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2018 NFL Draft: Assessing Day 3 inside linebackers

Clemson v Louisville
Dorian O’Daniel
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Teams generally use the last day of the draft to fill out their rosters, but they also realize it is quite the “hit and miss” event trying to unearth talent past the third round that has much shelf life. Since the 2000 draft, teams have selected 345 inside and outside linebackers from Rounds 4 through 7.

Thirty-three of those players never made it out of training camp, including one fourth-round pick; five fifth-round choices, 13 sixth-round selections and 14 more in the seventh round.

Within that group, 149 appeared in at least a full season of contests (16 games), but 196 others appeared in 15 games or less, including 119 that saw less than ten games of action. Twenty-eight of those draftees reached the 100-game level during their careers.

Four players drafted as linebackers from Rounds 4 through 7 have appeared in at least 150 contests, but one such choice, 2007 fourth round New York Giants pick, Zak DeOssie, has spent the bulk of his 172 games on the field snapping the ball. Larry Foote appeared in 187 games, earning 134 starts after being taken in the fourth round of the 2002 draft by Pittsburgh. He posted 25.0 sacks with four interceptions until retiring in 2014.

Stephen Tulloch was also a fourth-round selection, taken by the Tennessee Titans with the 116th overall pick in 2006. Until he hung up his spikes after the 2016 campaign, he had started 113-of-159 contests, collecting five interceptions and 14.5 sacks. The North Carolina State product was also a member of the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles.

After graduating he was named the MVP of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in a 2005 victory over the University of South Florida, Tulloch announced that he would forgo his senior season and enter the 2006 NFL Draft. As a member of the Titans from 2006 to 2010, he recorded 457 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. He then signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions in July, 2011, posting 111 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions that year.

The last linebacker to appear in at least 150 games is Bradie James, selected in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

Day 3 Talent at Middle Linebacker

Genard Avery - Memphis

Among the 43 linebackers in attendance at the Combine, Avery finished fourth in the bench press; tied for fifth in the broad jump; tied for sixth in the three-cone; tied for seventh in both the 40-yard dash and vertical jump and tied for 12th in the 20-yard shuttle.

Overview...The NFL Draft Report’s most underrated inside linebacker prospect.

Avery Scouting Analysis

Avery is a walking fire hydrant, with a squat build and a very powerful frame. Most teams envision him moving inside at the pro level, but 3-4 defenses also recognize his edge rushing ability and could keep him on the outside at the strong-side position.

Avery lacks height, but is a thick, shorter compact ‘backer who explodes through contact and is a real violent striker. He finds the ball quickly vs. the run and has the range to make plays in pursuit. Size issues occur when he tries to stack and shed and but he is much more than just a two-down performer, as he has a good feel for covering backs and tight ends in pass coverage and displays good depth dropping back into the zone. He’s a heavy-hitting thumper inside with the potential to get into the backfield as a blitzer. He should get plenty of looks from 3-4 teams in need of a versatile, high motor strong-side inside linebacker.

The Tiger shows good balance and turning motion coming out of his backpedal and is sort of like a safety with the depth he gets in his pass drops. The reason I feel he could be more productive as an inside linebacker is that Avery is at his best playing side to side and flowing to the football. He makes most of his tackles inside the box and shows fluid lateral agility. He has the change of direction agility to clear trash and make plays down the line, but does get in trouble when he attempts to engage and overpower the blocker, as he sometimes gets his arms too extended, allowing the lineman to get a piece of his jersey.

Avery is a spark plug on the field. He plays with reckless abandon, but also has a good feel and vision for plays developing in front of him. He is quick reacting to keys and fights hard through trash to make the play. He will get out of control too much, but when he plays within his element, he will not be fooled by play action or misdirection. Because of size issues, he needs to be on the move, as he does not show great ability to locate the ball in a crowd.

