2006 Draft Preview: LB Thomas Howard

Seahawks.NET's Kyle Rota finishes out our look at this year's outside linebacker class by focusing on the very athletic Thomas Howard from UTEP and a few others that are intriguing prospects for the Hawks toward the end of the first day of April's NFL Draft.

7. Thomas Howard, LB UTEP 6-3, 238 (4.42)

NFL Comparison: Julian Peterson, Seattle Seahawks

Overview –

Howard is a raw player but an incredible athlete. A three-year starter for UTEP, Howard started 30 of 40 games amassing 245 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Howard is also very durable, only missing one full game and part of another due to an injury in 2002.

Against the run –

Howard is blessed with outstanding speed and he makes good use of it in run support. Incredibly quick sideline-to-sideline. Not an explosive hitter but is an excellent tackler using good technique and form. Needs to work on overall strength and has trouble shedding blockers, sometimes opting to run around blocks instead of taking them on. Has very active hands, but if a guard or tackle latches on to him he can usually be ridden out of the play.

Against the pass –

You can unleash him as a blitzer off the edge and on delays and he will be very productive. As a junior in 2004, Howard put up eight sacks but in 2005 he wasn't used the same way because his team needed him in coverage where he excelled. He'll re-route tight ends with his hands, waiting until it seems like he is beaten before using his elite speed to blanket them downfield. Can struggle at times in zone coverage because he doesn't react well when receivers enter his area, but his break on the ball and speed can somewhat mask this deficiency. He has soft hands, but struggled at the Senior Bowl when he dropped two sure interceptions.

Roster impact on Seattle –

The signing of Peterson to a long-term contract last week negates the need for a standout coverage linebacker, but if Howard were to fall into the late second round you would be hard-pressed to find a player with his athleticism. In Seattle's scheme he would fit nicely as a strongside, playmaking linebacker opposite Leroy Hill and a demon on special teams.

Final Analysis –

Howard is a project with immense potential. Needs to add some weight to his frame and improve his overall strength. He's still learning the position (he came to college as a safety) and he needs to improve his reads and instincts. That said, I believe with a full summer of camps, Howard could polish his skills enough to start immediately because of his incredible speed and athleticism.

Best of the Rest

8. Rocky McIntosh, LB Miami 6-2, 237 (4.63)

Overview – Injury concerns are the only thing holding this prospect back. Plays well in space, sheds blockers well and is a very sure tackler. Needs to work on overall strength, but has the frame to add the necessary bulk to hold up well at the point of attack. Is very versatile, having played all three linebacker positions for the Hurricanes, but his best fit is probably on the weakside. Receiving late second round grades.

9. Jon Alston, LB Stanford 6-1, 228 (4.40)

Overview – Very undersized, but has great athleticism, speed and instincts. Runs very well and is very smart. Sheds blockers well and has good strength. Takes good angles and doesn't get lost in traffic while supporting the run. Needs to work on play-recognition skills. Earning late second and early third round grades.

10. Travis Williams, LB Auburn 5-11, 218 (4.63)

Overview – Lack of ideal height and weight mask the fact that he is very instinctual, fundamentally sound and a playmaker. Some teams might look to switch to strong safety. Doesn't take on blockers and can get lost in traffic. Third round prospect.

11. Spencer Havner, LB UCLA
12. A.J. Nicholson, LB Florida State
13. Gerris Wilkinson, LB Georgia Tech
14. Keith Ellison, LB Oregon State
15. James Anderson, LB Virginia Tech

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