New York Giants 2007 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers
by KWALL for BigBlueInteractive.com
The development of second-year linebacker Gerris Wilkinson is a big key for the team in 2007. I liked the pick of Wilkinson in the third round in 2006. He came to the Giants with a lot of starting experience in college. He was a three-year starter with production, so I really expected to see more playing time for him as a rookie. In limited time, I liked what I saw from him in year one. After his first full offseason as an NFL player, I believe he’ll be a very effective full-time starter in year two. Wilkinson will handle one outside linebacker spot for the Giants in 2007.
The other outside linebacker position? That was a major problem going into this offseason. Brandon Short is certainly not starter material. After the way he struggled in the playoff game I don’t think they’ll bring him back in any capacity. Outside linebacker was a huge need before the signing of Kawika Mitchell from Kansas City. I love the Mitchell signing. Young player. Good overall athlete. He brings a couple of years of starting experience in the NFL. And very inexpensive. Most importantly, it solves a huge need prior to the draft. In my opinion, Mitchell will be one of the best signings by any team in 2007. Joey Porter picked up a ridiculous $20 million in guaranteed money from Miami. Eliminating the money from the equation, I’d still take a young Mitchell over the quickly fading Porter at this stage.
Signing Mitchell before the draft removed the desperation stage at linebacker for the Giants. Mitchell can start and produce next season. This allows the Giants to forget about reaching for a linebacker on day one. The Giants still need to add some depth at linebacker. Lack of linebacker depth really hurt in the two playoff losses in 2005 and 2006. Now that Mitchell is on board, the Giants don’t have to draft an immediate starter at linebacker. They don’t have to reach for one too early. The outside linebacker class is weak at the top. The top names at outside linebacker are fringe first rounders with a variety of holes and risks. The best linebacker in class is middle linebacker Patrick Willis with a huge drop after his name is called in the top 12-15 picks. With the Giants sitting at #20 they may have their choice of any outside linebacker in draft. Hopefully, they pass that opportunity to draft the #1 outside linebacker to team #21. I’d like to see them forego a first-round linebacker. Not enough value there. Let’s pick up an athletic outside linebacker in round three or later. There will be plenty to choose from including Justin Durant, Juwan Simpson, Zak DeOssie, Rory Johnson, Will Herring, Stephen Nicholas, Dallas Sartz, and Antwan Barnes.
Lawrence Timmons, Florida State (6’1″, 235lbs, 40: 4.66, 10: 1.50, bench: 25, vert: 35, SS: 4.32, 3 cone: 6.92): Early entry. Only one year starting experience. Very athletic with a sudden burst. Favorably compares to Keith Bullock and Thomas Howard. Like Howard and Bulluck, a quick LB with top shelf change-of-direction (COD) skills. Excellent closing speed in pursuit. Has the first step and short area speed to be a very effective blitzer in the NFL. All of the physical tools are there to be an impact OLB in all phases of the game. A lot of upside here. Giants haven’t had a LB like this in a long time. If he’s there at #20 don’t be surprised if he’s the pick. Negatives? Is work ethic an issue for Timmons? Reports say he was a hard worker at Florida State. However, he was not in great shape at the Combine. Exploded out of gate on the 40. Very fast over 10 but lumbering over final 20. At pro day, he was out of breath between drills. According to NFL Draft Scout, his agent Rosenhaus told coaches “he would be in shape by mini-camp.” Not really what you want to hear when using a first round pick on a guy. Round 1. Possibly to the Steelers at #15.
Jon Beason, Miami (6′, 236lbs, 40: 4.72, 10: 1.60, bench: 19, passed on shuttles): 22 starts at Miami. Started at ILB and OLB. Athletic LB with sideline-to-sideline range. Aggressive downhill player. Works fast through trash and throws his body around. Excellent in pursuit. Routinely runs past players to find the ball. Beason is Mike Mayock’s #1 OLB. Mayock believes he’s a top-15 player. On NFL Network‘s “Path to the Draft,” Mayock outlined his exceptional range and burst to the QB. “Explosive through the hips tackler,” as Mayock likes to say. Lacks ideal size and occasionally struggles with blockers at point-of-attack. In space he flies to the ball and brings plenty of pop while tackling. Some think his best position is inside. I like him best on the weakside. Rookie starter. Round 1. Pick 20-25.