He is the type that makes quick and decisive reads, sort of reminding me of the ex-Jets/Patriots David Harris for his ability to easily flow to the ball (but only when he does not try to out-battle blockers at the Xs). Avery is better playing on the move, as he can flow to the ball and not have to get into one-on-one battles in the trenches, despite having more than enough strength to win those encounters (high school state power-lifting champ).

When he shoots his hands and keeps them inside his frame, he is capable of stunning the interior blocker executing the blitz. He has the speed and explosive burst to close on the play, but despite his weight room strength, Avery gets pushed around quite a bit trying to sift through trash.

The senior needs to use his hands better to protect himself from low blocks and when he leaves his chest exposed, a hungry offensive lineman is quick to lock on and control him. He also needs to do a better job of playing off double teams, as the opponents do a good job of attacking his feet.

Avery compensates for a lack of size by closing on plays in front of him with good urgency. In a Cover-2 alignment, his speed, change of direction agility and nimble feet could see him be a nice fit inside at the strong-side linebacker position at the next level. He is sort of like a bull in a china shop, but he has shown a good concept for taking angles, rarely seeing him simply over-running plays.

The “Kat” ‘backer shows good balance and turning motion coming out of his back-pedal and is sort of like a safety with the depth he gets in his pass drops. The reason I feel he could be more productive as an inside linebacker is that he is at his best playing side to side and flowing to the football. He makes most of his tackles inside the box and shows fluid lateral agility. He has the change of direction agility to clear trash and make plays down the line, but does get in trouble when he attempts to engage and overpower the blocker.

On the move, he makes physical tackles, as he stays low in his pads, drives hard with his legs and extends his arms to wrap and secure. He is better when working on the run, as he has the motor and quickness to get to the football. He is an effective blow-up type when tackling along the corners, but tends to be a drag-down type who will occasionally overrun the play to avoid blocks when working near the line of scrimmage.

Avery is very good at dropping back in pass coverage, as he has the nimble feet to come out cleanly from his breaks. He is not the type that will get fooled out of his backpedal too early by a receiver trying to sell and con on the route. Unlike most linebackers, he appears better in the zone or in deep coverage, as he tends to leave too much cushion, which lets tight ends and backs have good success catching the ball underneath.

Compares To...Reggie Ragland-Kansas City Chiefs...Avery is a solid read-&-react type with a nose for the ball. He shows the ability to fit and take good angles in pursuit. He’s a very physical tackler, but also the type that can execute proper pass drops, along with using his hands to reroute receivers and settling in a zone. He has an explosive burst when rushing the passes and uses his strength well to shed blocks and take a short path to the quarterback.

NFL: Combine
Nick DeLuca
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Nick DeLuca - North Dakota State

The 2017 Season...DeLuca earned a 2018 Senior Bowl invitation after he garnered All-American first-team honors from The NFL Draft Report, Associated Press, STATS FCS and HERO Sports. He was a Buck Buchanan Award finalist (12th) and first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference choice. In thirteen games, he recorded 74 tackles (41 solos), leading the team with 6.5 sacks for minus 68 yards and tying for second with 10.5 stops for losses of 77 yards. He was credited with two QB pressures, as he picked off one pass, deflected two others and caused three fumbles.

DeLuca Scouting Analysis

DeLuca possesses very good lower body strength which allows him to anchor firmly vs. double teams. He has fluid hip snap, minimal body fat and room to carry at least another ten pounds of bulk without the added weight impacting his overall quickness. He has the functional burst and quick feet to fill the rush lanes, just what you expect from a classic middle linebacker. He changes direction with good balance, showing good acceleration and burst to close. He runs with a normal stride and has good athleticism for his position, showing good urgency and a strong concept for angling when closing on plays in front of him.

DeLuca is an instinctive middle linebacker who is quick to read and react. He plays with good emotion and when he steps on the field, you know he is coming to play. He never gives up on plays and will not hesitate to go long distances to chase down the opponents out of his area. The coaches call him the “most prepared” player on the team. He can be a very violent hitter and sells out to make the plays.

