OLB Update

Giants GM Ernie Accorsi talked a little the other day about potentially taking ‘the best athlete available' in the 1st round rather than the ‘best athlete available at a position of need'.

The more I watched Ronald ‘Boss' Bailey (Georgia) in action this past season, the more he impressed me with his ability to make plays using his instincts to find the ball and his great speed to get across the field and into plays an LB with less speed would never have been involved in. Against Arkansas in the SEC Championship game and against Florida State in his final appearance for the Bulldawgs in the Bowl game, he did a hugely impressive job of sniffing out the play as it developed, getting to the ball close to the point of attack and especially of rushing the passer. He was simply faster to the corner than the RB's of either team and in the open field was moving too quickly for blockers to reach him.

That said, his inconsistencies in tackling continue to show up in both games, as they have in just about every other game I've seen him play. Having watched him in action probably as much as any prospect in this draft, I think his tackling ability is hindered by two factors. The first is that even though he isn't a big hitter (he lacks bulk at this stage of his career) but seems to almost always leave his feet when making tackle attempt – especially when chasing towards the sideline – and this negates his power even more. The second is that he has a tendency to arm tackle when he does so and rather than wrap his arms around his man as he slips down the legs and twisting his body to. You don't see him miss many tackles when head on though so I think a combination of a lot of technique work to ‘slow the game down' for him and dedication in the weight room should allow him to reach his (All-Pro) potential.

The player himself believes he is capable of playing the SLB position at the next level havng starred at in college but I think that will come down to a system by system basis as he would be much better backed than grappling with a huge TE at the LOS on every play. In the Giants system, I think he'd be much better off on the weak-side, especially if utilised in a way that would allow his speed to be a factor i.e. used often as a blitzer and allowed to run freely to the ball. Other systems like the one used by the Rams, he may well be effective at SLB.

While not the finished product by any means – a draftnik friend in the UK says he wishes he'd make more of the ‘bread and butter' plays rather than just the flashy ones – his potential is considerable because of his instincts and the athletic prowess he undoubtedly possesses. Giants GM Ernie Accorsi talked a little the other day about potentially taking ‘the best athlete available' in the 1st round rather than the ‘best athlete available at a position of need'. While I remain unconvinced by our starting LB trio – especially Dhani Jones at WLB – if the Giants really do feel they have no major weakness at the position, could it be that ‘Boss' falls into the category of ‘best athlete'? I expect to see him selected somewhere between 12th and 17th but whether that is a lot lower than the Giants rate him I don't know. If he were to ‘slip' on the day and help at ‘key need' positions was not available at ‘value', could he be a player we'd move up for?

I hadn't really seen much of NJ product Gerald Hayes (Pittsburgh) previously so I studied his play intently against both Miami (Fla) and Oregon State in the Insight.com Bowl game and while he seemed a very solid player and a good prospect, he didn't really excite me enough to consider him an ‘impact' LB or want to draft him though he was a lot more impressive in the latter game than the former.

On the plus side, he appeared to have very good football instincts, diagnosing plays being run to the perimeter as well as enough speed (runs the 40 yd dash in 4.75 seconds) to stretch the play out and force the runner to cut back into the teeth of the pursuit or make the play himself. He also showed the quickness to shoot through a gap in the offensive line behind the point of attack and then redirect well enough to make the stop in the backfield. While coverage, isn't considered his forte, he did a more than acceptable job in man coverage in both games on whoever came out of the backfield, particularly ‘in space' outside the hash marks. An experienced and intense blitzer, he has a quick burst to the QB from a running start and a spin move off of contact that freed him on occasion from the blocks of linemen and he doesn't hold back when he gets to the QB as the ball is thrown.

On the downside, he looked to be more of a ‘pursuit' player, starting off both games slowly from his MLB spot and getting caught up ‘in the trash' by big linemen a little too often when the ball was run between the tackles and over-running a couple of plays. This was especially evident when Miami's super-stud RB Willis MacGahee broke an attempted arm tackle in the hole and went 69 yards untouched the rest of the way. The LB had diagnosed the play, read the block and got to the point of attack but wasn't able to free himself wholly from his blocker, over-ran the play slightly and that was that. Used in the gap between RG and RT on many occasions as a blitzer, he wasn't powerful enough to drive the linemen back and seemed to lack the change-of-direction skills to get off of blocks consistently even with good hand usage to fight the block.

Most draft sites consider him a lock to be taken at some point fairly early in the 2nd round but I rate him slightly lower than that based on these viewings and he isn't quite fast enough to fit my vision of what an OLB should run (and I don't see him as a great fit at MLB in the pro's). Unlike Bailey, Hayes isn't close to being athletic enough that he falls into the ‘the best athlete available' scenario and I don't see the Giants rating him so highly that they'd divert from their plans to grab him, even if available at the end of the 2nd round.

I had never seen Nick Barnett (Oregon State) before watching his head-to-head with Hayes so looked up his stats from to see what type of impact he had overall last season and he certainly appeared – on paper at least – to be an all-purpose type of guy having recorded 120 tackles including 20 TFL's, 6 sacks, and 7 PBU's on the season.

On the plus side, once he diagnoses the play he has instant excellent acceleration to the ball, does a good job of avoiding low blocks on the move (though he was cut down a few times), took good angles to the ball and was able to cut off the perimeter with ease and showed he can be a dynamic pursuit tackler. On the blitz, he can take off through a gap and get to the QB with great swiftness. He also changed directions very well and showed he could run down field locked up in tight coverage so matching up with backs shouldn't be a problem for him.