Paul Posluszny, Penn State (6’2″, 238lbs, 40: 4.70, 10: 1.56, bench: 22, vert: 37, SS: 4.20, 3 cone: 6.94): A lot of experience and very productive. Lead team in tackles for three consecutive seasons. Versatile. Can play inside or out. In 2005, looked like a future first round lock as a highly instinctive OLB with good closing speed. Injured knee at end of junior year. Partial tear. No surgery. Early in senior year, range, agility, and speed were not the same. Not impressive early in 2006 versus Notre Dame at ILB or Ohio St at OLB. Play improved throughout senior year. Solid Senior Bowl performance but coverage and play in space wasn’t special for a first round LB. Combine and pro day helped Poz regain some stock. Confirmed his acceptable speed and COD skills. Impressed at Combine and pro day in LB drills. Extremely tough. After partial tear, told trainers to shoot him up so he can get back in game. Smart (Deans list). Academic All-American. Team captain for two years. If knee isn’t an issue (it shouldn’t be), he’ll have a very long and productive NFL career. I’ve seen some A.J. Hawk comparisons. Not nearly as athletic or explosive as Hawk. Poz will start early in NFL career. He’ll help a team for many years. At #20 for the Giants? He’s a reach. Limited NFL upside makes him a mid-second round talent.
Stewart Bradley, Nebraska (6’4″, 255lbs, 40: 4.72, 10: 1.56, bench: 28, vert: 35.5, SS: 4.17, 3 cone: 7.29): This is your guy if you’re looking for a big and very physical SAM. Very strong. Very tough. Bradley is a fullback crusher. A rock at the point of attack. Strong hands and upper body allows him to throw around blockers. Outstanding LB going forward. Excellent stack and shed skills. Big question was his drops and pass coverage coming off a torn ACL in 2005. During Senior Bowl game, he looked very quick in his drop. Surprisingly smooth changing directions. He really helped himself because his coverage was outstanding for such a big LB. He can play three downs in the NFL. Some injury risk because of knee. Rookie starter. Early round 3.
Tim Shaw, Penn State (6’2″, 236lbs, 40: 4.51, 10: 1.59, bench: 26, vert: 36.5, SS: 4.12, 3 cone: 7.01): Top high school RB recruit and track guy. A true team-first player. Began career at Penn State at RB but moved to LB in year 2. Started at MLB in 2004, OLB in 2005, and DE in 2006. Didn’t complain about position changes. Seven sacks from DE in 2006. Too small for DE in NFL. Probably going to a 3-4 team to rush the passer. Eye opening performance at Combine has moved him into day one. Rare athletic ability gives Shaw a higher ceiling in NFL than teammate Poz. Look for Shaw to go late round 2/early round 3.
Quincy Black, New Mexico (6’2″, 240lbs, 40: 4.42, 10: 1.53, bench: 24, vert: 41.5, SS: 4.34, 3 cone: 6.86): Best size/speed package of any LB in this draft. JUCO. Only 2 years at New Mexico but a starter each season. Played same S/LB position for New Mexico as Brian Urlacher. Used more in coverage at this position for New Mexico. Very smooth in this aspect of the game. Can handle any man responsibilities as an NFL LB. A lot of tackles but not many big plays for Black. No sacks. Very few TFL. With his speed, hard to understand why they didn’t use him to occasionally pressure QB. Went to Shrine Game and showed off speed and blitzing ability. He can get it done in that area in the NFL. A lot of upside with this player. Best ball should be ahead of him. Round 3 steal.
Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma (6′, 228lbs, 40: 4.79, 10: 1.64, bench: 25, vert: 35, SS: 4.30, 3 cone: 7.06): Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Many considered him a top 50 player before Senior Bowl and workouts. Playing speed was considered a plus. Showed outstanding range on collegiate level. He was able to chase down ball carriers in college. Can he do it in the NFL? Senior Bowl practices raised legitimate concerns about his speed. Combine confirmed it. He came in undersized at Combine and ran much slower than expected. It will drop him 1-2 rounds. Probably a round 4 prospect at this point. As an undersized 4.75+ LB? He may have trouble in the NFL. I don’t expect any NFL team to take the risk early. Alexander is a good example of how much the NFL values measurables at certain positions. Despite plenty of production for a big time program, he will not hear his name early in this draft. Late round 3/early round 4.
