After visiting with USC's Keith Rivers, the nation's top-rated middle linebacker prospect, the Colts also chatted with Georgia Tech's Philip Wheeler upon his arrival for Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama. The Colts also sat down for another interview with Wheeler on Tuesday night.
Wheeler played both outside and middle linebacker for the Yellow Jackets, and is being considered at both positions. He's currently ranked as the fifth-best OLB prospect and the 75th overall prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Wheeler had an impressive career at Tech, earning second-team All-ACC honors in 2006 after leading the team in sacks (nine) and tackles for loss (14.5) and finishing second on the team in total tackles with 89.
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
In 2007, with teams taking account of the tenacious linebacker, Wheeler started all 13 games, and led the team in total tackles with 88. He also record 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He's one of five Yellow Jackets at the Senior Bowl this week — the most of any team in the country.
Scouting reports seem to all say the same thing — that the 6 feet, two inch, 235 pound Wheeler is an absolute beast and a tackling machine. He's been impressive in practices this week, particularly against the run. One of the main concerns is his speed and coverage ability, but he'll have plenty of time to prove he can play at an NFL pace during Tech's Pro Day and the NFL Combine.
For now, he remains an alluring prospect that could help a lot of teams at outside linebacker or even become a middle linebacker in a Tampa 2 scheme. Right now, he projects as a late second or early third-round choice, making him a definite possibility for the Colts.
What's most interesting about the Colts' early leanings in their lead-up to the NFL Draft is that they have now talked to two linebackers and a running back this week, two positions that may come as a surprise to fans because they don't seem to carry a pressing need. After all, the Colts seem to be pretty set at those positions, with Gary Brackett coming into his own in the middle, Freddy Keiaho, emerging as a young star and Rob Morris finally finding his niche at strong-side linebacker. Younger players, like Tyjaun Hagler and Clint Session, looked impressive when they got their chances in 2006.
But Brackett just completed his fifth season and has always been an undersized player, and it's hard to tell how well Morris will come back from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2007. With that in mind, the Colts seem to be looking at players they can groom to take over those positions in a year, or two, or even more, depending on development. And with a player with the physical skills and strength of Wheeler, they would be getting a player that would challenge for playing time from the get-go.
Another aspect to consider is that this is considered a particularly deep draft for both linebackers and running backs, so maybe the Colts are just trying to get an early read on the talent pool and determine where they will be able to get what type of players, and when. Obviously, the team will continue to learn more as the week goes on and at Pro Days and the Scouting Combine.PackPride.com profiled Wheeler last season in this feature. View Wheeler's Scout.com profile here.