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OLB in the 2008 Draft: Rounds 1

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Posted 03-30-2008 at 11:07 AM by hagan714
Updated 06-12-2008 at 07:18 AM by hagan714

1. Keith Rivers, USC, 6022, 241, 4.60

Rivers has the size and speed combination that NFL scouts love in outside linebacker prospects. Excellent athleticism with a good frame and long arms. Rivers plays sideline to sideline from his weak-side outside linebacker position. He is quick, agile and works through the trash and traffic well. Rivers is great in backside pursuit and has great lateral speed. Great speed. with a burst to close. Aggressive and plays with an attitude. A big hitter who can lay the lumber. Thrives on making the big hit but never at the cost of a missed tackle. Excellent fundamentally at wrapping up the ball carrier and driving him to the ground. Decent pass rusher and blitzer. He shows very good closing burst as a pass rusher when he has a line to the QB. Good instincts and recognition. Very explosive and can break up well designed plays just by himself. Rivers is fluid and does a terrific job in coverage. Especially good at playing the screen or quick slant routes. Has great height at 6-2 and is able to knock down passes. A highly motivated player who is known for his high work ethic and passion for the game. Very consistent throughout the game. Has the frame to add size. Three year starter at linebacker for the Trojans.

More of a finesse player and is not overly physical. Could stand to add some weight. Needs to get stronger. Plays out of control at times. Makes himself easily blockable at times with poor angles and is impatient at letting the play develop. Doesn't take on or shed blockers all that well. Is not stout and can be run at. Needs to keep his pad level down. A playmaker in coverage? Rivers at times goes for the knockout rather than wrapping up. Below average at rushing the passer with only 5.5 career sacks. Rivers has battled injury throughout the 2007 campaign and missed one game, but still compiled 78 tackles and 5 tackles for loss for the year. Rivers is not great at any one thing, but he is very good at a lot of things.

His draft boomed with great post season workouts. Limited potential or not, he comes from a top notch program at USC, where nearly every linebacker taken(including players way less talented than Rivers) has been successful. Rivers has the instinct to contribute in his first year as a special teams player and could start immediately if put into the right defensive scheme. A outstanding all-around linebacker who shouldn't ever have to leave the field. Has an ideal blend of natural talent, physical tools, and intangibles...Prototypical WILL

Rivers has impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl because of his playing speed and the mean streak he has displayed. I don't always see the hype about Rivers but he is a really solid linebacker. Rivers will likely be the first linebacker taken, but he is not an elite athletic talent like that of A.J. Hawk, Lawrence Timmons, or Patrick Willis. He is a consistent player and will contribute immediately.



2. Quentin Groves, Auburn, 6030, 254, 4.57, (DE/OLB)

Groves considered declaring for the 2007 NFL Draft, but following the advice of former teammate Stanley McClover (who regrets his decision to leave early) he returned for his senior season. Groves experienced a bit of an up-and-down season, but in the end, secured his high draft status. Groves started the season at DE, but after an early injury and the subsequent outstanding play of his replacement, he returned to play OLB for the rest of the season. Groves was named, once again, as a first team all SEC performer. Speed and agility is the strength of Groves' game. He also has a good closing burst. He has the ability to cover a lot of ground with his quickness, which makes him good in pursuit. He's a reliable tackler. Shows very good flexibility moving down the line and likes to get involved in down field action. Explosive wrap-up tackler who delivers pop on contact, doing a nice job of attacking the runner's outside leg to impede the ball carrier's forward progress. Good strength and decent power. Plays with leverage, doing a very good job of extending his long arms. As a DE, he can stay low and get under the OTs to gain the edge. Hes a relentless pass-rusher who keeps coming. Is able to set up the OT with a few different pass rushing moves including an exceptional inside counter-move. Plays with nice effort and toughness. Offers some versatility and was real productive.

The questions about him start with his tendency to take plays off. He's also undersized to play on the line, with most scouts viewing him as being slow off the ball and lacking the strength to be a power rusher, since he struggles at times to get off blocks. He will wear down later in games due to constantly battling with blockers much bigger than him and is better served playing off the line. Despite his speed and quickness, Groves lacks some of the explosion off the ball that is needed for a 4-3 DE. Undersized and doesn't have the ideal bulk that you look for..Isn't stout at the point. Groves lacks the anchor to really provide much run support as a DE. Best making plays on the move, as his anchor is not strong to maintain at the point of attack. He can be overpowered by the OTs and needs to develop more lower body strength. Very inefficient when trying to split double teams, as he will generally get washed out vs. combo blocks. Poor technique. Marginal instincts, awareness and recognition. Limited pass rush repertoire. Too aggressive at times. A questionable work ethic.

Groves has ideal size and athleticism to play the 3-4 OLB position at the next level. He could also continue to add bulk and play 4-3 pass-rush DE for some NFL teams. Many scouts project Groves as a linebacker in the NFL, with him likely better suited for a 3-4 scheme. He is a truly instinctive player, showing a great understanding of the game from both positions. As an OLB, he is able to rush the QB, stop the run, and play in space to disrupt the passing game underneath. He has the speed and quickness to cover most backs and tight ends with a surprisingly smooth backpedal and loose hips.

He could become a 4-3 DE in much the same mold as Osi Umenyiora or a 3-4 OLB more like DeMarcus Ware.


3. Erin Henderson, Maryland, 6028, 244, 4.73 (ILB/OLB)



Linebacker Erin Henderson has great size and speed and one of the top LBs in the nation that should be one of the top linebackers on most draft boards. He is quite instinctive and will always be around the ball and deliver some big time hits. He reads the action quickly, and is athletic and strong enough with his hands to get through blocks on his way to the ball carrier. Can beat the running back to the edge. Has decent range and does a nice job in pursuit. Will thump ball carriers. Great instincts and awareness. Protects his knees and avoids the trash while keeping his head up. Real aggressive and plays with a nasty demeanor. Can hold his own in zone coverage. Sees crossing routes well and is very instinctive. Very good change of direction skills. Chiseled frame with room for additional growth. Has shown the ability to bounce back from major surgery with no loss of speed or aggression. Versatile, Hard worker, Excellent intangibles and Nice bloodlines. Brother, E.J. starting linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings

His injuries are the biggest concern, including a torn ACL suffered a couple years back. Henderson does not have the best cover skills around and would prefer to go after the ball, but he has enough speed and skills to develop his coverage ability if necessary. Plays too tall and is not overly stout at the point. Has trouble taking on and shedding blockers. Relies too much on his athleticism to evade blocks, rather than physically confronting them. Does not have elite speed or athleticism and looks stiff. Lacks fluid hips and has trouble matching up in coverage. Still needs to work some on cover skills. Has to get stronger

Henderson only missed one game last year and remained extremely productive despite the injuries. He is a tough player and will not allow any minor injuries to get in his way. He is not as physically gifted as some of the other linebackers, but he is no slouch either. His superior instincts will have many teams who are looking for a linebacker fighting over his services in the second round of the draft.

Torn ACL in his left knee caused him to miss the entire 2005 season
Missed only one game, but was held out of practice (only playing on Saturday) in many more games this season after tearing the meniscus and spraining the ACL in the same knee

2/28 Update: Erin Henderson did what he could to show off his instincts at the Combine, but he put up some decent numbers across the board as well. He did not do anything to drop his status below the second round and everybody has to like his ball hawking ability that can only be seen on game tapes.
Posted in 2008 NFL Draft
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