Blog Entry

Finding the Fits -- Outside Linebacker

Posted on: May 13, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: May 17, 2011 3:08 pm
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Over the last week and a half I have been highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.

Like at inside linebacker, the traditional 4-3 outside linebacker class of the 2011 draft left a lot to be desired. Many of the collegiate defensive ends asked to make the transition to 3-4 rush linebackers I covered in the defensive end group.

Here are the links for the other positions:
Players are listed alphabetically.

Quality Fits:

Chris Carter, Pittsburgh Steelers:  Considering his burst off the edge, closing speed and production, I was surprised to see Carter slip to No. 162nd pick of the draft. The Steelers, of course, do as good of a job of finding edge rushers as any team in the league. Unlike some of the other DE turned OLBs drafted earlier in 2011, Carter shows enough flexibility to dip around the offensive tackle and close on the quarterback -- the critical trait needed to star as a 3-4 rush linebacker. He led the WAC with 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss, earning conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. With stars ahead of him, Carter may struggle to find early playing time. When he gets his opportunity, however, he'll do well.

Mason Foster, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It remains to be seen where Foster - who played inside and outside for the Huskies -- will be used by the Bucs, which have key free agents in starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and outside linebacker Quincy Black. Foster, who finished second to only Boston College superstar Luke Kuechly in tackles last year (163 stops), has the production and experience to step in at either spot. While he's not as athletic as Black, nor the physical thumper inside that Ruud is, Foster has excellent instincts, uses his hands to slip blocks as well as any linebacker in this draft and is a very reliable open field tackler.

Brian Rolle, Philadelphia Eagles:  As I mentioned  yesterday in my writeup for inside linebackers, the Eagles have shown a preference for undersized, athletic linebackers throughout Andy Reid's tenure. In Rolle, they found one of the smallest (5-10, 229) and most athletic in this year's draft. Rolle's instincts, surprising physicality and pure speed (4.53) made him a star at Ohio State on defense and special teams. He'll likely earn his paycheck initially as a special teams demon for the Eagles, but could surprise if given the opportunity for playing time as a weakside coverage linebacker. 

Questionable Fit:

Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs: Because Houston demonstrated the ability to rack up production as an outside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 scheme, he has been characterized by some as one of the better OLB prospects in this draft. I'm considerably lower on him than many others, however, and have been long before reports of his failed drug test at the Combine. Quite frankly, Houston is more explosive off the edge when he has his hand in the dirt as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. When rushing from the stand-up position, he's shown only moderate burst and flexibility to turn the corner. Furthermore, I question whether he has the work ethic to hone his craft. On paper, Houston was a "steal" in the third round considering his All-SEC pedigree and eye-popping statistics. In reality, Houston could struggle making the adjustment to NFL talent.

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