We return to my series on finding rusty gold in the scrap heap on the NFL Draft pool with installment 4, linebackers. Finding linebackers late or post-draft is always very useful, partially for the sheer reason that you need so many on the roster. Furthermore, it's easy for talent at linebacker to get hidden because there are tons in the draft pool and, not being a "glamour" position, they don't typically get as much press. This does not, mean, however, that quality linebackers can't be found. Here are some I think could be steals.
Ty Powell (Harding)
6'2", 249. 40 Time: 4.60
Powell has been a popular sleeper pick ever since shining at a late invite to the combine. Powell has an impressive set of physical gifts. During his football career, he has played all over the place. In high school, he led his team to a state championship as the starting quarterback and cornerback. At DeAnza College, he was a safety/linebacker hybrid. Finally, at Harding, he finished up as a defensive end/linebacker transitional player. At the NFL level, he projects best as an outside linebacker. He is a classic late-round project-type player in that he has outstanding physical tools, but needs polishing at his craft. This season, Powell recorded 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He has the versatility to play outside linebacker in both the 3-4 and 4-3. It's hard to imagine that he won't at least be able to be a strong contributor on special teams, but I personally feel in the right system with the right coaches, Powell has the physical tools to be an immediate starter coming out of D-II.
Projected Round: 4th-6th
Here are some highlights from Powell's recent Pro Day.
Former Harding Football Player Ty Powell's NFL Pro Day on 3/5/13 (via HardingSports)
Michael Clay (Oregon)
6'0", 230. 40 Time: 4.74.
Clay is in another mold of sleeper linebackers: he's the type who does not have the ideal size or speed, but is solid and instinctive. He's your prototypical "lunch-pail" linebacker who you know will show up to work and do his job, even if he is not the flashiest guy out there. On an Oregon team where flashiness and freak athleticism is the norm, Clay, for that reason, tends to get overlooked. However, watching Oregon's games over all of Clay's career, I can speak to the fact that Clay was an anchor in the Ducks defensive lineup. On each play, he is very active and can make instinctive plays all over the field. He is the type of player who may not get drafted but I can see showing up to a team's camp and impressing the coaching staff enough to find a home on the roster.
Projected round: 7th-UDFA.
Here is a well-put together highlight reel of Clay's time as a Duck.
Ultimate Michael Clay Highlights | HD (via TheFootballman175)
Tom Wort (Oklahoma)
6'0", 235. 40 Time: 4.68
Wort is a very interesting prospect to me. A highly touted player coming out of high school and getting almost immediate playing time, many thought he was going to be the next great Sooner linebacker. For some reason though, something just never clicked. Wort managed to be somewhat productive, but never got over the hump. He registered 66 tackles as a redshirt freshman, but never managed to increase on that production level very much. Wort's decision to enter the NFL draft was widely panned, but a lot of it might have to do with Oklahoma's defensive coordinator shift. Wort was a great fit in previous coordinator Brent Venables' fast, aggressive scheme, but when Venables moved on to Clemson, his replacement Mike Stoops asked for more physicality in his linebackers for his scheme, and Wort just doesn't fit all that well. Had Wort not entered the draft, he may have been best-served to transfer. While he still has a lot of development to do, he does have one thing going for him: he's a goddamned crazy person. Because of this, he seems like a perfect candidate to contribute on special teams for someone, and in the meantime perhaps develop into a viable candidate to get playing time at linebacker.
Projected Round: 6th-UDFA
Here are some highlights of his 3 year career:
Tom Wort (via thegoodmagneto)
Jordan Campbell (New Mexico Highlands)
5'11, 248. 40 Time: 4.63
Campbell is another interesting prospect. He began his career at USC, and defected away after the departure of Pete Carroll. Campbell elected to go to Louisville, and while he was expected to be able to play immediately, academic issues caused him to miss the 2010 season. With rumors that he was registered with an NFL agent, Campbell again transferred, this time to New Mexico Highlands, after having never played a down for the Cardinals. In his two year at Highlands, Campbell demonstrated that he was playing a division lower than he should have, registering 214 tackles, 52 TFL, 17.5 sacks, and two All-American selections. What sets Campbell apart even more than that he appears to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in pads. Some scouts have claimed that pound-for-pound, he is the strongest player in the draft. Many were disappointed that he received no combine invite because it robbed viewers of witnessing his outstanding workout prowess. He has attracted a small level of online fame for his weightlifting abilities, capturing the hearts of some football enthusiasts, fans of small-school success stories, and those obnoxious college-age guys you see at the gym who worship Ray Lewis and spend $500 a month on supplements. However, there is a big difference between being a star in the weight room and being a star on the field, and a big difference between being a star at D-II and being a star in the NFL. That being said, based on sheer physical freak ability, Campbell has the potential to be a standout at something or another, and some team will take a low-risk chance on him to see what they can do with him.
Projected Round: 7th-UDFA.