On the downside, he was caught moving in the wrong direction initially on a few occasions and had a lot of difficulty separating from bigger blockers (they got into his body and tied him up far too easily), particularly on straight ahead running plays. Most worrying for me was his lack of size/football strength displayed on a play he was credited with a sack, hitting the 220lb QB twice on the play and still failing to bring him down despite having his arms wrapped around him (the ref saved his blushes by invoking the forward progress rule)!! He also missed a couple of arm tackles where the RB barely even noticed he made contact due to his lack of bulk.

His character is something teams will have to look into as I believe he was dismissed from Tennessee (but can't remember where I read that) and he was definitely thrown out of practice as a junior for taking a cheap-shot at one of his own team-mates! The big concern teams will have about him for sure is whether or not he will be able to play at the 236lb's he weighed in at for the Combine or whether he will drop the sand from his bucket in training camp and revert closer to his old playing weight of 219lb's. At the lower size, he simply isn't big enough to take on blockers in the NFL and will have to be used almost exclusively ‘in space'. Certainly, he should be an ST stand-out and situational player but for the mid-late 2nd round selection he's projected to be that would not be considered good value by anyone. Don't get me wrong, he has an ‘upside' but though he may rate highly as an ‘athlete' I'd hope that the Giants would pass on him even if available when we come to pick for the second time.

There are a few character concerns regarding Pisa Tinoisamoa (Hawaii) but while that may put a few teams off of him – including the Giants – I'll stick with my opinion that he could be an impact player in the Giants system on the weak-side. I've also seen a couple of mock drafts recently where he was projected as the Eagles 1st round draft choice (!!) so his ‘stock' may be rising amongst NFL teams heading into the big day though I still think he's more likely to slip into the 2nd round than the 1st.

Eddie Moore (Tennessee) is a player I've enjoyed watching over the last few years but who I didn't list initially as an LB prospect because there was some thought that he'd be considered more as a SS type because of his speed (runs the 40 yard dash in 4.61seconds) coverage and change-of-direction skills plus lack of top size (he's just over 6' tall and was listed at 220lb's in the TSN College Football Preview last year) From a pure play-making ‘numbers' standpoint, he doesn't stand out – made just 5 sacks, 14.5 TFL's, 1 INT and 12 PBU's in his two years as a starter – but watching him play he is very active around the ball (led the team in tackles the last two years) and is good in all phases of LB play. His senior year, he also had a lot less production from up front so his play-making opportunities would have been limited somewhat because the DL was moved off the line of scrimmage so often.

The thing that stands out about Moore is that though he isn't big (but weighed in at the Tennessee Pro Day at 231lb's), he has the hitting power that similar sized prospects like Boss Bailey currently lack. Watching him in action earlier this year against Alabama as a senior, he continued to show that his lack of size didn't prohibit him from making some outstanding plays from his SLB spot, able to take on and free himself from blocks before taking good pursuit angles to the ball on plays away from him and making text book tackles, sliding down the legs and twisting his man to the ground. He also knifed through to make a pair of stops in the backfield. Head on, I've certainly not seen him miss very often and more often than not he stops even big RB's in their tracks.

In coverage he's a guy that can plant a little seed of doubt in the minds of receivers when they run patterns over the middle as he has a quick drop and reacts quickly to the ball in the air. Two years ago in the SEC Championship game he knocked a Florida freshman receiver into la'la land with one of the cleanest shots I've ever seen (think Shaun Williams on Jimmy Smith for comparisons) and he matches up well with backs in coverage too. With his speed and intensity, he's also a brutal hitter as a blitzer off the corner from the back-side with the quickness off the ball to beat linemen and the power to defeat an RB's block.

He has had some injury problems though – he missed his teams Bowl game against Maryland this year after having knee surgery, delayed his workout until late-March while regaining full fitness and had shoulder surgery during the previous off-season (though he played his whole junior year knowing he needed it) – and that may worry teams that he will have problems at the next level because of his size and aggressive style of play. I've seen some projections that he will be nabbed in the mid-late 2nd round but a few sites have been dismissive of his abilities altogether, perhaps because of durability issues. From my viewpoint, he's a player I can see being worthy of selection in the early 3rd round with a clean bill of health. Available at the back end of the it, he'd be a player I'd like to see ‘in the mix' when the Giants are looking at the options available to them but I think by then they will be able to target specific areas of need and, if the Giants haven't been ‘blowing smoke', WLB won't be one of them.

Bradie James (LSU) proved he doesn't lack speed when he worked out by clocking in the high 4.6 range at his Pro Day workout. I still don't think the Giants will draft him though.

The report I got from a draftnik friend on Jeremy Lloyd (Iowa State) wasn't enough to merit watching him personally. I'm told he's a better athlete than player, a not particularly instinctive forward movement type who needs work in coverage. He sounds like a day two project but not a future Giants player.

Chris Clemons (Georgia) was a very surprising early entry for the draft having really only started for one year and having had that interrupted by an ankle injury, missing the game against Florida and losing playing time to a very good prospect (Thomas Davis) down the stretch. At 6'3", 236lb's, he has similar size to his team-mate Bailey and also has good straight-line speed (ran the 40 yard dash in the mid 4.6 range at the Combine and again at campus workouts). That's where the comparison ends though as he doesn't make many plays at/or around the LOS and seems to forever be mopping up plays created by someone else rather than making them himself. I'd also question his maturity. Besides leaving school early for the NFL, he has made numerous bad decisions on the field and has been a magnet for PF's due to over-aggressive play (late hits on QB's and on players out of bounds mainly). I don't consider him an option but some teams may like him enough in a shallow LB class to take him at the start of the 2nd day.

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