Will I Am?

Justin Houston

Justin Houston shows some 3-4 OLB skills covering a Florida WR.

In the NFL, all linebackers are not created equal. Either through skills or build, some prospects are better suited for the 4-3 and others for the 3-4. Some will play on the left side, while others will line up on the right.

Each of the four linebacker positions in the Patriots defensive scheme has different responsibilities, and general characteristics required to carry out those duties.

With Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes holding down the “Jack” and “Mike” inside-linebacker positions, and Gary Guyton plus Dane Fletcher in reserve, the Patriots really only need to focus on the outside linebacker positions this off-season.

Rookie Jermaine Cunningham played well at the “Sam” position, or LOLB, with first-year Patriot Eric Moore playing well as a backup at both 3-4 DE and OLB.

Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich both saw time starting in 2010, but would be better suited as backups for the “Will” position, or ROLB. This is the position that the Patriots should be looking to upgrade in the 2011 NFL Draft.

The “Will” position typically looks for long, explosive, pass-rush specialists that can at least disrupt passing lanes if they are unable to sack the quarterback. They can give up a little more in the run support department, as the “Mike” should be shaded to their side. They need to have the ability to drop into a basic zone, although some man coverage skills would also be a plus.

Here are three players that could fit the mold and become the next “Will” for the New England Patriots.

Robert Quinn, North Carolina (6’5″, 260)
Quinn might be the most explosive athlete in the entire 2011 NFL Draft. He has an elite burst and incredible speed, which he uses to apply pressure in the opponents backfield.

The former North Carolina standout didn’t play in 2010 due to “agent issues”, but should be able to show his athleticism and ability to play in space at his combine and private workouts.

Aldon Smith, Missouri (6’5″, 260)
Smith is another incredible athlete that has a limited amount of tape on him, as he declared after his redshirt-sophomore season. His incredibly long arms should be very useful in batting down balls and employing his devastating swim move.

Young Smith, who will only turn 22 late in the 2011 season, still has a lot of work to do – specifically strengthening both his upper and lower body. He will also need to show an ability to play in space at the combine, where we hope he goes through the OLB drills as well as the DL drills.

Justin Houston, Georgia (6’3″, 250)
Houston is probably the safest of all these picks, as he played OLB in a 3-4 defense last year at Georgia. He has shown some ability to play in space and his acumen as a pass rusher is well-known.

That said, he is the least explosive of the bunch here. His upside is a bit limited, but he could become a Roosevelt Colvin-esque type of player for the Patriots.

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31 Responses to “Will I Am?”

  1. Bruschi54 says:

    Interesting listening to Mike Mayock talk about Quinn yesterday, he listed him at 6’4″ 275lbs, and said that he thinks he is top DE prospect in draft (ahead of Bowers). If he is up to 275lbs do you still see him as stand up OLB for long ? As great an athlete as he is, that is a big man covering the flat, good OC’s will really test his coverage ability if that weight is accurate. If we trade up to get him I am sure it will be because the expectation is he will be 3 down player, not 1 trick pony. I think we definitely need the pass rush trick he brings, but I think his weigh-in this weekend will be very telling.

  2. Bruschi54 says:

    What do you think the chances are that the Pats will pursue Ray Edwards in free agency to play the Will spot? He had an off season last year, but physically is what BB looks for in that position. He would allow them a pad to develop young player if they don’ t target someone early in this draft.

  3. prioris says:

    Snag GREG ROMEUS with 60th pick as second OLB and put on IR if still injured until 2012 season. If first OLB doesn’t work, you still have a sure starter waiting in wings if he is healthy.

  4. TD says:

    Yes, after day 1 is done, BB will be Marlon Brando in the Godfather at his daughter’s wedding.
    I also think there will be plenty of calls at #17 depending on who has fallen.

    • Steve says:

      Especially if QB’s are sitting there…that could work out great for the Pats…one or two QBs slip down and teams start freaking out behind them.
      There’s too much drama

  5. Ian says:

    I will be shocked if the Pats use the 33rd pick on any player this year. They have the first pick of the second day which means teams will have about 18 hours to re-evaluate their boards and throw ridiculous deals the Pats way. Someone will fall in love with a player and be shocked he is still on the board. Don’t be surprised to see two first rounders this years picked as well as next year. Pats love to stockpile.

    • Jeff says:

      100% Agree with that. The one thing we all know is that the Pats will be active in the draft when it comes to trades.

    • Steve says:

      At some point & time you have to cash in your chips…I’m hoping they realize this and head to the window because they are not winning in the playoffs. Time to get a game changer…use the assets you’ve stocked up; I’ve understood why they have done it so far, but now is the time to use them.

  6. PatsFan401 says:

    Everyone’s said no way BB drafts a LB in the 1st, then Mayo goes 10.
    BB is never gonna select an O-lineman in the 1st, hello Mankins. Now, i hear the same for RB. Book it, Ingram goes in the 1st to the Pats.

    • Steve says:

      I have a funny feeling he loves that kid also….he’s a talent, but more so, a perfect fit for what they do. A larger Kevin Faulk…it’s been said a bunch, but it’s so true.
      I don’t see it at #17, but if he’s there at #28 or #33 I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

  7. TD says:

    IMO, the way the offensive line works lends itself to good, smart players and is not dependent on having “stud” linemen, which we seem to get from UDFA and FA’s in general which translates into cheap money. I would be willing to bet that there are at least 2-3 backups close to starting; Connelly, Wendell and LeVoir. Granted Mankins is a beast and one of the NFL’s best, but BB is not going to give away the house for him, his scheme and results do not require him to.
    I’m stunned that with the NFL’s best offense, fans are calling for top picks to be used on WR’s & RB’s. Outside of QB, I doubt BB would ever use a top pick on WR or RB. The organization is not good at picking those positions in the draft as say GB is with WR or SD with RB’s. He is good at picking Defensive players, which is what we need right now.