DeLuca plays with outstanding football instincts. He takes good angles to the ball and is a smart player who always seems to be in position to make the play. He has good quickness and sharp hip snap with good pop on contact. He has the upper body strength to impact the lead blocker and clog the inside rush lanes. Even when he makes a wrong guess on a play, he is quick to recover and explode into his tackles. He stays square and can take on and shed with quick reaction off blocks. He is tough to knock off his feet and is involved in so many plays because of his ability to use his hands properly to shed.

DeLuca needs to develop more natural hands to make the interception (has five thefts, but six of his e11 deflections bounced off his body), but does extend well from the body’s framework in attempts to make the pass deflection. He will deliver a strong blow to fend off bigger blockers and get off quick enough to close on the plays in front of him. There are times when he will over-run some plays, but does a good job of recovering to get back in the action.

Right now, he is better in close quarters than in space, as he is more effective breaking down and wrapping in tight areas (tends to drag down more in the open field). He stays low in his pads and attacks blockers with good energy and passion, doing a good job of drop his weight to wrap and rise for a bone-jarring hit.

DeLuca is quick to fill the tackle-to-tackle holes and does a nice job of taking on and shedding blocks to make plays when working in-line. He plays much bigger than his size indicates in close quarters and gets off blocks well. Vs. the outside run, he has good range to the sideline and does a good job for keeping his feet when sifting through traffic. He will run a long way to make a play and shows good effort in his pursuit, even when he can’t get to the outside play.

The Bison has enough anchor to work through blocks, using his hands with force to stack vs. the inside run. His functional quickness lets him fill the rush lanes and he has better balance to hold his ground and prevent blockers from washing him out when he stays low in his pads. He does a good job of mirroring tight ends and running backs in the short area passing game, as he has the speed to run stride for stride with his opponent on long patterns.

DeLuca shows good turn-snd-run motion moving in reverse and gets good depth and proper drop angle. There is no evidence of any hip stiffness when turning out of his backpedal, but he does not have natural hand skills when trying to secure the ball going for the interception, despite five thefts. He does a good job of keeping the action in front of him. He will close and strike on receivers in his area and gets his hands up quickly to impede his opponent’s vision trying to track the ball in flight.

DeLuca finds the rush lane shooting the gaps and is very good at delivering the heat. He can surprise a lineman with his tenacity, as his swim and spin moves will generally see him make plays slipping off blocks. With his ability to disrupt as a blitzer, his future team would be well-advised to take better advantage of his ability to power through blocks, along with his burst to close on the quarterback.

DeLuca’s kickoff coverage skills see him get down field quickly and uses his balance and change of direction skills well to break up the wedge, sift through trash and make the play. The linebacker is a classic knee bender who plays in good football position, as he always seems to be on his feet working through trash. He a smart playmaker who reacts decisively and can step up, stay square and take on/shed the bigger blockers with good force. He has that quick reactionary ability to fill holes and make plays in-line and even at his size, blockers struggle in attempts to contain him at the point of attack.

Compares To...Preston Brown-Kansas City Chiefs...DeLuca was bothered by injury issues in 2015 and 2016, but bounced back with a solid senior campaign. He’s a blue collar type that lacks great athleticism, but he’s developed into a physical face-up hitter who has good timing on blitzes. He impresses with his range, especially for a thickly-built downhill gap stuffer, but teams think that he could be a nice Day 3 draft fit as a strong-side ‘backer in a 3-4 defense or remain at middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme.

Dorian O’Daniel - Clemson

Career Notes...The collegiate outside linebacker might be a nice fit on the weak-side at the next level, but several teams prefer him as an inside linebacker while others feel he has more than enough athletic skills to be a strong safety at the next level. He led the Combine linebackers in the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle drills, challenging for the Combine position records in both events.

The ,2017 Season...The first-team All-American selection by Sports Illustrated added second-team honors from The NFL Draft Report, Associated Press and AFCA.

