Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was a rare breed due to his combination of size and speed. There are a lot of fast linebackers in the NFL but rarely do they come in a 6-4, 260-pound frame. Urlacher's ability to cover sideline to sideline was one of the reasons he was so successful during his 13 years in Chicago.
Urlacher is now gone and the Bears are starting three linebackers 29 years or older in 2013. The need for fresh young talent at linebacker is obvious. The team needs to find a player with speed, one who can be a weapon chasing down running backs, while also covering a lot of ground against the pass.
Arms: 32 ¼
Hands: 10 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.47 seconds
Bench Press: 27 reps
Broad Jump: 131 inches
Vertical Jump: 34.0 inches
3-Cone Drill: 6.71 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.18 seconds
On film, Gooden's speed is immediately obvious. He is able to track down offensive players all over the field and almost never loses a footrace. Yet most impressive is his ability to shed blocks. Of all the linebackers in this class, Gooden is arguably the best at keeping blockers at bay and peeling off to make tackles. He's an undersized linebacker but that works to his advantage, as it allows him to get small and slide away from lumbering offensive linemen.
Gooden is aggressive taking on blocks and filling holes in the run game. He's also a technically sound tackler who breaks down and wraps up in the open field. Additionally, he's always looking to strip the ball, a trait that would fit well in Chicago's turnover-minded defense.
In coverage, Gooden has the quickness, anticipation, and change-of-direction ability to keep stride with tight ends and running backs in man coverage. In zone sets, he does a good job of keeping plays in front of him and breaks hard on underneath passes.
While physical at the point of attack, Gooden often plays out of control and has a tendency to run himself out of plays. He also struggles with balance at times, of which big offensive linemen take advantage.
In coverage, he uses a stiff back pedal and often loses track of the ball. Plays by pass catchers are often made right next to Gooden, who too easily loses track of his surroundings. He has very good agility and fluid hips yet he must continue to develop his technique in coverage.
His lack of ideal size limits his scheme versatility, as he'll only be able to play on the weak side in a 4-3 system.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Gooden ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, which was the fastest time at his position. He was also a top performer in every other category except for the vertical jump (34.0). At his pro day, Gooden stood on all his combine numbers except for the vertical jump, upon which he added another 4.5 inches (38.5), which would have been third best amongst linebackers at the combine.
It's fairly obvious that Gooden is the most athletic linebacker in this draft. When talking metrics in evaluating prospects, he's off the charts. He still needs to develop more on-field intelligence and body control, and his lack of size is going to hurt him at times at the pro level, yet Gooden's pure talent cannot be ignored.
Most experts believe he'll come off the board in the third round, a pick Chicago traded away for Brandon Marshall. The Bears will have to make a trade to acquire a third or reach for Gooden in the second (50th overall).
He's a project for sure and isn't necessarily ready to start right away, which is likely the reason the Bears want to get a better look at him. He'll be visiting with the team this week. At minimum, Gooden will be a stud on special teams. At best, he'll turn into a weak-side starter who can eventually replace Lance Briggs.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.