Those of you that have followed The Football Educator know my affinity for the military and the various analogies I’ve used in the past with the service to football. The flexibility, speed, precision and lethalness of our Special Forces Units brings to mind only one position on the field – Linebackers.
The “Best of the Best”
Special Forces is most commonly defined with the Delta Force Unit, but whether Delta, Navy Seals, Green Berets or the Air Force’s Combat Controllers, the Linebacker Corps of any NFL team represents a similar aspect in a defensive unit’s overall attack.
Linebackers must possess the versatility to rush the passer, play the run and cover receivers, running backs and tight ends. They have to be quick, elusive, strong at the point, good tacklers, physical, smart, have good change of direction, solid hands and above all tremendous instincts. They’re usually the emotional and intellectual leaders of the defense. Name me any other position on the football field that is required to do so much play after play after play.
Sure, specialization has crept into the Linebacker position just like it did to Wide Receivers. You’ve got Mike Linebackers, who play between the tackles to stop the run first. Will Linebackers, who use their speed and agility to pursue off the edge and fall back into space. Sam Linebackers, who have the size & length to take on Tight End’s at the line of scrimmage and maintain outside leverage. 3-4 Linebackers, who have become the personification of “blitzkrieg” tactics with their edge rush abilities.
But the very best of the best can do it all. They’re fully capable of executing any game plan and much like the Special Forces have become experts in all areas of “warfare” on the playing field.
A myriad of ways to “kill you”
As scouts and coaches continue to analyze some of college football’s best at the Linebacker position (whether at the Senior Bowl this week or in Indianapolis at the coming Combine) they will be sure to look for the most skilled and versatile athletes. These athletes should focus their NFL Combine Prep on the following.
Referencing “Relevance of the Combine” again, the top Linebackers in the National Football League are defined not through specialization as mentioned above, but through clear cut dominance across all phases. The most successful LB’s will Exceed Peer Average (EPA) in 6 of the 7 events at the Combine. The most relevant factor tested has been found to be the 40 yard dash, 67% EPA as starters. A combination of 5 of any of the remaining 6 events has produced 67% two-deep players & 73% rostered. Overall EPA of the 7 events is similar from 3 to 7 for starters, indicative of teams looking for specialists.
Easy to find but…
Perhaps for this reason the single greatest source for Linebackers is undrafted free agency, followed by the 3rd round (but rounds 1 through 4 are very close). History shows us that anywhere between 13 to 15 Linebackers can be found in this window of opportunity. No other position shows the yearly depth of quality in the draft as does LB.
But as with elite of Special Forces, studies show the very “best of the best” truly come from the top of the draft, and more than just an incremental chance. As Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats has found, almost double or triple the chance with years as a starter and Pro Bowl selection or likelihood.
So scout wisely and choose wisely NFL front offices. And remember, you can find a “hardnosed” grunt in the later rounds, but the truly “special” players at Linebacker will focus their NFL Combine prep, exceed across the board, and you better get ‘em early.