2011 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA

You want the New York Giants to take an outside linebacker in the first round of the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft? Well, if you believe a lot of the current mock drafts UCLA junior Akeem Ayers, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound junior could be your guy.

Ayers is a guy who Giants fans should be paying attention to as the draft process rolls along. If Ayers is still on the board when the Giants pick at No. 19 you have to think his name will be one of the ones being discussed in the team's draft room. He is considered by most one of the top two or three outside linebackers in this draft class.

What's to like? From the reports, his size, strength and ability to hold up against the run. Also his athleticism. What's not to like? There are some questions about his instincts, about how quickly he can diagnose the action.

Something else I like is that Ayers played a true 4-3 outside linebacker spot with the Bruins. There are some who think he could be a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he would come to the Giants not having to learn the position from scratch. I am tired of the Giants drafting guys and trying to 'project' their skills into certain positions (like Clint Sintim and Bryan Kehl).

Akeem Ayers
OLB, UCLA (Jr.)
6-foot-4, 255 pounds
Projection: 1st round

Scouting Reports

From Sideline Scouting:

Positives: Has ideal frame for playing outside in a 3-4 defensive scheme, has enough bulk to lock down strongside linebacker duties and can fill a lot of space... Has size and speed to line up at several positions on the field, has lined up at defensive end and multiple linebacker positions in the past... Solid open-field tackler, plays under control and wraps up, does not like to dive at ball carriers... Does not often get fooled by misdirection plays, but could be a result of taking slightly too long to diagnose plays at the snap... Pretty good at scraping through traffic, although a little too tentative to attack blockers and take them out of the play... Is a very able run blitzer, blitzes shallow enough to not take himself out of plays, rarely misses tackles in the backfield... Has good technique when engaged with blockers, does not give up hand control and can often get a hand of two on the ball carrier, even when being blocked... Is an above-average defender in zone coverage, has the ability to make plays in coverage (six career interceptions).

Negatives: Does not possess great timed speed, but that is to be expected for his size, is more quick than fast with very good agility... Takes a little too long to diagnose plays, which allows ball carriers to get extra yardage on his side of the field... Has the ability to get to the quarterback in some situations (14 career sacks), but needs to develop more pass-rushing moves to be a consistent pass rusher in the NFL... Will not be able to run with most tight ends and running backs in coverage, needs to improve footwork and hip-turn technique in order to play man coverage... Not particularly intense or explosive, plays under control, but lacks elite aggressiveness at position... Production seems to decline in some big games (15 total tackles against Stanford, Oregon and USC combined this year)... Has the potential to be a very solid linebacker in the NFL, but lacks extreme upside in any one particular facet of the game.

From NEPatriots Draft:

Strengths: Elite athletic ability – Excellent size and strength for OLB – Carries his weight well and could even add more – Has a decent arsenal of rush moves that work well – Good balance even at top speed – Can set the edge against bigger lineman.

Weaknesses: Needs to work getting off of blocks – Will over-pursue at times – Could improve his tackling, too often goes for the big hit.

From CBS Sports:

Read & React: Average instincts and is prone to biting on play-action and taking false steps on the reverse. Possesses rare agility and straight-line speed for the position, typically allowing him to make the play.

Run defense: Has size, strength and willingness to take on blockers at the point of attack. Seems to enjoy the physicality of the game, showing good upper-body strength and quick, active hands to quickly shed blocks. Unselfish defender that typically maintains gap discipline.

Pass defense: Can be fooled by play-action but is surprisingly fluid in coverage for a big linebacker. Relies too much on reading the eyes of the quarterback in coverage. Has proven to be a playmaker, but could be fooled by savvy passers at the next level. Good ball skills. Has six career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.

Tackling: Generally a reliable tackler, leading with his shoulder or getting too high going for the highlight-reel hit and bouncing off the ballcarrier. Can improve as a wrap-up tackler. Can get a bit out of control when pursuing laterally and overrun the play, but is so long and athletic, he's usually able to trip up the ballcarrier to prevent cutback opportunities. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Good strength for the drag-down tackle. Brings his hips as a tackler, creating explosive hits to force the ball out. Has seven forced fumbles in three seasons.

Pass Rush/Blitz: One of Ayers' better areas. Good burst off the snap as a standup and hand-down rusher. Capable of crossing the face of the tackle with his explosiveness and possesses good flexibility and balance to scrape the corner and close quickly. Relies on his speed to rush the passer, showing little in terms of true pass rush technique, at this point.

Overall: Among the most athletic and versatile defenders in the draft, Ayers' upside appears limitless. Scouts would be wise to remember the transition other athletic and only moderately instinctive linebackers like Derrick Johnson, Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry have had in transferring their skills to the NFL before falling in love with Ayers' flashy plays.

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