Today, I will attempt to explain to you what to look for when scouting the inside linebacker position.
Remember that analyzing actual game film is the best tool at your disposal to use when scouting a particular player. To me, it makes up about 90% of the scouting report. The other 10% includes a player's background check and their pre-draft workouts. All three of these combined make up the final scouting report.
This article will mainly focus on analyzing linebackers that fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme, because that is the scheme that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli chooses to use.
Determining a linebackers scheme fit might just be the most important thing that needs to be done when analyzing an individual player.
In the NFL, there are really just two defensive schemes that are used, the 3-4 defense and the 4-3 defense.
Unfortunately, there are different variations of these two different defensive schemes, so it makes it that much more difficult to identify which defense a linebacker is best suited to play in.
A Rod Marinelli run defense is a variation of the 4-3 defense, but he likes his linebackers to play Cover 2.
This variation of the 4-3 defense usually uses smaller more athletic linebackers that use their speed to make plays all over the field. These linebackers are capable of making plays in both the running and passing game.
The difference between a 4-3 linebacker and a 3-4 linebacker isn't a very noticeable. A lot of linebackers can play in either defensive scheme. Really, the only real difference is that 3-4 linebackers have to be able to be a little bit more physical because they are asked to take on offensive lineman more often.
Identifying the scheme fit that is one of the most important things to do when analyzing linebacker position.
A linebackers instincts might just be the most important trait to look for when studying game film. This is something that cannot be coached. It is either something they are born with or not.
Some players just have a knack of knowing what's going to happen on any given play and are able to put themselves in position to make a tackle.
The term "football IQ" is thrown around a lot when discussing a player's instincts, but I personally don't like that term. It suggests that a player can study to improve their instincts, but I think that is a misinterpretation.
A player can study game film and learn a teams tendencies and what plays they like to run in certain situations, but that doesn't improve their instincts. That just improves their knowledge of the game.
When studying game film I like to look for a LB who is continually in position to make a play by diagnosing and reacting, almost like they know what play is being run before the offense does.
Athletic ability is much more important for 4-3 Cover 2 linebackers that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to use in his defensive scheme.
4-3 Cover 2 LBs are asked to rely more on their speed and athleticism to make plays in both the running and passing game. They are more dual threat linebackers that generally play all three downs.
I like to analyze a LBs change of direction capabilities, because it is rare that a player is running in a straight line to make a tackle. I look to see if a linebacker is able to chop his feet and change directions in the blink of an eye when needed.
Lack of flexibility and hip stiffness can limit a players athletic ability.
Athleticism is a broad term and there are a lot of things to look for when trying to analyze this trait for a player. That is why I just try to look for a linebacker that is smooth and his movements and can make plays all over the field.
A linebackers strength may be more important to those players that are better suited to play in the 3-4 defensive scheme, where they are asked to take on offensive lineman more often, but it is still an important trait for 4-3 linebackers as well.
It doesn't really matter what defensive scheme a LB is playing in. They still have to be able to fight through traffic and use their strength to stack and shed offensive lineman to get to the ball carrier in the running game.
Strength is also important when making a tackle. Running backs and linebackers are about the same size in the NFL today, so the stronger player is usually the one that wins the battle in most cases.
When analyzing game film I look for a linebacker who consistently is able to use his strength when taking on offensive lineman and win these battles more times than not.
I really only look for leadership in quarterbacks, centers, and linebackers because of their responsibilities to the team.
I like to think of linebackers as being the general on the field and their responsibility is to get the other 10 players to rally behind him when they go into battle.
It's not a very easy trait to analyze. You really have to pay close attention to how the LB handles himself on the field and even the sidelines.
Character background checks and pre-draft workouts/interviews are a good tool to use to find out more about a player's leadership capabilities.
What I try to look for is more about their movement skills and how they are able to position themselves in pass coverage.
Does it look like they have an understanding of where they need to be in pass coverage? Do they seem aware of the routes that are being run by the receivers? Are they capable of running with a receiver throughout the route?
These are all things I try to look for when analyzing a linebackers pass coverage capabilities.
I also like to see if they were able to come away with an interception when the ball is thrown in their direction. It's just an added bonus when you can find a linebacker that is capable of easily catching a football.
Tackling is an inside linebacker's main job, right? The easiest thing to do would be to look at the linebackers statistics to see how many tackles he is making per game, but statistics can be misleading.
