Intriguing developmental LB talent

Posted April 24, 2012 @ 6:54 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

This is the eighth in a series of 10 features profiling late-rising prospects from the pro-day circuit or developmental talent that just missed the cut in PFW's 2012 Draft Preview, offering a more condensed scouting report than the 400-plus in this year's Draft Preview. Results from nearly 200 pro days are now featured online in PFW's draft database.

Perhaps it is because their job description is to seek and destroy, which allows them to announce their arrival violently, but it seems like snubbed linebackers carry a chip on their shoulders as they enter the NFL cloaked in anonymity and fueled by a relentless 'I’m-going-to-make-you-pay' attitude. From Sam Mills and Jessie Tuggle to more recent undrafted stalwarts like London Fletcher and James Harrison, overlooked linebackers get their chance to take out their frustrations on return men, ballcarriers or quarterbacks — if they have the chops to make it. The following players, listed alphabetically, could outplay their draft standing:

ROLB-WLB Kaelin Burnett, #12
Nevada            PFW grade: 5.12
: 6-4 | Wt: 234 | Sp: 4.66 | Arm: 33 5/8 | Hand: 9 1/4
Notes: Father died in a car accident before he was born. Brother, Kevin is a linebacker for the Dolphins. Also ran track (hurdles, high jump) as a Los Angeles, Calif. prep. Began his college career at Delta State, where he appeared in all 12 games (wore jersey No. 29), recording 20 tackles, one for loss (sack) with two batted passes as a true freshman in 2007. Sat out ’08 per transfer rules, garnering scout team player of the year recognition. Sat out ’09 spring practice (shoulder surgery). A reserve outside linebacker and rush end in the fall, played 11 games and tallied 12-1½-1½ with a forced fumble and a blocked punt. Did not play in the season opener against Notre Dame and SMU. Played all 13 games in ’10 and posted 30-4½-3 with a forced fumble. Suffered a severely cracked pelvis during ’11 spring practice, but recovered to start all 13 games at rush end (replaced Bengals third-rounder Dontay Moch) and produce 51-8-5 with a batted pass and a forced fumble. Graduated.
Bottom line: Has a lean, athletic build with room for added bulk, as well as fluid movement skills — has speed to rush the passer and flexibility to deploy in coverage. However, is raw and lacks bulk strength (too easily run at). One-year starter bounced back from a hip injury to record just average production, but impressive pro day numbers will prompt teams to consider him as a stand-up rusher, “Will” or nickel ‘backer. His 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump bested all defensive linemen and linebackers at the Combine and his 6.7-second 3-cone drill equaled Bruce Irvin’s pace-setting mark. Mentally tough and has a passion for the game.
NFL projection: Priority free agent.

ROLB, DRE Louis Nzegwu, #
Wisconsin            PFW grade: 5.15
Ht: 6-3 7/8| Wt: 251 | Sp: 4.64 | Arm: 33 3/4 | Hand: 10 1/8
Notes: Last name is pronounced “niz-EGG-woo.” Was an all-state running back and lettered all four years in track as a Wisconsin prep. Redshirted in 2007. Saw action in 11 games as a reserve defensive lineman and special teams player in ’08, recording six tackles. In 10 games in ’09, registered 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks with one batted pass. Suffered a right shoulder (minor tear of labrum) injury during camp and missed the first three games. Started all 27 games at DE over his last two seasons — recorded 46-7½-3 with three batted passes and one forced fumble in 13 games ’10 and 38-7-4½ with two pass breakups and one forced fumble in 14 contest in ’11. Led the Badgers in sacks in ’11 and also returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Bottom line: High school running back and college defensive end who projects best to a stand-up pass rushing position in the pros, given his length, speed and athletic ability — recorded a 41½-inch vertical, 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump and a 6.84-second 3-cone drill. Closes deceptively well on the ball. Limited instincts — can be slow to trigger and does not always feel pressure. Plays narrow-based against the run and needs to improve his hand use. Could stand to get stronger and learn to play with power. The UW staff hoped for a O’Brien Schofield-like breakout senior season, and while it didn’t materialize, Nzegwu has physical tools to coach up.
NFL projection: Fifth- to sixth-round pick.

