By Bob Evans
As the 2013 NFL Draft season draws closer, the Cleveland Browns will have a tough decision when deciding who to use the No. 6 pick in the draft on. Common sense says the team will look to upgrade their outside linebacker position thanks to their switch to the 3-4 defensive scheme, which has led many people to already speculate which direction the Browns should go with that pick.
For those who are not big into research, the easy choice is whoever racked up the most sacks last year in college. If the Browns were to follow this logic, then the team’s top three potential outside linebacker candidates should be Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and 85 total tackles), Florida State’s Bjoern Werner (13 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 42 total tackles) or Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore (12.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 85 total tackles).
It seems pretty simple enough, right? These men dominated offensive linemen at the collegiate ranks; therefore they should easily be the most dominant at their positions when it comes time to take their game to the next level in the NFL.
While it is likely these men will go on to have solid NFL careers, there is no guarantee they will end up being the top outside linebackers in the 2013 NFL Draft. If you don’t believe me that the future NFL stars aren’t always sack monsters in college, just ask guys like J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and Clay Matthews III.
These three men were ranked one, two and five, respectively, in the NFL last season in sacks—yet totaled just 31.5 sacks during their collegiate careers according to Pro Football Reference. Watt registered just seven sacks during his final season in college in 2010, Smith just three sacks (in just nine games) and Matthews had 4.5 sacks during his senior campaign in 2008.
So what did these players have that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet for the common fan? Well, there are a number of things.
Watt was labeled as having one of the most relentless motors in the 2011 NFL Draft class. His 36.5 tackles for loss during his collegiate career (just 11.5 sacks) tell a better story of the type of player he would become in the NFL. Watt will do anything it takes to disrupt the quarterback; including perfecting the art of batting down passes to drive a quarterback crazy. But his continuous fight on the field is why he has developed into one of the better pass rushers in the league at 6’5” and 295 pounds.
Smith, unlike Watt, was more of an unknown commodity coming out of Missouri. Despite playing just two seasons, Smith would be taken No. 7 overall by the 49ers in that same 2011 NFL Draft based on his freakish athleticism—as he stands just 6’4” and 258 pounds, but showed burst (not speed) unrivaled by many people in his draft class. He even received comparisons to DeMarcus Ware—absolutely smashing those comparisons by posting 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons in the league.
Matthews, son of Browns’ great Clay, would not be as highly drafted as these two—falling to No. 26 in the 2009 NFL Draft—but has registered some gaudy sack numbers of his own (42.5 in four seasons). Despite registering just 5.5 in college (4.5 coming in his senior year), Matthews has used his 6’3” and 255-pound frame to establish himself as one of the premier pass rushers in this game thanks to his relentless motor and excellent technique.
What does this all mean for Browns fans? First off, it means that a dominant pass rusher can be found at different stages of the first round, and not just in the Top 10. Secondly, it means that just because a player is touted as the “best statistically” in the nation, they may not always end up being the best pass rusher.
Now I am not knocking Jones, Werner or Moore by any means, they are all excellent prospects who each bring a special set of skills to their prospective NFL team. But what I am saying is that fans and analysts need to look a little deeper when trying to decipher who is the best fit for the Browns—and there are two players who certainly fit the Watt, Smith and Matthews mold.
The first of those players is LSU’s Barkevious Mingo; who was utilized as a defensive end and sometimes even defensive tackle in college. Standing 6’4” and 240 pounds, Mingo has been criticized for his lack of “big numbers” in college—posting 119 total tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in his three seasons at LSU. What is even more alarming for these scouts is that his production dropped to just 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season.
However, when you watch Mingo on tape his game speaks for itself. Like Watt and Matthews, he is a relentless defender. He will do whatever it takes to blow up a play, whether it is actually making the tackle or not. If you do not believe me, Youtube his highlights from the team’s bowl game against Clemson.
While Mingo is slated to go in the first round, if the Browns choose to go another route early (say, cornerback) they could land John Simon from Ohio State University in round three.
Simon is the epitome of a guy who could be overlooked by many people in the draft. Standing 6’2” and 263 pounds, Simon was the heart and soul of the Ohio State defense for the past couple of years. While he lined up pretty much everywhere on the defensive line in college, many scouts feel he would be an asset to a 3-4 defense at outside linebacker thanks to his motor, 43 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks in four seasons and blazing speed for a linebacker—reported timed in the high 4.5s, low 4.6s.
While he will not be a first-round pick because he seemed to struggle a little bit in the Senior Bowl with his man coverage, Simon most certainly could make an impact in rounds two or three as a pass rushing specialist in the 3-4 defense. And that could be just what the doctor ordered for a Browns team that has struggled getting to the quarterback the last couple of seasons.
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