Ronald ‘Boss' Bailey (Georgia), brother of Redskins Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey headlines the LB group overall and for good reason. At 6'3" and 233lb's and a terrific athlete, he seems perfectly suited to play WLB in the pro's though he actually started in college at SLB. He has had a bit of an injury interrupted career, missing the 2000 season with a torn ACL and really hadn't lived up to his abilities until this year when he nearly doubled his previous best effort for tackles with 114 to lead the team for the first time and added 6 sacks to a string of big plays. He closes on the QB remarkably quickly and also has top-notch coverage skills and very good hands as he showed when making a pair of INT's against Florida as a junior. His instincts are also pretty good, he can play off of blocks quite well and he gets from sideline-to-sideline in a hurry so there is nothing that he shouldn't be able to do and his potential should be limitless.
However, I saw plenty of him last year and have also seen him a couple of times this season already – against Florida and Auburn – and have found him to be maddeningly inconsistent in his play in those games and he still appears to be a better athlete than player. Against Florida, he had trouble getting off of blocks from the TE's and into the thick of the action and he repeatedly overran plays, allowed too much separation in coverage and failed to bring down the big TE's down repeatedly. Against Auburn he played much more in control and had a very productive game against both the run and was used as a pass rusher nailing the QB for a pair of sacks when turned loose. Poor tackling is seen as a legitimate issue with him following the Alabama game when he missed 9 tackles and that's why I need to see more of him as I can't decide whether he is just plain sloppy with his technique or lacks the hitting power he thinks he has and doesn't wrap up properly because of it.
While he didn't run at the Combine, he participated in the jumping tests, doubtless leaving the pro teams drooling as he notched Combine high's – regardless of position – in both the vertical leap (42" not the much rumoured 50") and the broad jump (11'3"). That wasn't unexpected because he has shown that leaping ability in games, getting tremendous elevation to block field goals or knock down passes. I don't need to see a time from his forthcoming pro day to know he can run fast because it's so obvious in his play. The Giants have been rumoured to have an interest in him but whether they would need to trade up very far to get him remains to be seen. Based on athletic ability and what he can do when ‘on' his game he'd be a top 10 pick but his inconsistent play suggests he goes a lot lower down the 1st round than that and he may be within touching distance on the day.
Pisa Tinoisamoa (Hawaii) isn't exactly a household name by any means with the Rainbow Warriors games either not shown at all or on so late few fans bother to tune in but pro scouts are more than aware of his abilities! A cousin of Junior Seau, though he's a lot smaller, the speed, instincts and hitting ability appear to have been passed down the family tree! His impressive season totals of 129 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 2 INT's compare favourably with many of the better known players at his position too.
The starting WLB, he didn't really do much of note in the first half against Alabama as the plays were mainly run to the opposite side of the field but a half-time adjustment saw him move inside – not strictly speaking to MLB but over the OLG – and he then had a huge influence on the game and was probably the best player on the field for either team. His Seau-like instincts served him well as he reacted immediately at the snap and exploded into the backfield to make a bunch of plays (5 TFL's!) and he showed he wasn't just a ‘chase' guy by diving underneath a block from the FB when blitzing off the corner when the ball was ran straight at him. He also showed the ability to chase and lay out to make a play to protect the corner on more than one occasion which is something I used to love watching Jessie Armstead do. An effective though not frequent blitzer, he got a pair of sacks against ‘Bama too, chasing the QB down from behind on a rollout to the opposite side of the field for his first and then simply overpowering a RB and burying the QB for the other.
I couldn't see whether he had coverage skills though and I hadn't taken that much notice of his play in the BYU game from the previous year when reviewing the tape solely for WR Ashley Lelie (Broncos 1st round pick) and TE Doug Jolley (Raiders 2nd round pick) so I went back for a good long look of him in action against a passing team. He didn't start the game though as he was just returning from 3 weeks of inactivity having suffered a stress fracture of the right leg on the first play of another game. He certainly wasn't hampered by the injury though as he forced 2 fumbles, one on the goal-line as the first half expired meeting the scrambling QB mid-air and leaving him down on all fours in the end zone and out of the game with a badly bruised rib cage long after the teams headed to the locker room! Though coverage isn't supposed to be his forte, he was lining up quite often over receivers in the slot and didn't look out of place doing so though they never really threw the ball at him and he mainly dropped into zone as opposed to picking up guys man-to-man and never had to cover the backs coming out of the backfield.
Reports from the Senior Bowl suggest he did a great job against the run in both the practices and game too, able to get off of blocks and cover a lot of ground so his ‘stock' is rising quickly. At the Combine, the tale of the tape showed him to be a hair over 6' and a rock-solid 230lb's – though he has probably maxed out now size-wise – and impressed with both a very strong workout and a fine clocking (4.65) in the 40 yard dash. I think he's an impact player and consider him worthy of selection in either the 3rd round, maybe even a little higher. Whether he would be able to handle the difference in lifestyle playing in NY in cold weather is a question mark I can't answer. If the Giants think he can do so they may consider taking that gamble.
