In today's NFL, linebackers must have speed. Against the fast tight ends and running backs in the pro game, a plodding linebacker has no place. If you can't run, you won't play. For most teams, speed on defense is the crux upon which success is built.
So it's no surprise then that many of today's linebackers are converted safeties. Brian Urlacher was a safety at New Mexico and he'll go into the Hall of Fame as a linebacker. Even down the roster, you find LB Dom DeCicco, who was a strong safety at Pitt before coming to Chicago.
With that in mind, it's no surprise the Chicago Bears drafted Khaseem Greene in the fourth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Greene was a safety his first year at Rutgers before making the position switch to linebacker. Projected as a potential second-round pick, Greene was a bargain for the Bears in the fourth round, as many believe he has starter potential.
"We were happy to get a player with that value on the board at that time in the draft, " GM Phil Emery said. "As you saw, right after we picked him there was a little run of linebackers."
Greene has the numbers and measurables NFL teams look for but is he good enough to be a long-term starter for the Bears? We go to the film to find out.
|Height||Weight||Arms||Hands||40-Yard Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||20-Yard Shuttle||3-Cone Drill|
|6-1||241||32 5/8||9 5/8||4.67||17||30||9-8||4.20||7.58|
Greene is a very fluid, natural athlete. He has very good burst and can close on ball carriers in a hurry. Between the tackles, he does a good job if fitting into gaps and maneuvering away from blocks. He shows very good vision, although he uses too many wasted steps.
Greene is at his best in coverage, where his days as a safety prepared him to line up across from tight ends and running backs. He's very intelligent in zone coverage and breaks quickly on plays in front of him. In zone sets, he consistently reads the quarterback eyes. He breaks down well in the open field and, while not the hardest hitter, uses good technique to bring down opposing players.
Greene is not a powerful player. He doesn't attack the hole hard and tends to catch opposing blockers, instead of taking them head on. Despite his speed, he's not very effective on the edges and doesn't take great angles. Greene's size hurts him against big, athletic offensive linemen.
While he's very good in coverage, he's not elite. Even though he's a converted safety, he can be beaten in man coverage when he's unable to get his hands on the receiver at the line. Rutgers lined him up often against opposing slot receivers with mediocre results.
Greene, a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, is a much different player than Chicago's second-round pick, Florida linebacker Jon Bostic. Where Bostic is an aggressive, explosive defender, Greene is quicker and much better when chasing down plays from behind. His biggest strength is in coverage, where he can be very effective on third downs. He shows the ability to line up across from and stay stride for stride with tight ends like Brandon Pettigrew and Jermichael Finley.
Bostic actually had a better 40 time at the combine (4.61) yet Greene plays much faster on the field. And despite his relatively thin frame, he's very good between the tackles, staying skinny and working his way through the trash.
Yet Greene's most impressive trait is his ability to create turnovers. He forced 15 fumbles during his collegiate career, which is second most in NCAA history. His knack for jarring the ball loose was very attractive to the Bears.
"It's an amazing stat," said Emery. "Fifteen [forced fumbles] in a career, that's difficult to do. Obviously with the style of defense that we play our eyebrows went up. Here's a guy that really fits what we're trying to do. We really feel comfortable with him in three positions which we talked about with John Bostic. He'd be a little bit more of the outside guy where John would be the inside guy starting out. That played into factor.
"We see a good special teams player and what an amazing story on Khaseem in terms of - here's a guy that played strong safety, he did start at that position. Moved to linebacker by [former Rutgers Head Coach] Greg Schiano – always trying to move the better athletes up to create more team speed – and what a response: 139 tackles, two-time conference player of the year in his only two years in football at linebacker – he had never played the position before.
"So to have 15 forced fumbles, to have that many tackles, he's had seven picks – I think him and Manti Te'o were tied out of this linebacker class in picks – Khaseem by far was the run-away winner in terms of forced fumbles."
He has a lot of strong qualities, yet when plays are run right at him, Greene struggles to hold his ground and he plays too out of control when scraping off tackle. Based on his skill set, he looks best fit for weak-side linebacker. If he were a little stouter at the point of attack, he might be able to grow into the MIKE position, as his prowess in coverage would allow him to get to the deep middle in Chicago's Cover 2.
One thing is for sure, Greene is going to be a weapon on special teams, as his size/speed blend should allow him to excel in kick coverage. It will do him well to sit one season learning under Lance Briggs but Greene definitely has all the makings of the Bears' long-term WILL linebacker.
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.