O’Daniel Scouting Analysis

O’Daniel’s frame poses an interesting problem for NFL teams. He has the valid speed to remain on the outside, yet some feel he will be challenged regularly by the big linemen in blocking situations. He has experience in the secondary and would be ideal in a Cover-2 or sub package. Yet others cite the success by Deion Jones (Atlanta) and Kwon Alexander (Tampa Bay) as good points for shifting the similarly built O’Daniel inside in a 3-4 scheme.

The red-shirt senior has a compact, muscular frame with good upper body development, but has to improve his lower body strength and will likely need to add bulk in order to compete effectively at the next level. He does have room on his frame to carry the additional weight without it impacting his overall speed. Some concerns outside of his lack of ideal height and adequate lower body strength, are his short arms (31 1/8-inches) and small wingspan (75-inches).

O’Daniel has great agility and athletic ability, playing with ideal quickness and speed. He shows fine balance closing on the ball and the ability to stay on his feet working through trash. With his flexibility, he is quick to redirect and work his way to the flow of the ball. He has the quickness of a safety dropping back in zone coverage and is an above average space player, thanks to the suddenness when closing. He looks very athletic moving to the ball, showing fluid change of direction, acceleration and body control in attempts to keep the action in front of him.

O’Daniel has a natural feel for the flow of the ball, showing quick lateral movement and fluid change of direction agility. He has that ease of movement when changing direction to turn and run on the ball in an instant. He plays with good hand usage, balance and agility to thread through traffic, but a lack of bulk could see him engulfed in one-on-one battles vs. bigger linemen. He is quick to pull the trigger when operating in pursuit, as he has the speed to cover ground from sideline to sideline, thanks to his excellent range and good effort.

He is sudden to react and triggers fast moving back in zone coverage. He is quick coming off the snap, staying low in his pads while generating quick lateral movements to string the plays wide. He has the natural ability to always anticipate the flow of the ball. He is a patient type that generally plays under control and has no problems identifying what the offense throws at him.

While O’Daniel lacks the ideal size to take on the larger blockers, he compensates with hand strength (better power in the upper body and bench presses 225 pounds 21 times), field savvy, quickness and instincts. He has enough playing strength to combat tight ends and lead blockers, but will struggle to shed when an offensive lineman latches on to his body. He is a better space player than one in tight quarters, as he needs to be very quick and active with his hands to control and get off blocks in attempts to get to the ball.

The Tiger is strong enough for his size and can hit with leverage to stun lead blocks and cause a pile, but does not have the “sand in his pants” to take on linemen. He has the hand strength to shed blocks quickly, doing a nice job of extending to keep blockers from attacking his body. He has the ease of movement agility to flow to the ball, staying at a proper pad level to extend, wrap and secure as a tackler.

Against the inside run, O’Daniel compensates for a lack of size with his change of direction agility and lateral movement to slip past blocks. He fills holes quickly and has the functional strength to take on fullbacks, but vs. the bigger offensive linemen, he can get engulfed when working in-line if he does not protect his chest from the blocker locking on. He does a good job of coming down hill, but is best when using his hands to shed when working near the line of scrimmage, which allows him to fill the rush lane.

O’Daniel has the ability to drop off deep in the zone due to his hip swerve. He has the quickness to run with backs, tight ends and slot receivers in the short area and shows good vision, quickness and ball anticipation to be right in the receiver’s face in attempts to reroute. He uses his hands with force in press situations and shows the hip swerve to operate in trail coverage. He takes no wasted steps in transition and is quick to turn coming out of his backpedal.

O’Daniel can get caught up vs. inside trash when his hands get outside his frame, but when he keeps his hands active and gets a strong push off the blocker, he can get into the backfield to apply pocket pressure. He gives good effort as a blitzer and is effective flowing to the ball and attacking from the back side, but is never going to be considered an elite disrupter in an opponent’s backfield due to size and lower strength issues.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Florida International
Tegray Scales
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tegray Scales - Indiana

Career Notes...Scales became the first Indiana linebacker to earn All-American honors (2016) since 1987 and the first to collect first team All-Big Ten Conference recognition (2017) since 1988.

