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Shaquem Griffin, OLB, Central Florida

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida
Shaquem Griffin
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Overview...The “feel good” story of the 2018 Draft Class, Griffin has been on a rapid rise up draft boards ever since he dazzled teams with his practice performances in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. After he underwent surgery as a child that saw him lose his left hand at the age of four due to a rare birth condition, Griffin has been that little train - I think I can, I know I can - further impressing NFL brass when he did twenty repetitions in the 225-bench press drill at the 2018 Scouting Combine.

Shaquem was born with amniotic band syndrome affecting his left hand, causing his fingers on his left hand not to fully develop. At age four, his mother found him in the kitchen, attempting to use a butcher’s knife to self-amputate his fingers due to the pain. His parents scheduled an amputation the next day. However, Griffin was able to continue playing sports without his left hand, competing in track, baseball, and football alongside his brother.

The talented athlete might have to change positions again at the professional level though. He lacks the ideal “sand in his pants” to play linebacker in the NFL, but as he has proven throughout his life, never doubt his ability to overcome obstacles. In addition to size/weight issues, playing the linebacker position requires constant use of both hands.

Expected Draft Slot: Day 2

Body Structure...Griffin lacks ideal height for his position, but has a thick, muscular frame with a tight abdomen, broad shoulders, good arm muscle definition, a high, big bubble, thick thighs and calves. While he has the potential to carry some more bulk, he could max out at 235 pounds. He has a thin waist and good change of direction agility due to his loose hips.

Athletic Ability...Griffin has outstanding closing quickness and timed speed. He has the range to make plays at the opposite end of the field and demonstrates good balance and body control taking on blockers at the point of attack. He is an explosive hitter who stays low in his pads and can slip and avoid blocks when redirecting inside. His agility and flexibility are evident when accelerating to close. He shows good strength facing up to the offensive linemen and has the timed speed to be effective dropping back in pass coverage. With his lack of size at the classic linebacker position, he might prove more valuable in a Cover-2 scheme as a safety.

Football Sense...Griffin developed a good feel for his position and seemed more comfortable making reads from the field linebacker position, but due to size and wrap-up tackling issues, he might be better served returning to strong safety. He is a decent student with no problems digesting plays to take them from the chalkboard to the playing field. He plays with good vision and recognition skills in run force, but needs to make quicker read decisions in route progression. He is a high-energy type that might get a little over aggressive, but has the recovery speed to get back into the play. He needs only normal reps to make checks and is smart enough to handle call assignments.

Athletic Report

Key and Diagnostic Skills...Against the run, Griffin excels at recognizing the blocking schemes, playing off of them and shutting down the rush lanes. He does a good job of splitting double teams, despite a lack of ideal height. He is still a work in progress reading pass plays and has to develop a better feel for the receiver through route progressions. He has the speed to stay with any receiver in the deep zone, but due to a lack of reps, it is hard to evaluate his ability to handle switch-offs playing in zone coverage. He reacts quickly to jump the play in run support and takes good angles to the ball. He has a good feel for the ball carrier on the perimeter and is very effective at shutting down the cutback lanes. With his ability to take good angles and see the play develop, Griffin is quick to react to misdirection. He has excellent vision to locate the ball in a crowd and the recovery speed to get back into the action on the rare times that he over-pursues. Because of his dominance vs. the run, he was not counted on much to drop back in pass coverage.

Playing Strength and Explosion...Griffin generates good explosion behind his hits. He might not have the size you look for in a traditional run stuffer, nor classic wrap-up technique, but with his low pad level and decent playing strength, he does a good job of slipping off and avoiding blocks in backside pursuit. His size limitations become an issue when an offensive linemen latches on to him, as he does not have the bulk to separate. He is more effective on the move, where he can avoid the blockers, as he has the speed to take a wide loop to the ball and still make the play rather than sit back and engage the opponent. He shows nice explosion on contact to make up for his size issues, but is better off when he can slip off blocks rather than use his hands to shed. He won’t be the type of ‘backer that will be very stout to leverage at the point of attack or stack and control blocks because of his missing hand, but he compensates with his avoidance skills and explosive closing burst.

