A Look at Christian Kirksey

Christian Kirksey – a versatile linebacker who brings speed, fluidity, and athleticism in coverage and vs. the run.

Just before the second day of the NFL Draft, the leak about Josh Gordon’s looming suspension hit the media. And with that, the selection of a LB appeared to be quite the let down among the Browns’ fan-frenzy sold on the idea of “replacing Josh Gordon”. While we didn’t replace Josh Gordon (nor could we) or even draft a wide receiver in rounds 1 – 7, the selection of Christian Kirksey in the third round added talent and athleticism at one of the most important position groups in the Browns defense.

I am extremely impressed with what I’ve seen on tape and I feel that this kid is going to be an excellent, versatile linebacker in Mike Pettine’s defense. Kirksey figures to play inside next to Karlos Dansby and I believe he will immediately compete for starting reps. I also feel coach Pettine will rotate him on the outside during specific pass rush and coverage situations. His effort, skill set, and attitude will go a long way towards meshing with the “Play Like a Brown” mentality the team is trying to build. If you’re not familiar with Kirksey, you need to be.

Build and Vitals

Age: 21

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 233 lbs

Arms: 32 3/8”

Bench: 16 reps

Vertical: 32”

Broad Jump: 122”

40 yard: 4.48sec

College Production

While at Iowa, Kirksey was a highly productive and versatile outside linebacker. He was a playmaker and leader on defense earning team captain honors his junior and senior seasons. On several occasions during my film review I noted that Kirksey played with a relentlessly; he flies around the field playing with vinegar and passion and has a motor that just doesn’t stop – even after the whistle blows.

Projection with the Browns

According to ProFootballFocus – or your own eyes – the incumbent inside linebacker, Craig Robertson, was not very good vs. the run last year. Surprisingly, again according to PFF, Craig’s best function was in passing situations. Those that watched our games closely last season know that this is a false positive because Craig became a big liability in the passing game. So much so that opposing teams game planned ways to expose him and did so often. Time will tell whether or not this was because of our scheme under coach Horton or because Robertson just as good as we thought following his rookie season.

Enter Christian Kirksey – a versatile linebacker who brings speed, fluidity, and athleticism in coverage and vs. the run. Kirksey will give Mike Pettine options and figures to step in right away and challenge for the starting spot opposite Karlos Dansby. A big bonus for coach Pettine is that Kirksey can play press man and jam at the line of scrimmage vs. bigger receivers or tight ends, and has the speed needed to turn and cover the seam or the flat. Enough can’t be said for his 4.48 speed because it really translates to the field and helps him excel in coverage.

Kirksey appears to process the game quickly and shows good awareness of his assignments and responsibilities when the bullets are flying. He reacts well to the ball; reads the QB; shows good hands; understands coverage and zone concepts; and rarely over-pursues or takes poor angles when tackling in either facet of the game. Kirksey won’t consistently dominate a game and won’t always create plays himself in pass rush or coverage situations, but he knows how to finish plays and create pressure.

Kirksey does a good job of setting the edge in run support. He also showed the ability to make critical contributions in the red zone in this area last season, fighting through/rushing past blocks to create pressure or help make tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His tackling technique is solid and he brings a relentless energy on every snap. While he can improve how quickly he does this, he showed the ability to fight through and shed blockers last season vs the run. As that aspect of his game continues to improve, I fully expect Kirksey to be in the backfield making plays on Sundays.

His biggest weakness is his size (bulk) and strength which if not improved could translate into not getting off blocks consistently at the next level. At the combine, he only registered 16 reps on the bench press which ranked the lowest among his position group. That being said, Kirksey is a tremendous athlete who flashed enough functional strength, leverage and technique to fight through blocks in college. However, he will need to continue to develop in these areas for the Browns when playing against NFL linemen / blockers. This applies especially in edge-rush and run situations where he’ll need to play with better strength and learn better hand technique and leverage to help create space for himself. This isn’t unique to many rookie linebackers, but he’ll need to continue to improve in these areas so that he can maximize his speed to make plays vs. the run and while in pass rush mode.

Kirksey figures to also have plenty to learn about footwork, hand usage and body positioning while in coverage at the NFL level. The foundation is there, now it’s just a matter of putting it all together through the course of training camp and the 2014 season so that he begins to play instinctually.

Film Room

Shed

Above, on 1st and goal, Kirksey is able to fight through the block of the pulling guard and grab a hold of the running backs leg, helping to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Above on 2nd and 5 from inside the LSU 10 yard line, Kirksey shifts outside as if moving into coverage on the receiver, then blitzes the edge showing the ability to spin and shed past 2 blockers to apply pressure on the QB. The play resulted in a tipped pass on a poor throw that was nearly intercepted.

