Buyer Beware: Drafting a Linebacker

With one of their six picks this week, the New York Jets will almost definitely look at one linebacker for their 3-4 system. But, be careful,several top prospects have issues to be aware of.


MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Martez Wilson, University of Illinois Fighting Illini, #2, 6:03 7-252

It's not like Wilson will be a total bust, it's just that he lacks great field awareness and ball recognition skills, along with the natural instincts you look for in a middle linebacker, a position where your starter has to be the smartest player on the field Wilson would be much better served playing outside in a 3-4 alignment, where he can just zero in on the ball carrier, as he does not have a great feel for shooting gaps or taking the loop around the corner as a pass rusher

There are also concerns about his medical record and there were off-field issues that have raised a few "red flags" around the league Wilson was first suspended for the 2008 season finale vs Northwestern for violating team rules Several weeks later, he was hospitalized and underwent surgery for stab wounds suffered coming to the defense of a friend and former Illinois teammate outside a bar in Champaign

Wilson returned to the field for the 2009 season opener vs Missouri, but suffered a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery, forcing him to sit out the rest of the schedule Biting at the "bit" to return to the gridiron, the oft-reckless performer, both on and off the field, used those troubling times to get what he described as his "house in order " He would go on to earn All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors in 2010, a season that saw him post 112 tackles (47 solos) with four sacks and 11 5 stops for loss

Compares To: Carlos Polk-ex San Diego/Dallas Like Polk, Wilson's pass-coverage deficiencies will leave him performing as a two-down linebacker at the next level He gives good effort on the field, but is best served in a 3-4 alignment where he would not have to handle making calls, as he has just an adequate mental grasp for those duties He plays much better in the box than when giving chase, as he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square and exploding through the holes There are just too many holes in his game (mental aspect, pass coverage) for a team to get excited over him as a middle linebacker, but he could prove to be an effective strongside inside linebacker in the 3-4, or on the weak-side playing outside

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Aldon Smith, University of Missouri Tigers, #85, 6:04 2-258

Before any NFL team dares to draft Smith and try to make him an outside linebacker, there is a word of caution – contact Buffalo and ask them for their opinion of that mistake made when drafting Aaron Maybin The junior has good muscle development, but needs further body tone in his lower frame He has good arm length with muscular definition, thick bubble, adequate hamstrings and thighs

Smith added over 15 pounds to his frame during the 2010 off-season in order to compete better at defensive end, but outside of rush-end duties, he may not be suited to play outside linebacker, as I doubt that he can generate enough foot speed to be effective in long pursuit To play linebacker, he has to show better alertness to plays in front of him He is best when getting a clear lane off the edge, but is slow to recognize blocking schemes and will bite on fakes and play action

When he is able to locate the ball, Smith plays with good instincts and awareness His problems arise when he has to work in-line, as he spends a lot of time trying to disengage and loses sight of the play When he finds the ball, there is no hesitation in his moves to pursue the play

Compares To: AARON MAYBIN-Buffalo Maybin appears to be an all-time bust, failing to show the pass-rushing skills he did during his "fluke" junior season at Penn State Smith could use his right fibula fracture in 2010 as an excuse for his drastic drop-off as a pass rusher, but he's strictly a tweener – lacking strength to "man up" vs offensive tackles as a defensive end and missing the foot speed (4 82 in the 40-yard dash), along with great lateral agility (7 25 three-cone drill and 4 59 20-yard shuttle) to string plays out as an outside linebacker

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