NFL teams have obviously taken notice that Kentucky outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard has a knack for putting ball-carriers on the ground.
The 6-1 tackling machine, who posted over 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons and led the SEC in 2007 with 139 tackles, played at roughly 217 pounds during his senior year but added ten pounds to his frame in time for the NFL Scouting Combine back in February. He wanted to show coaches and GMs that he could add the size he'd need for the pro game without losing much of the speed that helped him cover so much ground so quickly at Kentucky.
And Woodyard did exactly that by running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis — second best among all linebackers.
"I wanted to run a little faster because last year my fastest time was a 4.41," Woodyard told Scout.com during an exclusive interview. "But I knew that with a little bit more weight my time would drop a little bit, so overall I was happy with my time.
For players like Woodyard, who obviously showed their speed and athleticism so well during their college careers, it could be frustrating to have to go through the timed events and measurements of the combine, pro days and personal workouts. But he certainly doesn't seem to mind.
"For me, the film does a lot. But this is a big part of me going to the next level," he said. "I was welcoming all challenges, and I went to Indianapolis to compete with guys that were ranked higher than me in the draft this year.
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"Every chance I get to show people that I'm trying to be the best linebacker I can be, I'm willing to do it. Getting the chance to go up there and compete against the best linebackers, I think helped my chances out."
But one thing that not all of the athletes at the combine had to deal with was the incredible demand for Woodyard in the evenings when teams would hold formal 15-minute interviews with selected players that they wanted to meet and get to know better. The poised young man met with 25 of the league's 32 teams before leaving Indianapolis. And the questions covered everything from football schemes to his family life and his thoughts on a variety of topics.
"I actually got asked a weird question that one team asked me which was, 'If I had to leave a teammate behind, which one would it be?'quot; Woodyard said. "My answer was that I wouldn't leave any of my teammates behind, I'd rather leave myself behind. The reason for me saying that is because I felt if anything was wrong on the defense, it was my fault. I wouldn't leave any of my teammates behind."
Woodyard had the rare treat of learning from one of the best linebackers to ever play the position professionally, Mike Singletary, for a week while he practiced in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl under the direction of the 49ers coaching staff. Woodyard said he was simply in awe of the former Bears linebacker and Hall-of-Famer.
"He told me that I had a great attitude about football and to make sure I didn't lose it. He said he was really happy with the way I played football, and that if I picked up some weight I'd be an excellent linebacker in the NFL one day," Woodyard said.
That attitude Singletary noticed includes a competitive streak that fuels the linebacker to excel at his position.
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"Everybody can say that they're a competitor. But me, I hate losing and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure I win and can be the best person that I am at my position," he explained. "And I leave it all on the football field."
The Wildcats' top linebacker met with the Dolphins, Patriots and Bengals at the Senior Bowl. And his formal interviews at the Combine included the Bills, Jets, Cowboys, Bengals, Browns, Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Giants, Steelers, Bears, Lions, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
With that much interest in the personable and talented player, don't be surprised to see him be picked higher than expected in the draft because teams know that he's on the radar of so many other clubs and won't be able to afford to wait too long to pluck him off the draft board.
With his speed and size, Woodyard would readily be a good fit for a Cover-2 defensive scheme. And he said that the Buccaneers were one of the teams that confirmed that line of thought, saying they liked the way he can move in pass coverage as well. But until the end of April, he'll just have to wait and see which of the many teams that have been showing interest in him puts his name on a card and sends it up to the podium.
"Even though I get knocked for my size, for the true fans that watch me play, everybody knows that my heart is just as big as anybody else out there on the football field," Woodyard said. "I'm just taking everything in stride and am thankful for the support that the fans have for me, with everybody believing in me."