Inside LB Countdown: Scouting Hull

Here's the scouting report on Penn State inside linebacker Mike Hull, straight from the NFL's top scout. What made Hull so effective and why is he the eighth-ranked inside linebacker in this draft? His "hunger for making every play" and refusal to back down on any play. (Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY)

Like father, like son, is the old saying. Mike Hull followed his father to Penn State and hopes to again follow Tom into the NFL. Tom was also a linebacker for the Nittany Lions (1971-73), where he was a teammate of Mike’s uncle, John (1970-71). Tom was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and played for the 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Another uncle, Louis Kreznoski, played football at North Carolina State.

The finance major just missed becoming the sixth player in school history to record 300 tackles, closing out his career with 294 hits, including 159 solo stops. As a redshirt freshman, he played mostly on special teams, blocking a kick and making 18 tackles.

In 2012, he returned a blocked punt 14 yards, recovered two fumbles, including a 74-yard runback for a score vs. Navy, earning lots of playing time in the second half of the year when Mike Mauti was injured. He posted 58 tackles with four sacks, picking off one pass and deflecting four others.

Taking over middle linebacker chores full-time in 2013, Hull finished second on the team with 78 tackles after he recovered from a season opening knee injury vs. Syracuse that sidelined him for two contests. He was named All-Big Ten Conference first-team and All-American second-team after he placed sixth in the nation with 140 tackles in 2014, tied for the fourth-best season total by a Nittany Lion. He added two sacks to go with 10.5 stops-for-loss and had an interception among four passes defended.

Hull has good quickness and adequate bend to slip off blocks, demonstrating the functional burst and quickness needed to change direction and make plays on the move. He is the type of athlete that plays quicker than his timed speed. He shows good explosion coming off the snap and while not sudden, he can generate movement when working laterally. He has above average strength to stack and control and displays good success as a collision-type tackler.

The middle linebacker seems to always be around the ball and has a hunger for making every play. His high motor allows him to get off blocks quickly and he is the type that will simply refuse to back down from combat. He has a very nice feel for blocking schemes, as he attacks the line with shoulders squared, using his lower body strength to hold ground at the point of attack. He moves quickly and decisively and even when he overruns some plays, he has the body control, balance and sense of urgency to recover.

Hull is generally in position to make big impact plays in the middle. He is a classic collision type tackler who has very good leg drive for ground planting. He needs to extend his arms better to drag down on the edge and will lunge at times rather than wrap, but he is a vicious hitter who can easily break down and face up. He is more powerful vs. plays in front of him than on the move (will revert to arm tackles then).

From the statistical standpoint, he will generally get negative yardage when meeting ball carriers at the line, as he drives hard with his legs in attempts to push the opponent back through the hole. Known as a tough and physical, blue-collar type athlete, he has a very good nose for the football and his short-range tools make him be much more productive operating between the tackles at the next level than when playing on the outside.

For a middle linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, Hull has average overall size, but with his pads on, he actually appears bigger and thicker on film. He added over ten pounds to his frame prior to last season and should continue to fill out well to the 245-pound range in the pro ranks. Keeping him inside will be to his advantage, as he seems to excel at filling his middle run gaps with good downhill quickness, burst and short-area power.

Hull is a smart, instinctive player known for making quick reads working inside, but he also has the valid balance and lateral agility to flow quickly and take direct angles to the ball on running plays. He just has that short-area acceleration that allows him to make a lot of plays inside-out, on or behind the line of scrimmage.

Hull is the type of player who shows little wasted motion filling downhill. He scrapes well with square shoulder pads off-tackle and rarely gets turned or gives up the inside cutback crease. With his lateral agility quickness, he turns and chases well to the sideline, but as he demonstrated in 2014, his range, speed and overall athleticism are more suited between the tackles (in 2013, when playing on the outside, he did show some stiffness in his hips breaking down in space and overrunning the outside cutback).

Remaining at an inside position allows Hull to do a better job of mirroring tight ends and backs in the short-to-intermediate passing areas, rather than leaving him exposed to faster receivers, especially vs. offenses that prefer to spread the field. On the outside, he also had some issues splitting combo blocks and there were too many times where bigger blockers were able to reach him at the second level.

One issue Hull needs to correct is that he tends to open up his whole body when teams run directly at him and he has difficulty sidestepping the cutoff. While physically strong, his hand technique is adequate and he will need he needs to do a better job when asked to step in and hold his base vs. bigger blockers at the point of attack.

Hull has shown in 2014 that he can be a strong, explosive tackler, but you would like to see him avoid leaving his feet to maintain proper leverage on the ball. Like most of the linebackers in this draft class, Hull has a few weaknesses that could be exploited both inside and out, but he brings good scheme versatility to the table with his ability to play both the weak and strong inside spots, along with his special team skills make him a potential mid-round draft value pick.

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