Stephen Nicholas, South Florida (6’2″, 232lbs, 40: pass, bench: 29, vert: 33.5, SS: 4.45, 3 cone: 7.29 Pro Day: 40: 4.64): Solid player from a fast rising South Florida program. Just a few years into a Division I program, this team is headed in the right direction. As early as next season, may be a top 25 program. A mid- to late-round prospect with good speed for the position. Very productive in college. His hustle and range stood out in the Rutgers game. Mike Mayock recently listed him as his #5 OLB. Round 4.
Antwan Barnes, Florida International (6’1″, 240lbs, 40: 4.43 10: 1.50, bench: 31, vert: 35, SS: 4.32, 3 cone: 7.29): Post-Combine riser. Highly recruited out of high school but chose small Florida International over some big time programs including Miami and LSU. Will be first player ever drafted from his school. Elite measurables at Combine put his name on the first day map. 240lbs and ran a 4.43 at Combine. That will get you drafted early. Can he play? Started 30+ games in college. 15+ starts at both DE and OLB. Started as a true frosh at LB. Moved to DE in junior year. 18 sacks the past 2 years at DE versus low-end competition. In the NFL he’ll move back to OLB. Possibly as a 3-4 rush LB. Lacks ideal height but very explosive off the edge. At Texas-Nations All-Star Game he impressed all week with closing speed from LB position. Should be standout special teams performer in NFL. Round 4.
Rory Johnson, Mississippi (6′, 232lbs, 40: 4.59, 10: 1.53, bench: 19, vert: 38, SS: 4.07, 3 cone: pass): JUCO. Only one year at Division I ball. Undersized but fast. Has the tools to be a solid coverage LB. Can turn and run with NFL TEs and backs. Needs more weight room work. Should have stayed in school for another year. Has the skills of a day-one LB. Should be a standout special teams performer early. Eventually could start in NFL on weakside. Late round 4.
Kyle Shotwell, Cal-Poly (6’1″, 235lbs, No Combine. Pro Day: 40: 4.52, 10: 1.54, bench: 23, vert: 35.5, SS: 4.36, 3 cone: 6.96): Another athletic LB from Cal Poly. We’ve seen a couple the past few years with Jordan Beck and Chris Gocong going day one in the NFL Draft. Shotwell took over for Beck in 2005 and produced 150+ tackles in his first year as starter. Competition is an issue with a lot of South Dakota State-type programs on the schedule and only one bowl team (San Jose State). However, nobody can deny his production. 150+ tackle seasons are rare in college. For small school players, the workouts and testing are major factors on draft day. Beck moved up into day one based on his superior measurables for a LB. Shotwell lacked nothing in testing. Impressive workout across the board will move him past many players from big time programs. He can play inside or out. He can cover or get to the QB. Looked very good playing space at OLB in Shrine Game. Made plays and displayed range. Former Bears LB Mike Singletary is a fan. He coached Shotwell at the Shrine and touted him all week. Said he was an extremely hard working kid. A lot to like with Shotwell. Rounds 4-5.
Juwan Simpson, Alabama (6’3″, 225lbs, 40: 4.55 10: 1.52, bench: 15, vert: 34.5, SS: 4.42, 3 cone: 7.22): 30+ starts at weakside LB in SEC for Alabama. Athletic coverage LB. Excels in space. Outstanding in man situations. One of best coverage LBs in draft. Senior Bowl helped improve his draft stock. Displayed very good overall athletic ability in practices. Lacks some bulk and strength. Needs to add some strength to be full timer in NFL. Very similar to one of my favorites from the 2006 draft in Oregon State OLB Keith Ellison. Ellison was the Bills 6th rounder and surprise rookie starter for 10+ games. Simpson has some speed on Ellison. In a weaker OLB class he should go earlier. Look for his name in Round 5.
