitate a ball carrier but, at the same time, he is smart about it.  He didn’t get penalized a whole lot in college, so at least he can play with a good head on his shoulders.  He can play either middle linebacker or outside linebacker with an ability to blitz (4.5 career sacks).  In college he had to deal with a lot of run/pass option plays and he played those very well.  Always attacking the right player, depending on his outside coverage.  This will help his transition from college as that part of offenses are becoming more and more involved in offensive coordinators playbooks with these mobile quarterbacks.  My favorite part about Morrison’s game is that he actually drives through the ball carrier when he makes a tackle.  Whether it be head on or coming from the side, he wraps up the carrier with great technique and plants the player into the dirt.  Muddy lines of scrimmage are common and this kid can wade through the traffic well to make a play on the ball.  His pass coverage skills are not that great but they can be approved upon.  More than likely he will need to come off the field on obvious passing downs since he can be a liability and is not the fastest of players.  He is a good example that you can hide lack of speed in a 3-4 defense as an inside linebacker though.  His toughness, grit and leadership will help lead him to a long NFL career.

5)      Kentrell Brothers, Missouri Tigers
Career Stats: 357 Total Tackles, 4 FF, 23.5 TFL
Height: 6’0                    Weight: 245
Forty: 4.82
Three Cone Drill: 6.99

Brothers is that breed of old school inside linebackers that teams are not falling in love with.  But that is okay because he can play football.  He can shed the blocker and make the tackle at the line of scrimmage, which is a lot of what linebackers have to do.  His tackling skills are above average and he shoots his hips and wrap up to finish off a ball carrier.  While his forty-yard dash may not have been the prettiest sight to see (4.82 seconds), his three cone drill (6.99 seconds) and twenty-yard shuttle (4.11 seconds) were exceptional for a man of his weight.  Both of these drills were better than the far “superior” athlete that is Darron Lee, who ran a 7.12 second three cone drill and a 4.20 twenty-yard shuttle at nearly fifteen pounds lighter.  So all you size and speed combo draftniks can shove it.  A football player is a football player, no matter how they get the job done as long as they get it done.  Brothers has fantastic instincts and can read and develop plays quickly and constantly hustles to the ball.  This hustle allows him to always be around the ball and make plays when other players would give up.  He also has three blocked kicks on special teams.  Team player.  A few knacks on him are that he is a little slow at times but as mentioned above, his hustle makes up for that, and he is quicker than he looks.  Sometimes he can make bone headed tackles out of bounds and penalize his team but those are probably just isolated incidents.  If I were a 3-4 team, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a stab at this kid in the third or fourth round.  Old school players can play on my team any day.

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