Part 2 of The Football Educator’s guest blogger Richard Hill and his look at NFL Front Offices determining current market inefficiencies in player personnel.
We know the following:
1) Tight ends are being featured as key pieces on offense more than ever
2) Typical linebackers are unable to run with the more athletic tight ends
3) Using a safety in the base defense could weaken the deep half of the secondary by removing an important piece
4) Bringing on a defensive back who can cover can weaken the run defense (TE versatility)
5) Bracket coverage can work, but that tilts the match-ups in the favor of the offense as that occupies an additional defensive player
Which direction to head?
So what can teams do? It makes the most sense that teams should draft an athletic linebacker who has the physical ability to keep up with tight ends. But a player of typical linebacker build (6’2, 245 lbs) who has the athletic ability to run with tight ends will most likely be taken early in the draft. As we’re looking for value, we have to look for the inefficiencies. So let’s be like Flutie and Wilson and look at the facts:
Size at linebacker is important, but offenses are trending more towards fast plays and aerial attacks so linebacker quickness should be at a premium. Don’t undersell the need for a well-sized linebacker, but understand that linebackers don’t have to be 250 lbs to get the job done- in fact, their job description is changing and being a little bit lighter might help. Linebackers at 235-240 lbs have been considered too small for certain defenses, but their value should be rising.
Additionally, tall linebackers are helpful to generate more traffic in passing lanes and they can carry heavier weight on their frames to wall off in the run game. Linebackers that hover around 6 feet in height are often overlooked because of their size. But if we’re looking for a linebacker who can cover tight ends, we can point out that teams feel comfortable placing defensive backs on tight ends and, more often than not, they are under 6 feet themselves.
A new breed?
So for the role in the defense that we’re building, our tight end coverage linebacker (and please note that this only needs to be one linebacker; the other LBs can be of typical run-thumping size) can be around 6 feet tall and can be around 240 lbs. The quickness and the size are good enough for the player to participate in run defense (unlike the 200 lbs defensive backs who could be washed away in a sub-package), while still providing enough build and athleticism to match-up against tight ends down the field.
You can see these players cropping up in past drafts. In 2010, 12 linebackers were taken in the first three rounds. Rolando McClain, 6’3, 254 lbs, was taken eighth overall- and with that size, why not? At 19th overall, Sean Weatherspoon (6’1, 240 lbs) was drafted by the Falcons. I don’t think anyone would question that the Falcons got the better player. The best linebackers from those rounds: Daryl Washington (6’2, 225 lbs), Pat Angerer (6’0, 230 lbs), Sean Lee (6’2, 235 lbs), and Brandon Spikes (6’3, 250 lbs). Oh, and arguably the best linebacker in the league, Navorro Bowman (6’1, 230 lbs).
Players on a defense need to complement one another and right now, lightweight linebackers have been having plenty of success without recognition of their smaller stature. Looking into this upcoming draft, players like Rutgers Khaseem Greene (6’1, 235 lbs) and Kansas State’s Arthur Brown (6’1, 230 lbs) will most likely hold lower draft status because their size isn’t considered ideal.
For this day’s NFL? Those players could be perfect. If they show they have the athleticism to play with tight ends, perhaps a lucky team will be able to take advantage of this current market inefficiency and walk away from the draft with a winning ticket.