Gerald Hayes (Pittsburgh) isn't a player I've seen much of but I have a couple of tapes to view of him from his senior season. A collegiate MLB, he lacks the size at 6'1" and 228lb's to play there in the pro's even though he has notched up more than 100 tackles from the middle each of the last 3 years, making more big plays each year which is something that will stand him in good stead with the pro scouts. Reports I've seen on him from the Senior Bowl practices suggest he is mobile, instinctive, has some coverage skills and can play in space so the natural projection is for him to play WLB. He's considered a safe bet for a 2nd round choice but whether he looks like a good fit for the Giants I really don't know yet.
Nick Barnett (Oregon State) is widely considered under-sized for the OLB position and was seen as a potential candidate for conversion to SS at the next level but measured in at the Combine at just under 6'2" and 236lb's and that idea has seemingly dissipated. I've only seen him play once and that was a couple of years ago in a Bowl game but I do remember the Beavers LB corps being extremely fast and active, too quick for the Notre Dame OL to block and that he was one of those little knats making plays all over the field. I'll get around to watching him before the draft but for now the consensus of opinion appears to be that he will be chosen on the first day, probably in the late 2nd/early 3rd round.
Bradie James (LSU) was a player I had some interest in heading into the year but while he didn't blossom into an out-and-out star, he put together another very good season to catch the eye of NFL teams. A versatile player having started at WLB as an underclassmen before moving to the middle as a Senior, he broke the team record for most tackles in a season (154 including 10 TFL's and 3 sacks) on what was actually a pretty good defense clearly demonstrating that he can get to the ball and bring the man down when he does so. I have seen commentary on some websites that he's slow but I don't believe that to be the case (I think he's slow reacting at times which makes him look slower than he is) However, as he elected not to run at the Combine, I can't say for sure whether he has the speed that I'm looking for. Though he looks the part of an MLB size-wise and checked in at just under 6'3" and 242lb's he has expressed his desire to return to the weak-side in the pro's.
Watching him earlier this season against Kentucky, he did some good things but still looks to be more of a ‘chase' type player who flows to the ball than one suited to attacking the backfield at the snap. Though he got cart-wheeled a few times by cut blocks from the linemen he also showed he could take on and shed blocks when needed (though mostly he ran around them) and he made a large number of tackles flowing laterally. I'm not too sure about his all-around game though as he was picked up too easily on the blitz and never beat the blocks. His coverage skills were better though as he was pretty active in zone and took down receivers on more than one occasion in the open field. He probably isn't ready to start as a rookie so I can see him lasting to the second day of the draft, probably being taken in the 4th round with a good showing at his individual workout. I don't think the Giants will draft him but he does have an upside to his game so I wouldn't rule it out.
As is always the case at the Combine, a few of the smaller DE types are auditioned at LB in drills as well as their college position and excel to such an extent that they become noteworthy OLB prospects. This year both Antwan Peek (Cincinnati) and Shurron Pierson (South Florida) virtually solidified their selection on the opening day of the draft with their performances.
With the Giants having shown a lot of interest in free agent SLB Roosevelt Colvin because of his ability to rush the passer I can't help but wonder whether one of the above duo will have caught their scouts eyes. Peek measured in at just under 6'3" and 246lb's, has the classic LB size to rush the passer and he proved in both the workouts and drills that he more than matches up with many of the top LB prospects this year athletically. Having already seen him play, I know he has the instincts and intensity to do the job. I'd say it's just a matter of time before he has an impact for the team that drafts him and I would be more than a little surprised if he isn't taken in the 2nd round. At the very least as a rookie, I'd expect him to contribute heavily as a pass rusher. Would the Giants go after him? I'm not sure about that but if he were chosen I'd be very pleased to have him.
Pierson is a player I've never seen and won't until the NFL season starts but 18 sacks the last two years suggest he knows how to get to the QB also. At just under 6'2" and 243lb's he proved himself a slightly better athlete than even Peek but I can't tell you much more than that at this stage. I'll let you know the consensus of opinion on him nearer the draft itself.
Guys such as LaMarcus McDonald (TCU), Victor Hobson (Michigan), and Angelo Crowell (Virginia) are all well known and considered solid prospects but none of them has the speed to make as many plays in the pro ranks as they did in college and I don't think they would upgrade the Giants LB corps because of it. I would be very disappointed if the Giants were to spend a first day draft pick on players who aren't likely to have an immediate impact.
Jeremy Lloyd (Iowa State) isn't a player I've ever seen but may be one worth looking at following an outstanding Combine performance. An SLB in college, he's a little undersized for the role at just under 6'2" and 235lb's in the Giants scheme (where 250lb'b guys are the norm) but having made 6 sacks and 11 TFL's as well as 94 tackles and an INT this past year in college he may convince them he could fit the role and add a play-making element to it should Brandon Short be moved inside. Certainly, he has the speed and athleticism to do so. I have no idea where he rates but have asked a couple of draftnik pals for their insight as I know they've seen him play. If their reports are favourable, I'll watch him myself.
Small school ‘backer Khalid Abduallah (Mars Hill) put up some very impressive numbers at the Combine and to get invited he must have caught the eye of a number of NFL teams. He's skinny at 6'2", 227lb's and only played two years for his team but I don't know whether that is down to injury, grades or transferring from a JuCo but he improved his playmaking from his junior to senior seasons and notched 26 TFL's and 11 sacks in his two year career. He could be one of the draft's great ‘sleepers' or he could be a ‘workout warrior'. I'll let you know what the consensus of opinion is on him nearer the draft.