NFL Draft: The ILB Dilemma: Should the Packers wait?
From Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel
~Green Bay — When the Green Bay Packers are officially on the clock — and you’re frantically clicking the “Go Back” button on your remote between Game 6 of Bucks/Bulls and the NFL Draft — there’s a chance general manager Ted Thompson will have his pick of any inside linebacker in the draft.
And in today’s look at the ILB’s, five are listed as realistic first- and second-rounders.
So should the Packers act decisively and take the best inside linebacker on their board — and avoid missing out in the second round — or take a cornerback, a nose tackle, a tight end who may be higher on their board?
Surely, Thompson will trot out to the podium afterward and tell us all he took the best player on the board regardless. Best available trumps need. It’s “the way it worked out.” You know the drill. But fact is, the Packers have drafted for need in recent years and inside linebacker was proclaimed a need by coach Mike McCarthy back at the NFL scouting combine.
They like Sam Barrington a lot — and wouldn’t have cut ties with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones if they didn’t think he could start in 2015.
But they’ll be taking someone at some point.
So here’s a quick review of those five players. Who would be worth taking in the first round?
Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State)
— Listed as the No. 1 inside linebacker in colleague Bob McGinn’s pre-draft series.
— Former high school quarterback says playing the position didn’t necessarily help him at linebacker — deadpanning, “I was just an athlete in high school” — but plays with the size and temperament teams covet. Says, “You have to be smart, you have to know the game, you have to know your opponent. You have to figure out formations and figure out what the offense is going to give you. You have to be smart, tough and you have to be really tough.”
— Must improve in coverage. Was not required to track backs 1 on 1 much.
— Boasts the best size of the five at 6-4, 247 with a 40 ½-inch vertical. A first-team All-American last year, finishing with 244 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and seven pass breakups in 39 total games (36 starts).
Eric Kendricks (UCLA)
— May be the most instinctive linebacker in the class who, as one scout said, “can blow stuff up if he wants to. He may be blown up, too.”
— Scouts do not believe he runs as well as his older brother, Mychal Kendricks, a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
— Read-and-react ‘backer sees the game faster than his peers. Finished with school -record 480 tackles (26 for loss) and 10 sacks. In story linked here, Kendricks explained how he knew exactly what run plays were coming in his team’s bowl win over Kansas State when the Wildcats mustered a meager 31 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
“I wasn’t supposed to blitz,” Kendricks explained, “but I just got up right on the line, in the gap where I knew it’d be and made the play in the backfield.
“With different teams, it’s different keys every time. This one, I knew it was a running down. I saw the formation. It was heavy personnel. There was a fullback and a running back in the backfield. And based on how they were lined up — and the splits of the offensive linemen — I knew where it was going to be and just jumped it.”
— Yet still, there are size and injury concerns. He isn’t as thick as Denzel Perryman and one team rejected Kendricks medically due to a knee issue.
Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
— Combine star posted 4.56 in the 40 — faster than 23 running backs — flashing physical traits to be a three-down linebacker. And, on the field, he isn’t afraid of contact. As one scout said in the draft series, Anthony is a “really heavy downhill guy when he hits it right.” Still, they expected to see more big plays out of someone who tested as Anthony did.
— In a game that flexes linebackers out of the box, Anthony’s athleticism is a X-factor. Said Anthony, “I’m able to play in space. I’ve got good speed. I’m able to cover guys — tight ends, receivers, linebackers — and I play downhill between the tackles.”
— Benched as a sophomore because he was too “fat and happy and lost his focus a little” per his coach Dabo Swinney, he responded as a junior with team-high 131 tackles. Anthony said the experience humbled him, serving as a “reality check.” Also had a daughter at Clemson.
— Grew up a Packers fan in Anson County, N.C., because “there was just something about Brett Favre.”
— Anthony says himself he must get better with his hands on the initial contact with blockers. And does the 40 time, far better than Dawson’s clocked speed, transfer to coverage ability?
Paul Dawson (TCU)
— No linebacker of the five looks better on film than Paul Dawson. At TCU, under one of the best defensive minds in college football, Dawson was a wrecking ball. And on this defense trending toward a nastier, edgier direction, that’d sure be a good thing.
— Also, no linebacker seemed more unprepared for the combine than Paul Dawson. Will a lack of elite (tested) size or speed — whatever your opinion on 40 speed vs. football speed — hinder Dawson at the NFL level?
— Tardiness was an issue for Dawson in TCU. Admitted as such at the combine, vowing he fixed the problem. Like Anthony, Dawson had a child which he said provided needed perspective. Three scouts told McGinn Dawson was “surly” in interviews. Said another, “He’s not incorrigible. He’s immature.” And said another, “He’s the best pure linebacker I saw all season.”
— While the tested numbers weren’t pretty, and you can re-watch Dawson in Indianapolis here, he still managed to make a lot of splash plays in the wide-open Big 12. He plays much, much faster. Conference’s defensive player of the year finished with 20 tackles for loss, six sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
— Could potentially be the emotional leader for a defense. Said Dawson, “As a linebacker, you’ve got to be the leader. You’ve got to be the one pulling everybody along no matter how the game is going. So yeah, I was that emotional person just getting everybody going. I make plays and that just gets the whole team hyped up.”
Denzel Perryman (Miami)
— Probably the hardest hitter of the five. One scout compared the 5-foot-11, 236-pound Perryman to Chris Borland, saying “Very good feet laterally in the box. Not great long speed. Very physical. Very similar.” Scouts also see space limitations. Perryman did not cover much in college.
— Has a fan in Packers senior personnel executive (and former Hurricane) Alonzo Highsmith. Said Perryman, “He told me he has a to-do list for me on a sheet of paper. Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. I was like, ‘OK.'”
— Highlight reel is a mash-up of mashing hits. Front-flipped to take down South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson. “I’m smart, I’m physical,” Perryman said. “I’m a downhill, hard-nosed dog.” Yet teams are concerned if Perryman can cover running backs out of the backfield. This will be a new challenge for Perryman, who said “A lot of times the running backs stayed in the backfield, so I just sat there and read the quarterback more or I’d go hunt the quarterback.”
— Leading a defense is nothing new to Perryman. Said his position coach Hurlie Brown, “You’ve got to have a guy in the middle who can control the defense and spark everybody’s play — get everybody lined up, is smart enough, physical enough and athletic enough to make plays. That’s what he does for us. That’s what he did for us.”
So if you’re Ted Thompson, do you take one at No. 30, trade down, hold your breath through the second round or trade up later on?
The draft will finally begin on Thursday night.