Being a NFL ‘tweener' now a good thing

ATHENS – The title ‘tweener' used to be an insult.

‘Tweeners are football players who -- due to some combination of their size, strength and abilities – fit somewhere between one position and another. Calling someone a ‘tweener used to be the worst thing you could do this time of year, with one week left before the NFL Draft. Professional teams dreaded coming across the player who was too small to play defensive line but too big and slow to play linebacker at their level.

This year, though, those kinds of players have gone from no-man's land to prime real estate. Two of Georgia's draft eligible players – Thomas Davis and David Pollack – soon will be reaping the benefits of that new mind-set.

"You know why (it has changed)?" said NFL draft analyst Frank Coyle, who has published Draft Insiders' Digest for 14 years and operates "All these teams are jumping into a 3-4 (defense) again."

In a 3-4 defense, which employs three defensive linemen and four linebackers, Pollack, a defensive end in college, or Davis, a safety in college, could move to outside linebacker for at least some plays, most analysts believe.

The speculation of where they might play at the next level has done nothing to be hurt their draft status. In fact, Pollack and Davis are widely expected to be the first two Bulldogs taken Saturday.

"I think Pollack goes mid-first round, but he and Davis should go within five picks of each other," Coyle said.

The most recent mock draft by Scouts Inc. projects Pollack will be taken No. 13 overall by the Houston Texans and Davis will be taken No. 20 overall by the Dallas Cowboys, but ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has a different take, predicting Davis will be taken No. 16 by the New Orleans Saints and Pollack will go to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 23.

Wherever they go, the players won't be certain of what position they'll be playing until they get there.

"Pollack might lack ideal size and top-end speed, but he has the quickness, power and playmaking instincts to immediately contribute in the NFL," according to Scouts Inc. "Furthermore, his best fight might be as a 3-4 rush linebacker."

Davis was a ‘tweener even at Georgia, where coaches tried to play him at a linebacker before moving him to safety due to injury. Coyle thinks Davis will stay safety in the pros, he said, but other analysts think he has the size to be an outside linebacker.

"I think he's more prone to be an in-the-box strong safety," Coyle said. "You put him near the line of scrimmage, he makes a lot of plays on the ball."

One of the reasons Davis is considered a potential linebacker is his average cover skills. As a strong safety in the NFL, he could be matched in one-on-one coverage with a slot receiver, which would be trouble for Davis, Coyle said.

"He can be exploited in coverage so there's some development that's needed there," Coyle said.

Pollack and Davis aren't the only highly thought of defensive players from Georgia. Linebacker Odell Thurman's stock has improved since the season ended despite reported concerns about his character. Thurman, a Monticello native, could go in the first round and almost certainly won't fall past the second round, according to most analysts. If he does, his history off-the-field will be the reason. Thurman was kicked off the team for one season and suspended for three games on another occasion while at Georgia.

"Just grading him on football skills, probably the best inside linebacker in the draft, and maybe the premier backer, period. But teams that are doing background checks on him can't like some of the stuff being unearthed," according to an report. "No worse than a second-round pick on ability, but it will be interesting to see how much the character red flags will hurt him."

Coyle doesn't think it will hurt him much. The New England Patriots, who have the final pick of the first round and need linebackers, could be interested in Thurman, several sources have said.

"They certainly could be a mix," Coyle said. "And you've got San Francisco with the first pick of the second round and that's a team that's going to the 3-4."

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