Where are those tackles taking place? Are they 10 yards down the field or at the line of scrimmage?
When watching game film I like to keep a chart and keep track of where those tackles are taking place. I like to use X's for when a linebacker makes a tackle and O's for a missed tackle.
I use a diagram of what type of defense the linebacker is playing in (3-4 or 4-3) when charting where all of these tackles are taking place. This gives you a much better understanding of where the LB is making plays.
I like to analyze whether or not a LB is in position to make a play and how well he is reading and reacting to what is going on.
Using a chart is a handy tool that helps in this analysis.
To me, the linebacker position is one of the more entertaining positions to scout and analyze. They are always always around the ball and in the thick of things from when the ball is snapped, up until the whistle is blown.
The scheme fit is probably one of the most important things to identify when analyzing game film, but all of these traits that were mentioned are things I like to look for when scouting the linebacker position.
The player that has really caught my eye and has somewhat flown under the radar during this entire draft process is Nick Vigil out of Utah State.
He looks as if he has all the traits that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli looks for in a linebacker and might be available in the fourth round when the Cowboys are on the clock.
Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?
You may not be aware or maybe you've simply forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled drafting players in the 2nd-round who can come in and contribute. Typically players drafted this highly are not only immediate contributors as a rookie, but are cornerstone players for years to come. That hasn't been the case for the Cowboys.
I don't know where you stand, but I was beginning to think the Dallas Cowboys were cursed with their 2nd-round draft picks. I know this was an area where they would gamble on players for some reason or another, but unfortunately it never really paid off. Hopefully, things are changing for the better.
Let's take a look back at past drafts to see what I'm talking about.
Past 2nd-Round Draft Picks Dating Back to 2006:
2018 Connor Williams
2017 Chidobe Awuzie
2016 Jaylon Smith
2015 Randy Gregory
2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
2013 Gavin Escobar
2012 (no selection) used to trade for Morris Claiborne
2011 Bruce Carter
2010 Sean Lee
2009 (no selection) traded out of 2nd-round
2008 Martellus Bennett
2007 (no selection) used to trade back into 1st for Anthony Spencer
2006 Anthony Fasano
You may be wondering why I decided to start all the way back in 2006. Well, I believe that's when the 2nd-round draft picks curse started for the Dallas Cowboys.
Anthony Fasano ended up having a solid career in the NFL, but he never lived up to his draft status as a former 2nd-round draft pick. The same can be said for Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, and Bruce Carter. Shed a tear for them if you want, but I'd put them in the "bust" category.
The sad truth is, Sean Lee is the only 2nd-round draft pick on this list to ever see a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Although, I guess you can include DeMarcus Lawrence since he will be playing under the franchise tag in 2018. But, that's still not a very good hit percentage in the 2nd-round for more than a decade. Luckily, it looks as if things are changing.
DeMarcus Lawrence might end up being another "hit" for the Cowboys. It may have taken him four years to reach his potential, but there's no denying how dominant he was last season. If he can maintain that dominance this season, he could be looking at a big payday from the Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys took a risk on the next two players they drafted after D-Law. They knew Randy Gregory had his off the field issues, but were willing to take a chance on his talent in the 2nd-round. That has yet to pay off, but Gregory has a chance to rebound now that it looks as if he has his life back in order.
The Cowboys took another risk in the following draft when they drafted Jaylon Smith. No one knew if he would ever be able to play again after the devastating knee injury he sustained in his final collegiate game, but it's looking as if he could make a full recovery and return to his pre-injury form. Year 3 will be big for him, but he could end up being an absolute steal.
Fortunately, the Cowboys 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks (Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams) look to be cornerstone players for years to come. That's what you're looking for in players drafted this highly.
I say all of this because it's really looking like the Dallas Cowboys have finally broken their 2nd-round curse. Maybe it's a change in draft philosophy or maybe it's because Will McClay's voice carries more weight in the draft room, but it's definitely good news for the future of the franchise. Hopefully it continues.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys 2nd-round curse has ended?
Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?
The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.
But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.
Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.
Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.
First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.
On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.
What about the rest of the class?
Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.
After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.
How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?
One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.
Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.
But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.
Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.
Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.
Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.
One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.
In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.
Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?
Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.
The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.
Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.
Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.
For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.
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