Will Herring, Auburn (6’2″, 229lbs, No Combine. Pro Day: 40: 4.57 10: 1.55, bench: 18, vert: 35, SS: 3.99, 3 cone: 6.56): Started 40+ games at Auburn. Most of the starts at safety. Moved from safety to LB as a senior. Slightly undersized S/LB tweener with exceptional quickness. Ran a 3.99 short shuttle and 6.56 3 cone at pro day. Those are elite CB numbers. Won’t give you much at the point-of-attack. Gives you range, coverage, and the speed to rush the QB from the edge. Very smart. Good open field tackler. With only one year at OLB, he is not ready to contribute in NFL at that position. Developmental project on day 2. Pro day moved him up a round or two. Round 5.
Clint Sessions, Pittsburgh (5’11″, 237lbs, 40: 4.57 10: 1.56, bench: 36, vert: 30.5, SS: 4.15, 3 cone: pass): Playing in the Big East, this is a guy I’ve seen in several games. Always liked him more than his highly touted teammate H.B. Blades. Plays faster than Blades. Can cover a lot of ground. His ability to accelerate to the ball really jumps out in games. Height at only 5’11″ is a negative. Lack of prototype size will drop him. Probably late round 6/early round 7 for Sessions.
Nate Harris, Louisville (6’0″, 230lbs, 40: 4.60 10: 1.53, bench: 26, vert: 33, SS: 4.52, 3 cone: 7.19): I’m not impressed with this player. Fast and an excellent athlete but not much of a LB. Can’t get off blocks. Handled on the collegiate level by WRs. Runs around blocks even when staring down at a WR. My guess is he’ll be overdrafted because of the workout numbers. May be a good special teams player in NFL but lacks the necessary toughness to play LB. Shouldn’t be on the Giants board.
Earl Everett, Florida (6’3″, 238lbs, 40: 4.73 10: 1.62, bench: 19, vert: 32, Pro Day: SS: 4.46, 3 cone: 7.39): Good athlete. Ideal size and quick. Lacks strength. Very weak stack and shed. Lacks toughness. Not physical enough at point of attack. Easily eliminated because he turns away from lead blockers. Doesn’t seem to love the contact of the game. Unimpressive week at Senior Bowl. Combine didn’t help. Pretty good in coverage. May be best suited for a Cover 2. I don’t understand all of the day one talk with this guy. He isn’t worth it. Not a guy the Giants need to consider in any round.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: The Giants don’t have a need here. Antonio Pierce is the man. If injured, Kawika Mitchell can take over. Chase Blackburn adds more depth. I like David Harris from Michigan in the second round but the Giants will probably pass if given the opportunity to draft him. On the defensive side the Giants have bigger needs at outside linebacker, safety, and cornerback.
Patrick Willis, Mississippi (6’1″, 242lbs, 40: 4.51 10: 1.53, bench: 22, vert: 39, SS: 4.46, 3 cone: 7.23): By a very wide margin, Willis is the best LB in this draft class. Best ILB. Best OLB. You can put him anywhere and he’ll make plays. Good size. Tough. Instinctive. Tremendously productive. Speed was questioned by some draft guys before testing but it was never an issue. Willis ran down WRs in college. He can run. Top 12-15 pick. Out of range for the Giants.
David Harris, Michigan (6’2″, 243lbs, 40: 4.59 10: 1.53, bench: 23, vert: 33, SS: 4.29, 3 cone: 7.25): Late bloomer at Michigan because of an ACL in frosh year. High-energy hustler. Thick and stout ILB with the speed and agility to excel on the outside. Crushing hitter. Stays low and drives through ball carriers and blockers. Very good in pursuit. Excellent open field tackler. At Senior Bowl, the second best LB there behind Willis. Impressed everybody with his range and physical play. A mid-round 2 player.
Justin Durant, Hampton (6’1″, 230lbs, 40: 4.51 10: 1.55, bench: 25, vert: 36, SS: 4.09, 3 cone: 6.77): This small school LB showed big time skills at Shrine Game. He’s also a three-time conference player of the year. A very fast and experienced MLB. 30+ collegiate starts. A little undersized for MLB duty in NFL but he can fly. Has the speed and quickness to play OLB or possibly S in the NFL. Hampton had five guys at the Combine. This guy will be the first off the board. Very intriguing player. Brings a lot of versatility and skill to the table. Will be drafted very early. Possibly a mid-2nd rounder.
