When it comes to the Cleveland Browns organization, “anything can happen” has...
2014 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns Would be Wise to Look at Stanford’s Shayne Skov
NFL Free Agency is in full swing and the Cleveland Browns have been active in the market – the most notable signings being inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, strong safety Donte Whitner and running back Ben Tate. Dansby replaces outgoing linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Whitner replaces outgoing safety T.J. Ward and Tate hopes to become the workhorse back in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-block running scheme.
As the Browns continue to make additional signings and fill roster voids, the picture of which players they may target in the 2014 NFL Draft becomes much clearer. The most obvious positions of need at this point are quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and guard. Another position of need not in the forefront of fan discussion is inside linebacker.
Replacing Jackson with Dansby was a solid move by the Browns, but Craig Robertson still handles the other inside position. After having what former defensive coordinator Ray Horton deemed an “adequate” season, Robertson doesn’t scream playmaker. If first-year head coach Mike Pettine wants to make a strong impression with the Cleveland fan base, he cannot afford another “adequate” season from his linebackers.
In Pettine’s former gig as defensive coordinator of the Bills, he helped linebacker Kiko Alonso achieve the Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Rookie of Year Award. Alonso was a second-round pick out of Oregon, known for his outstanding instincts, high motor and explosiveness. Pettine will want to find himself a young inside linebacker for his Browns defense, and this draft may have his answer.
Meet Shayne Skov, redshirt senior linebacker out of Stanford, another player known for his outstanding instincts, high motor and explosiveness. Having torn his ACL in 2011, Skov struggled to get to full strength during 2012, but still managed to have a solid junior season with 81 tackles, including nine tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. His senior year proved to be his best yet, in which he led the Cardinal defense with 109 tackles, including 13 for a loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, earning him first-team All-PAC 12 honors and consideration for the Butkus Award.
At first glance you may think you’re looking at Texans’ linebacker Brian Cushing. Sporting a similar Mohawk and eye black appearance, Skov also displays the same intense, emotional leadership on the field.
If you’re looking for a “hit you first” type of linebacker, the 6’2” and 245-pound Skov fits the bill. He possesses a strong first step and an outstanding ability to time the blitz, bringing all kinds of pressure up the middle. In Pettine’s multi-front 3-4 scheme, Skov will be asked to rush from all angles, fake blitz and drop back into coverage, while also stepping up to stop the run.
This “hit you first” attitude is the quality Jackson did not possess, and a quality the Browns linebackers have been lacking since the team’s return in 1999. Jackson was a typical read-and-react linebacker, letting the ball carrier make the first move. With Jackson as the defensive leader, this more passive approach was contagious, as the Browns seemed to repeatedly let the offense control the pace of the game. Skov’s intensity would bring an infusion of boldness and ferociousness to the defense, an infusion that is well overdue on the shores of Lake Erie.
Derek Mason, Skov’s defensive coordinator at Stanford, described Skov as, “A Junior Seau type of impact player, especially when you look at his pass rush ability. I don’t understand why people discount Shayne. He has rare abilities, a knack…”
This knack Mason describes is Skov’s ability to time his rush. For us Browns fans, it’s that knack we see displayed by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu time and time again against the Browns offense.
While Skov embodies many strengths desirable in an inside linebacker, his weaknesses are apparent in the passing game. As the NFL has transformed into a pass-heavy league, all linebackers are asked to defend tight ends and running backs in coverage. Skov’s outstanding pursuit angles in the run game and blitz ability do not carry over well to pass coverage. This weakness may cause some NFL scouts to consider him a liability against today’s high-flying offenses.
Skov also allows his aggressiveness and high motor to get the best of him once in a while. His quick rush causes him to over-pursue shifty running backs and mobile quarterbacks. In his relentless pursuit and eagerness to beat the ball carrier to the spot, he occasionally fails to break down his hips before hits, and a quick cut or step up into the pocket can elude Skov’s rush.
Skov projects as a TED linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. For those unfamiliar with the term, the two inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are the TED and MIKE linebackers. The MIKE is the more versatile of the two, the role Dansby has been signed to play, while the TED is a run-stuffer and gap-opener, with less responsibility down the field. With his hard-nosed, unrelenting style of play, Skov would thrive in this role. The pairing of him and Dansby would be dangerous for opposing offenses.
The weaknesses are concerns, but not enough to shy teams away from selecting this potential star. Skov is currently projected by many draft analysts as a third or fourth-round pick, but with the intangibles he brings to the table on top of his physical abilities and the natural instincts many teams crave, this writer expects him to be gone by the third round.
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