James shows off versatility

Star defensive end takes part in outside linebacker drills during UW's pro day

MADISON – Erasmus James, the most highly-touted of Wisconsin's NFL Draft prospects, spent Wednesday's Pro Timing Day showcasing his versatility. Just as he did at the NFL combine, James participated in both defensive line and linebacker drills. At 6-4 and 263 pounds, he is being looked at by scouts as both a traditional defensive end and an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

"Every team's different," said Bills general manager Tom Donahoe, who was on hand to observe Wednesday's workouts. "It depends on what defense you play and what you're looking for. He's definitely one of the better prospects in the country that we've seen. He's a very good player."

While James spent his entire collegiate career as an end, he is more than open to moving to linebacker. A basketball star at McArthur High in Hollywood, Fla., James' athleticism has allowed him to feel relatively comfortable while working out at linebacker.

"I think I did great in the linebacker drills," James said. "I showed my versatility, my quickness and also my hands."

Joining James in linebacker drills was teammate Jonathan Welsh. Weighing just 244 pounds, Welsh is undersized by NFL defensive end standards. Thanks to his speed and agility, though, he may be best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4.

"I thought they went great," Welsh said of Wednesday's drills. "They went pretty good. I did better as far as catching some of the balls. I think I showed how well I did at the combine also."

With an ever-increasing number of NFL teams switching to a 3-4 scheme, scouts are placing a premium on pass-rushing outside linebackers. One of those teams, the Miami Dolphins, sent new head coach Nick Saban to Madison to get a first-hand look at the talent on display. Saban spoke with James prior to the workouts and had a meeting scheduled with him afterward.

"More and more teams in the league are going to that 3-4 defense," Donahoe said. "Outside linebackers that can play in the 3-4 are hard to find. You get a guy with the athletic ability to do that, you're going to look at him."

Ultimately, where James lines up on Sundays will depend on the team that drafts him.

"We look at him strictly as a defensive end," Donahoe said of James. "The other kid (Welsh) probably could be moved to outside ‘backer. There's just a trend right now in the league where more and more teams are 3-4."

Regardless of the position, NFL scouts left the McClain Center impressed, as James improved upon his showing at the combine.

"He's one of the top guys in the draft coming up," said former Wisconsin standout and current Buffalo Bills defensive line coach Tim Krumrie. "Where? When? I have no idea but he's a hell of a football player and he'll play a long time."

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