WLB Draft Update #1

Here's an update on the Weakside Linebacker prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. Remember to join us for the BBWC draft day chat!

Saleem Rasheed (Alabama) is the best Linebacker ‘prospect' in this years draft but not the best player at the spot. He played MLB earlier in the season when I saw him against LSU & Auburn but was at WLB against Tennessee and that is the spot I believe he'll play in the pro's. He was in the thick of the action, making a few monumental plays but also showing the need to learn to diagnose plays better before reacting. At 6'2 ½", 229lb's he has pretty good size and his legit 4.55 speed tells you he can get to the sidelines in a hurry. He showed that twice against the Vols, tracking down the speedy Travis Stephens at the pylon on both sides of the field, diving through mid air to get just enough of his man to stop him breaking the plane for the score. He also made a huge play on 4th & 1, stuffing Stephens mid-air as he attempted to go over the top. Obviously, he can jump and his 35" vertical backs that up. Too many of his tackles though are assists downfield rather than in the box at the point of attack because he runs around blocks too much. However, he also showed the strength to take on and defeat blocks when he wanted to, once knocking top OL prospect Fred Weary squarely on his butt, but he was normally tracking back to the ball rather than heading towards the line of scrimmage. Allowed to run free to the ball he makes the play in the hole consistently and gets there in a real hurry. I'm not sure about his instincts though and he isn't really used too often in coverage the way he would be in the NFL i.e. man-to-man with RB's in the flat, etc. Diagnosis may be a problem for him as he tends to take too many ‘false steps' on misdirection plays and is late starting off towards the running back but his speed allows him to outrun his thoughts and he can still get there. That athletic ability and combination of size and hitting ability make him very attractive. In the right system, if a team can work with him to help him understand the game better he could be a real star. Someone will likely take that chance in the top 50 as even if he ends up not much better than now he'll make plays for them against the run and will have a productive career. He's definitely one that appeals to me and I'm pretty sure he will go in the 2nd round near to where the Giants pick. He could be wearing Giants blue next season.

Statistically speaking, the play of LeVar Fisher (NC State) dropped off dramatically as a Senior but in watching him against Maryland, commentators noted he carried a knee injury much of the season and was playing through the pain, something that will stand him in good stead with NFL teams. I mentioned previously about him playing deeper than in previous seasons and it was noticeable here that at times he not only lined up inside on occasion, but actually was directly behind the MLB way off the line of scrimmage! He is very impressive in coverage, picking up backs man-to-man easily and also picking off a deflected pass (INT ruled out by an off-sides so doesn't show on his stats). He is shorter than ideal though and was thrown over a couple of times when dropping into the throwing lane downfield in his zone (has a 31" vertical so can't make up for his lack of height). He also showed that he could diagnose quickly against the run, play off of or avoid blocks and was impressive in his pursuit down the line. The big downside for me was that he missed too many tackles including one in the backfield on 3rd and 1 – his coach says he ducks his head and misses because of it – and that is something he will have to work on if he is to be more reliable in the NFL. He never blitzed at all in this game but his stats say he can rush the passer. I get the feeling that teams watching him play as a junior will have come away a lot more impressed (my draftnik friend certainly liked him as a junior more) and I have no doubt that he's a solid 2nd round choice, maybe even for the Giants. It wouldn't even surprise me if he were the 2nd LB taken overall in the draft.

Raonall Smith (Washington State) stood out from the crowd athletically at the Combine but had I not known that before watching him play against UCLA I'd never know he was highly-rated! Despite his team playing a very aggressive scheme to stop the run he made no plays at or behind the line of scrimmage against the run, got cut down repeatedly by cut blocks on the edge and only flashed his speed on occasion when heading out to the flanks free of a blocker. He can definitely cover an RB out of the backfield and he closes ground in a hurry but mostly he looked slow to diagnose and wasn't too aggressive in his attempts to get to the ball. He blitzed a few times but was picked up too easily, his straight-line charges easy to plan for and he showed neither the strength to beat the block or the change of direction required to run around it. He may go in the late 2nd or early 3rd round based on his workout but I'd be disappointed if he were drafted by the Giants as I don't think he will be much better than Dhani Jones.

I was really looking forward to watching Will Witherspoon (Georgia) play but he missed the game against Tennessee with a knee injury, played very sparingly the following week against Florida and seemed to be a starter in name only against Boston College so there really wasn't much to go on. He was only in on the first few series against Florida making an immediate impression with his speed off the corner on a few blitzes, deflecting the first pass play of the game and knocking down the QB on the next. Also shed a block beautifully to make a tackle off tackle on the second series but then I never saw him again. I've seen Georgia 3 times this year and he's hardly played but looks a solid player when he does. I wish I could see more! He could be a nice surprise for a team in the 5th round and if the Giants don't try to grab an immediate starter for WLB, he could prove a huge upgrade on ST's and as depth while he waits his chance and gets bigger while working on his coverage technique.

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