Above you’ll see Kirksey come off the edge on the blitz, engage and push the fullback backwards, then show his ability to shed the blocker and “rip” past him. He tosses the blocker to the ground then grabs the QB and spins him down for the sack.

Coverage

Let’s start with a great hands play in coverage that showcases Kirksey’s awareness and quickness – both are traits that the Browns could always use more of on Sundays. He sees the play develop, and reacts to the deflection beautifully snagging the INT.

The above play is a good display of awareness and athleticism by Kirksey while in coverage. He’s playing out in space against a 3 man WR stack. It’s a zone coverage play, and Kirksey keeps his eyes on the QB and is aware of what the play is before the receivers can set the blocks. Had the ball been caught, Kirksey would have have in position, with a head of steam, to make the play on the quick bubble screen.

This next sequence of plays shows a good variety of what Kirksey can do in coverage. His speed is such an asset for him and here you see him running “in the hip pocket” alongside his WR over the middle on two crossing routes.

Above, although the play is quick, you can see Kirksey playing inside technique / press man on the outside with the ability to turn and run with the receiver forcing him to boundary.

Tackling

Above you can see a great example of Kirksey setting the edge against the slot receiver on a run play. He shows good pop in his hands which allows him to get in good position to funnel the running back inside towards help and then flashes his speed and motor to help finish the play.

Above, Kirksey is playing in the slot in what looks to be a zone, he recognizes the run play, takes a good angle, closes quickly, and makes a solid tackle.

Above, Kirksey shows a number of traits, first is his ability to shed the block – although I’d like to see him breakaway faster – and then he shows off his speed and motor finishing the play along the sideline.

Motor

Above, Kirksey fights through a block on a run play, separates, then chases down the play to help make the tackle from behind the play.

Above, Kirskey gets all the way across the back of the formation on a run play to help make the tackle on the opposite side of the field. Great motor and effort.

While the above play isn’t a good one for Iowa, it does showcase the effort and motor that Kirksey plays with. He pursues the play all the way down the field, which I expect and love to see.

Pass Rush

Above, Kirksey shows ability to fight through several blockers and get pressure on QB. He gets his arms up while rushing the passer and attacks the QB’s arm and the football to finish the play. Although the QB gets the ball out and down the field, his ability to get pressure and impact the QB is showcased.

Above, Kirksey shows the awareness while in pass rush to slow down and spin outside to pursue QB instead of just running straight and trying to use his speed.

Above, Kirksey shows on consecutive plays the speed needed to rush the QB from the slot and the LEO position.

Lastly, while this isn’t a play that Kirksey himself creates, it is the type of play that I want to see from my linebacker. Being in the play. Not over-pursuing. Not trying to go for the highlight hit, rather making sure you lock down the QB and help make the sack. A heads up, smart play.

Game Notes

Kirksey vs. Minnesota

- First play, holds position off snap, uses good hand technique to get off block while setting edge and keeping his eyes on runner.

- Coverage ability evident; zone or man; fluidity and speed

- Ability to play in slot or on the edge (LEO)

- Shows jam at LOS vs. TE, WR, and ability to drop into coverage after jam

- Show ability to diagnose plays often and not over commit to one or the other on play action.

- Shows versatility to play press man and jam at the LOS vs. TE

- Shows ability to cover flat with speed

Kirksey vs. Nebraska

- Shows ability to fight through blocks; track and help make tackles

- Slot and edge use both in coverage and blitz

- Finishes several plays through the whistle; relentless

- Excellent goal-line edge rush and QB pressure vs. pass

- Consistent effort and vinegar

- Sets edge; maintains integrity

- Shows ability to drop into coverage both zone and man

Kirksey vs. Michigan

- Special teams tackle and effort

- Mix of both slot and edge in both coverage and blitz

- Red zone contribution vs. run, diagnoses play in off man, tracks and makes fantastic tackle

- Great play recognition; sets edge when needed; finishes play

- Another (2) goal-line standout plays vs run, beats OL with shed and makes tackle and then holds off motioned tight end at point of attack, sets edge, then pushes back

- Shows press man ability, then drop into coverage in flat vs. RB and WR

Kirksey vs. LSU

- Press man / zone ability shown vs. WR and RB

- Fights through blocks

- Sacks QB on great play

- Nasty mentality on occasion

- Shifts directions and flips hips smoothly in coverage

- Speed and awareness evident

- Gets absolutely crushed by FB, will have this issue at next level, needs to add weight and strength

- Owned Landry at POA all day

You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeKrupka


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