OLB Korey Toomer, #16
Idaho            PFW grade: 5.15
Ht: 6-2 1/4| Wt: 234 | Sp: 4.54 | Arm: 33 1/8 | Hand: 9 3/4
Notes: Linebacker-tight end out of Las Vegas, Nev. Originally committed to Idaho, but failed to qualify academically and attended Arizona Western College for two years — recorded 44 tackles, 3½ for loss and a sack with two forced fumbles in 2007; and 86-8½-0 with a forced fumble and three interceptions in ’08. Appeared in 12 games in ’09 and was credited with 8-0-0. Redshirted in ’10. Was team MVP in ’11 — played all 12 games, starting the final 11 at outside linebacker, and produced 68-10½-4 with four pass breakups and an interception.
Bottom line: One of the best linebacker testers in this year’s draft class, Toomer is just a one-year starter, having spent two years in junior college and another redshirting at Idaho, but has outstanding timed speed and athletic ability — vertical (42 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches) and short shuttle (4.00 seconds) bested all linebackers at the Combine, and his 6.87-second 3-cone drill would’ve placed second. Was very popular on the NFL team visit circuit after his impressive workout, though tape evaluation reveals inexperience and green instincts. Will require patience to learn an develop, but closing speed and coverage and special-teams potential will be coveted.
NFL projection: Late draftable pick.

MLB-WLB J.K. Schaffer, #37
Cincinnati            PFW grade: 5.00
Ht: 6-0 1/2| Wt: 232 | Sp: 4.75e | Arm: 29 | Hand: 9 3/4
Notes: The Cincinnati prep stayed home to play for the Bearcats. Appeared in 12 games mostly as a special-teams player in 2008 and made 12 tackles, zero tackles for loss and zero sacks with one pass breakup and one forced fumble. In ’09, took over one of the starting ILB spots in Week Two and logged 100-5½-1½ with three pass breakups and three interceptions in 13 games (12 starts). Led the team in tackles from his MLB spot in ’10, recording 111-9½-3 with five pass breakups, one interception and two forced fumbles in 12 starts. Awarded All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year honors from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in April ’11. Starting MLB in '11 who led the team in tackles again after posting 114-13-4½ with six pass breakups, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 13 starts. Team captain.
Bottom line: High-motor, intense, scrape-and-flow "Mike" 'backer with very short arms and tight hips. Generally fits properly in the run game, though he makes most of his plays ranging outside, as he uses his hands to play over blocks and has good feet and speed to run to the ball. Also gets depth in his drops and can intercept. Lacks bulk and is too easily washed by linemen. Experienced, productive, highly competitive ’backer with the makeup of a core special-teams player.
NFL projection: Priority free agent.

Other notable pro-day standouts:

ROLB Sammy Brown, Houston
Ht: 6-1 7/8 | Wt: 242 | Sp: 4.68 | Arm: 33 7/8 | Hand: 9 1/2
Short, fairly athletic, stand-up pass rusher with agile feet, long arms and active hands who racked up eye-popping tackle for loss numbers — totaled 50 stops behind the line, including 21 sacks, in two seasons at UH. Recorded a 37-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump at his pro day. Plays small against the run and lacks elite motor and flexibility.

WLB-SLB Jerrell Harris, Alabama
Ht: 6-2 1/4 | Wt: 239 | Sp: 4.71 | Arm: 32 3/4 | Hand: 9 3/4
Versatile, athletic, run-and-hit 'backer with the work ethic to earn a living covering kicks. Better suited in 4-3 than 3-4 scheme in which he played, though his role on a national champion aided his visibility.

WLB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Washington State
Ht: 6-0 1/2 | Wt: 232 | Sp: 4.54 | Arm: 30 5/8 | Hand: 9 1/4
Short, short-armed, weak-side linebacker with good foot speed who posted a 36-inch vertical leap and repped 225 pounds 36 times. Does not play downhill enough, shows some hip stiffness and is inconsistent when asked to come to balance in space. Biggest impact could come on special teams where he could run and hit.

WLB Joe Holland, Purdue
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 231 | Sp: 4.49 | Arm: 33 1/2 | Hand: 9 1/4
An all-state running back in high school, moved from safety to linebacker at Purdue and made 48 career starts. Undersized, fast, productive, “Will” linebacker who is rangy and athletic to chase and drop into coverage with his head on a swivel (nine passes defended as a senior). Lacks ideal take-on strength, but speed and tackling ability could enable him to snag a spot on special teams.

MLB Noah Keller, Ohio
Ht: 6-0 5/8 | Wt: 242 | Sp: 4.64 | Arm: 30 1/2 | Hand: 9
A three-time captain, Keller is a short-armed, intelligent, mid-major tackling machine with outstanding football makeup who will have to earn his keep on special teams. Has a 37-inch vertical, but lacks functional strength to take on/shed with authority or strike with force. Durability could be an issue.