Sunday, February 8, 2009

From the Year of the QB to --- the Year of the LB

The value being placed on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL now is higher than perhaps ever before. With the top 3 defenses all playing in the conference championships and the number 1 defense (the Pittsburgh Steelers) winning the Super Bowl, the statement "Defense wins championships" has never proven more true. There is so much need to beef up defenses around the league, and look no farther than this years NFL Draft.

At the end of the 08-09 college football season, the draft boards looked sure to be quarterback heavy, with 2 Heisman trophy winner's sure to be declaring for the draft. Most people assumed that the top 3 quarterbacks would surely be declaring for the NFL Draft. I mean after all, Sam Bradford was voted AP player of the year, won the Heisman Trophy, and the Davey O'brien award.

And then there's Tim Tebow, the first Sophmore to ever win the Heisman trophy. Just after winning the National Championship, it was nearly a sure bet that Tebow would enter the Draft, having accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish in College Football. To top it all off, there is Colt McCoy. Many thought Colt McCoy was the 2nd best Quarterback to be entering the draft, only behind Bradford. McCoy finished second in the 2008 Heisman balloting again behind only Bradford. He also led his Texas team to a Fiesta Bowl championship over powerful Ohio State. 

So with these 3 talents all being eligible for the 2009 NFL draft, surely it would be a quarterback draft class that could rival that of the recent Manning - Rivers - Roethlisberger class. However, all 3 prospects decided to stay in school at least another year. So with so much talent not entering the Draft, what position will now be the heaviest?

The answer comes from the incredible talent of this years Linebacker Draft Class. Teams around the NFL this year are going to be able to get their hands on some very talented Linebackers. 

The leader of this incredible linebacker pack in my opinion is the fierce linebacker out of USC, Ray Maualuga. Maualuga plays with extreme emotion and is one of the hardest hitting linebacker's in college football. He was the 2008 Chuck Bednarik award winner given to the best Defensive player in the Nation. Maualuga lost his father due to brain cancer two days before the 2005 BCS National Championship game. He is often seen wearing "RIP, DAD" on his eye black stickers. Maualuga is often compared to playing like the fierce Troy Polamalu. I think he play's much more like the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis in that he is a vocal leader and knows how to make the people around him play better. 

Right behind Maualuga is the extremely talented James Laurinaitis out of Ohio State. James is a 3 time All American and the 2007 Butkus Award winner given to the nations top college linebacker. Laurinaitis is often forgot about in this draft class but is surely one of the top players available. The style of Laurinaitis's play greatly resembles that of the young linebacker Patrick Willis. Laurinaitis plays extremely smart, fast and has phenomenal tackling technique.

At the Outside Linebacker position there is also a handful of players with a lot of talent. One of the most valuable I think is Brian Orakpo. Orakpo is an Outside Linebacker who has extreme talents in rushing the passer. Orakpo has the speed to get around tackles, and the power to split the gaurd tackle gap. Another player with a similar style to Orakpo is the Outside Linebacker out of FLorida State, Everette Brown. Brown also has great pass rushing ability and both are players who can come in and be 12 sack players in their rookie years. To add to their draft value, both have the ability to play OLB in a 3/4 and DE in a 4/3. 

Some other OLB that are suited to stand up in both a 3/4 or a 4/3 are 2 players by the name's of Aaron Curry and Brian Cushing. Curry is a fast and powerful outside linebacker out of Wake Forest who by many is considered the top OLB in the country. Cushing, like the previously mentioned Maualuga is also out of USC. Both players can play sideline to sideline and get after the passer when needed. 

Come draft day, all these players are names to watch as I feel all 6 could be starters come September. In my opinion, Maualuga and Laurinaitis will be dueling it out for the Defensive Rookie of the Year prize. Teams in need of some defensive help only have to look to this years draft to find some real talent.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article Steven. I actually went to high school with Ray Maualuga...Eureka (Calif.) High class of 2004.