Scales Scouting Analysis

The Indiana coaches decided to move this naturally physical hitter back to the middle as a junior, even though he did produce as a weak-side outside linebacker in 2015. The move placed Scales on the national map, as he registered 23.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, the second-best season total in school history, adding 126 tackles in 2016.

Scouts compare Scales’s versatility to that of Denver’s Brandon Marshall. He might be “height challenged,” but is stout at the point of attack, possessing an athletic physique, good straight-line closing speed and valid lateral agility to work down the line. He has the strong legs to hold position firmly vs. the inside run and was recognized as the Big Ten’s’s hardest hitting tackler. He is a football-smart athlete who gets his teammates lined up and shows good awareness to plays in front of him.

Scales runs sideline-to-sideline and has a knack for locating the ball, showing good read-and-react skills. He does a nice job of pushing the tight end back at the line of scrimmage, using his hands properly to gain leverage and reroute, also utilizing his hands to ward off smaller blockers and can’t be tied up for long in one-on-one confrontations. He doesn’t have the size to play off blockers by the offensive linemen, but knows how to use his quickness and crisp spin and swim moves to avoid.

Covering in the short area, Scales gets decent depth in his pass drops, as he has the hip flexibility and quick feet to mirror tight ends and backs underneath. He has good eyes reading the pass when facing the quarterback, but struggles to track the ball in flight over his shoulder. He has fluid hips, getting a proper drop in pass coverage, but needs to do a better job of locating the ball in a crowd (height issues occur when the bigger receivers shield the ball).

Scales is not afraid to engage the larger offensive linemen, displaying the hand quickness to shed and works hard to hold his ground at the point of attack. He can run the field and hit, showing a smooth stride in his outside pursuit and sudden acceleration when closing.

The linebacker also scrapes to the ball well and when working in space, he uses his hands properly to keep separation, but there are times when he looks lost trying to stay on the hip of the receiver on longer routes, as he peeks into the backfield too long and doesn’t have that second gear needed to recover (better speed moving laterally or straight ahead rather than moving backwards).

The Hoosier has the speed and effort to run long distances to make plays along the perimeter. He takes proper angles and gets good depth playing in the zone, as he is best when allowed to freelance and flow to the ball rather than step up and engage blocks at the line of scrimmage. He can shock a lethargic blocker by delivering a jolting hand punch and has good lower body flexibility flashing into the backfield off the edge.

Scales is skilled at using proper techniques to be a disruptor in the backfield. He has a good feel on the blitz. He is difficult to block when he sinks his pads, changes direction and shoots the clear gaps, but he can be absorbed by the bigger blockers when he fails to get his hands up to keep linemen from latching on. He has a nice array of rip moves to prevent most blockers from locking on after his initial attempt.

Scales is an effective wrap-up tackler, knowing how to go a little lower in order to properly secure the opponent (hammer-type of tackler). While he has experience on the weak side, his frame may be better served at middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He shows natural hands for the interception and despite just an average vertical jump, he times his leaps well competing for the ball at its high point.

Like Marshall, Scales has a good flow to the ball. He realizes that his size issues mean that he needs to avoid blockers rather than engaging them working in-line, but he has enough functional strength to make it difficult to contain him in one-on-one confrontations. He might be better suited to play inside in a Cover-2 defense, so he will not be exposed or gobbled up by the bigger blockers. With his ability to flow from sideline-to-sideline, he will be better served playing in a scheme that will let him make plays in space rather than step up and try to fill, despite his obvious collegiate success in doing so.

Compares To...Brandon Marshall-Denver Broncos...Like Marshall, Scales is a bit short for the outside position, but he demonstrates good athletic ability to get into his pass set. He is quite effective working within the box and is the type who can diagnose plays quickly. He maintains a tight relationship working over tight ends, despite lacking the long arms needed to get in their chest area and disrupt their routes. Still, he uses his arms well to shed blockers in the trenches, but is best served moving laterally to make plays from sideline-to-sideline.