Brandon Siler, Florida (6’2″, 241lbs, 40: 4.62 10: 1.56, vert: 30.5, 3 cone: 7.34 Pro Day: bench: 23 SS: 4.39): Much better player than teammate Everett. More toughness. A lot more pop taking on blockers and making the tackle. Good speed on the inside. 30+ starts at Florida. Led team in tackles as true frosh. Probably a round 3 player. Giants shouldn’t have much interest here.
Zak DeOssie, Brown (6’5″, 250lbs, 40: 4.58 10: 1.56, bench: 26, vert: 34.5, SS: 4.22, 3 cone: 6.89): All-Ivy League for three consecutive seasons. Great size and he can move. Has the athletic ability to play outside as well. Helped his draft value in post-season in every step. Showed he belonged athletically in all-star games. Added extra value demonstrating long snapping skills. Continued rise into mid rounds with a surprisingly impressive Combine and pro day. With his size/speed/intangibles he could sneak into round 3.
Buster Davis (5’9″ 239lbs, 40: 4.64 10: 1.65, bench: 24, vert: 31, SS: 4.37, 3 cone: 7.28): Three-year starter. Very short at only 5’9″. Despite lack of size was one of the most highly recruited high school LBs in the nation. Despite height limitations, he was an outstanding playmaker in college. Can he make another jump to the next level? London Fletcher was able to handle it at that size. Davis can as well. Short but thick. Low center of gravity makes him stout versus run. And he brings plenty of power. Very strong lower body with a 550+ pound squat. Excellent quickness. Makes sideline-to-sideline plays. Quick in his drop. Also, a very good special teams player. Size drops him but he’s a player. Early round 3.
H.B. Blades, Pittsburg (5’11″ 236lbs, Pro Day: 40: 4.69 10: 1.58, bench: 22, vert: 32, SS: 4.36, 3 cone: 6.98): Short, thick MLB. Pretty solid at the point-of-attack. Hard worker and a vocal leader. A hustler and very good hitter. Not much range and that will kill him on draft day. I really thought he’d run in the high 4.8s. Very surprised to see the 4.69 at the pro day. Like his teammate CB Darrelle Revis, not as fast as that time indicates. Not close to a day one guy because he’s a coverage liability. He’s a 2-down LB at best. His speed and quickness severely limits his playmaking ability in the NFL. Senior Bowl wasn’t a good one for Blades. Lack of range was evident at Senor Bowl practices. Round 5+.
Jon Abbate, Wake Forest (5’9″ 231lbs, 40: 5.00 10: 1.65, bench: 26, vert: 38.5, SS: 4.33, 3 cone: 7.12): Very effective and popular LB on college level. Big move up to NFL and he doesn’t bring the necessary size and movement skills. You’ll hear Zach Thomas comparisons. However, Abbate isn’t nearly as quick as Thomas. He’s a very small and very slow MLB. He ran his 40 like a 320lb guard. Not close to the minimum speed requirement for the position. Making matters worse is his lack of size. He’ll have trouble anchoring versus the run in the NFL. If he fails to slip a block it’s over. He’ll be a major liability in coverage. Despite stellar play at Wake Forest, Abbate is simply not athletic enough to warrant anything other than a 7th round flier. Heart, desire, and intensity can only take you so far. For Abbate, I believe it will end without much of an NFL career. Giants should have no interest in this player.
Anthony Waters, Clemson (6’3″” 245lbs): Torn ACL in the first game cost him the entire 2006 season. He entered 2006 as one of the top inside LB in college football. Respected college football expert Phil Steele ranked him #2 behind Willis at ILB. Clemson was my preseason National Champion sleeper and Waters was one of the main reasons. The unquestionable leader of an outstanding defense. Waters has excellent size for the position. Tough player at point-of-attack. Long armed (33″) and athletic with a time in the low 4.6s prior to the injury. Starter in 2004 and 2005 so there’s plenty of game film when he was healthy. Because of injury only did bench (25) at pro day. He’ll probably need another year to heal. Worth a day 2 pick.