Lateral Pursuit/Range...Griffin could shift to safety or be used in Cover-2 defense sub packages due to his range and closing burst. He is not a solid wrap-up tackler, but he has an exceptional burst to attack perimeter ball carriers. He simply excels when allowed to scrape and flow to the ball. The thing you see on film is his ability to avoid trash when on the move. He never gives up on a play until he hears the whistle and is not the type that will get too reckless. He has the timed speed to cover the entire field and the range to chase from the backside with his sudden burst. He just gets a good jump on the ball due to his pure speed.

Use of Hands...Griffin’s game relies on making plays on the move and avoiding the piles, but the lack of a left hand does impact his wrap-up abilities. Like most undersized linebackers, he does not have the hand usage needed to shed blocks, so he has to rely on quickness to slip them. He is not asked to play vs. the pass much and must show better hand usage in attempts to jam and reroute tight ends and slot receivers to compete at the next level. He has good training room strength, but must utilize it better when attacking offensive linemen. He doesn’t have the arm length (66 1/2-inch wing span) to separate and must get off blocks quickly or he will get tied up. He needs to show some ability at grabbing and swimming off blocks than he did in the past, in order to keep blockers off his body at the next level. He is still a work in progress here, but showed good improvement during the 2016 season.

Tackling Ability...Griffin is a superb perimeter tackler due to his range and explosion, but without his left hand, he is more of a collision type rather than being a wrap-up tackler. His best success comes when he stays low in his pads and uses the plant-&-drive agility to redirect. He is not as effective when working in-line, especially when the offensive lineman gets into his body to lift him at the pads. Because of that in-line inability, he might be a better fit for a Cover-2 linebacker or safety spot. He does a good job of keeping plays in front of him and shows good pop on contact. The thing that he excels at is dragging down ball carriers in the open. He is just a productive tackler who will do whatever it takes to bring the ball carrier down. In the open, he generates good pop and explosion, showing proper form in his tackling technique. He might lack the size to face up to blockers inside at the next level, but his speed is ideal.

Run Defense...Griffin attacks the fullback with a vengeance and uses his strength well to plug the inside rush lanes. He attacks with his shoulders properly squared to compensate for a lack of hand usage when trying to shed working in-line. He will never have the size needed to stuff offensive linemen, but is perfectly able to slip and avoid to make the play. His timed speed is a rarity in this business for a linebacker. He has a fluid flow to the ball along the perimeter and can redirect to neutralize the cutback lanes. He might get a little reckless and over-pursue at times, but his recovery burst puts him right back into the play.

Pass Defense...This is a hard category to evaluate him in, as his responsibilities at field linebacker was mostly for run containment. You can see he has the speed to stay with any receiver in pass routes and he has the loose hips to get depth in his pass drops. He needs to stay lower in his pads through his backpedal, but he comes out of it with few wasted steps to mirror the receiver on deep patterns. He shows good awareness to locate and attack receivers working underneath, but still needs to get his head turned around and not eye the quarterback too long when playing in the deep area. When he recognizes the play, he does a good job of getting square to the ball. Even with his lack of plays in this area, with additional reps and his closing speed, I feel that Griffin will develop the ability to look up receivers and break on the ball with good urgency, as a strong safety.

Zone Defense...Griffin can close on the ball in a hurry, but while some pro teams might view his size and speed as a better fit at strong safety, he will need more reps operating in zone coverage. He has a good feel for tracking the ball in flight, but must do a better job of using his hands to pluck and snatch the ball away from his frame. He is utilized mostly in the box, but has the balance and burst to mirror receivers in deep routes. He still must develop a feel for the zone switch-offs, but can make plays coming out of his breaks due to his explosiveness.

Pass Rush and Blitz...Griffin is used to attack the quarterback off the edge, as he is a very effective blitzer. He shows good urgency in backside pursuit and stays in control rather than over-pursue when closing on the pocket. He has the timing and awareness to pick a lane in attempts to penetrate and can easily knife through the backfield to apply pressure.

Compares To...Deone Bucannon-Arizona Cardinals...Sans the left hand, Griffin is an ideal Cover-2 prospect, but might be better served playing the deep part of the zone, despite his success coming off the edge for the blitz.