There are some highlights of him available on youtube, but instead I'll show a video of Cambell putting up a gaudy 39 bench press reps of 225.
Linebacker Benches 225 lbs 39 Times!Jordan Campbell NFL Draft '13 (via Jordan Campbell)
Keith Pough (Howard)
6'2", 239. 40 Time: 4.87
Pough is a guy not everyone is familiar with, but has caught the eye of scouts in the pre-draft process. A bigger, physical defender, he is not the fastest or flashiest guy out there, but more than makes up for it with pure production. Over his four-year career at Howard, Pough recorded 349 tackles and an FCS record 71 TFL. In one single game, a come-from-behind win against Delaware State, Pough recorded 3.5 sacks for a loss of 35 yards, two quarterback hurries, a blocked punt, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown. In short, Pough isn't a player who lights up the stopwatches, but simply knows how to play the linebacker position at an expert level. The question for Pough is whether or not he can maintain anywhere close to that production in the NFL. Some NFL team will be willing to take that chance, likely late in the draft.
Projected Round: 5th-7th.
Here is film of Pough against D-I competition.
Keith Pough vs Rutgers 2012 (via phillyjimmyphilms)
Tristan Okpalaugo (Fresno State)
6'6", 250. 40 Time: 4.76.
Quietly, Okpalaugo has gained some traction in his draft stock. A favorite over on the Eagles SBN blog, BleedingGreenNation, Okpalaugo can play outside linebacker in the 4-3 or 3-4, and has a similar, albeit inferior, skill set to Von Miller, particularly in the way that attacks on the edge. Okpalaugo is lesser known, but what instantly jumps out is his tall frame. At the NFLPA game, he measured out as having 36 5/8 inch arms and an 83 2/8 inch wingspan. To quote BleedingGreenNation writer Dan Klausner, "um, holy shit." That is tremendous arm length, and watching his film, he uses this to his advantage greatly, displaying crazy extension to bring guys down as they try to escape. This is all well and good, but he will need to hit the weight room and bulk up some to outmatch NFL offensive tackles. It's surprising to me that more people aren't talking about Okpalaugo, as on film, he is an absolute warrior coming off the edge. He would be a nice project player for a team willing to take him late or in UDFA.
Projected Round: 6th-UDFA.
Here is film of him in Fresno's loss to Oregon, a game in which he turned some heads in the scouting world.
Tristan Okpalaugo vs Oregon (2012) (via Aaron Aloysius)
Jayson DiManche (Southern Illinois)
6'2", 229. 40 Time: 4.58.
Like several other Saluki players over the years, I'm not sure why DiManche doesn't have more buzz. I randomly saw his name on a prospect ranking list and recognized him as an SIU guy, watched some highlights, and was instantly impressed. DiManche, like Powell, and Okpalaugo, can play OLB in both the 3-4 and 4-3. What impresses me the most is his sharp quickness and creativity in getting into the backfield. He has one of those highlight reels where you notice he is clearly just better than everyone else he is up against, making quite a few linemen look downright silly. He accelerates off the line like a heat-seeking missile. There are some things he will have to work on. Depending on the system he winds up in, he will need to develop better skills in coverage and improve his linear vision. Also, he will have to hit the weight room hard, because he won't be able to rely solely on his pure speed rush tactics at the next level.
Projected Round: 7th-UDFA.
Jayson Dimanche 2012 Highlights Southern Illinois University #34 (via gritzdummy)
Apollo Stretch (Newberry)
6'1", 245. 40 Time: N/A
Aside from having the most awesome name in the draft, Stretch is an instinctive and productive small school linebacker who could find a home on an NFL roster next year. Stretch fits the definition of a born Mike linebacker, playing all 4 years of his career at Newberry after redshirting. He finished his senior season with 103 tackles, 5 TFL, and one sack, establishing himself as a team leader. Over his career, he had 324 tackles, 224 of them solo. Stretch probably won't be drafted, but has an advantage over other undrafted players in that he is an extraordinarily hard worker. In reading the few full reports out there on him, the word "heart" seems to be one of the buzzwords about his style. Watching film, that is certainly reflected. On every play he demonstrates maximum effort and plays sideline to sideline. He may be able to work himself onto a roster as a special teams contributor, and could eventually work his way into getting playing time on defense. Going from undrafted out of a place like Newberry to the NFL takes, above all else, a ton of hard work and effort, which seems to be Stretch's forte. Oh, and also did I mention that his name is APOLLO FUCKING STRETCH? With a name like that, why wouldn't you sign him?
Projected Round: UDFA
Here is a highlight reel of Stretch's 2013 season, with a fitting title:
Apollo Stretch NFL 2013 ... Hard Work and Dedication (via Isabel Caldwell)
Thanks for the read, and hopefully you will read the last installment coming in the next couple days, outlining some sleeper defensive backs. Comments and discussion are always welcome.