  8. CC says:

    If Cunninham step’s up like he should…and better, I’d feel alot better.

    I don’t see BB giving up 2 of the 1st three pick’s + no less an unknown late rounder for “just one guy” who’s gonna be much more expensive. Two of these three didn’t have senior year to either mature and grow or for us to check out………?

    -We have alot more work than ppl think we do with 1/. Kazur’s type of back injury(one that doesn’t just go away), he was out all season…….2/. Neil although been here a while- he has always been consistant injury prone….was out all season…….i don’t think either will be either at the level ppl think they will be at throughout or be each worth much more than 1/2 the season each.
    3/. Who know’s really yet about the Mankin’s “soap opera” in the end…..when ever that could be…….and 4/. A D-line that was partially the year before, and certainly after this year has been injured to the core basically – no one really know’s the extent of them fully yet????

    Power RB,
    There is alot more need than some think IMO. We had alot of luck on our side last season, this year we clearly need: “stability and playmaker’s”………
    Pray free agency does us well.
    Cause that’s where I’d get me the veteran DE we need, a veteran Power Running Back and a veteran Linebacker….. even if we did draft one early already……..

    • Steve says:

      Quinn is NOT project, more than any player (rookie or convert) coming into that system. He’s a talent, and a game changer. There may not be as many spots available on this team coming up depending on free agents coming & going; more so, you have an enormous amount of youth already on the team (a point I read this week that was brilliant), so do you really want another 3-5 rookies on that defense?
      As far as cost, I would bet the top picks are scaled back; hopefully considerably…into some sort of reasonable zone. That being said, what were the Pats willing to pay Peppers? I thihk Quinn is a younger, faster, quicker (not as big or strong) Peppers. He’s a better system fit…almost perfect.
      You pay for talent…there’s no getting around this. They took Mayo and they pay him more…it’s worth the dollars.
      There’s the risk that some of these guys won’t be playing football in a few years, if not sooner…because they may not have it; so, a top talent/athlete has LESS risk than a guy taken at the top of the 2nd or beyond.
      I don’t think the not playing for a year means much at all…if he shows he’s in great shape and shows off some serious freakish athleticism than teams will pounce on him. I say he’ll be fresh and well healed…ready to go. You think someone forgets how to run after a QB? Shouldn’t take to long to knock the cobwebs off…it’s just defensive football.

      If they see value being there at 28 & 33….solid players available to them, then I would say stay and take them, but if they question this at all then trade up, even if it costs you more for the one player.

      They need that game changer at that position…it makes the secondary that much better across the board, so you gain value there also.

      • CC says:

        Never said Quinn was a project. I just don’t want any out of this draft that’s for sure, at any possition. I’d trade up/double up & give two for one for all guarantees with/for every pick this year.
        Next year a project or two…. o.k.-but not this one.
        This is not the year to be hopfull, and hope for a diamond in the ruff or try 2 get cheap.
        *Quinn- His speed/control/weight-size/abilities…he’s a major passing impact…he’s like almost a perfect 3-4 OLb in our system. Other than making sure he’s sticking 2 the game plan/assignment plan and not just straight shooting for the QB 2 quickly-I’d totally grab him, as long as he stand’s firm regarding his on the field disipline/strategy it’s a no brainer, Quinn is the Shizit for us to tag.
        Although I’m just not sure BB will jump up and give up “2 of the 1st three” “+ a ? late rounder” for him?
        I’d love for him to jump up and grab impact now talent like that.

    • Steve says:

      I agree…they can’t bring in rookies across the board on all these positions. The team is ready to win and you have such a young defense and team now; so, they really need free agency to fill and mix with the many rookies they will be bringing in even if they trade a few away or into the future.
      The good news is all the other teams will be facing the same issue concering having to draft players to fill needs more than normal years, I suppose.

  9. Bruschi54 says:

    Quinn would be great, but I think it is not likely that BB trades up. Still not sold like everyone else on Smith, hope he is the player everyone thinks if he ends up with us. I like Houston a lot, but he could be gone by 28, do they value him enough at 17? Based on the specs listed for the position, not sure how the 6’4″ 263lb, Ryan Kerrigan is not mentioned. Needs work in pass coverage, like Quinn and Smith, but is a hell of a football player with incredible production vs top competition. Would not be disappointed at all with Kerrigan on board next season opposite Cunningham.

  10. Steve says:

    I like them in that order, but would be happy to see them draft any of the 3. I feel Quinn has the ability to be a superstar, and Smith may also…both are athletic kids with great measurables. Houston has grown on me, and I think he would be a nice addition.

    I just feel that Quinn is a top 5 talent, and Smith is top 12, with Houston being a first rounder.

    So, we’ll see…should be interesting.

  11. TD says:

    I think the reason why BB does not draft these OLB’s high is that there is a huge learning curve, even for vet’s. Thomas had a lot of problems playing OLB, Vrabel took a few years as did McGinest. I just don’t see BB trading his draft assets to move up to get a Quinn, although I think it would be great. Also have to figure in the salary of that pick while he sits and learns.

    • Steve says:

      Amen…that’s what it’s all about, and that’s why he at least, usually, wants film on a guy having made it to the pro level…takes some of the guess work out of it. Guys like Vrabel, Colvin and even Thomas were pros already.

      The 3-4 he runs demands so much out of these OLB’s…they have to be big, smart, run stoppers, pass rushers, pass defenders, play readers, etc…

      I’ve said this before, BB’s greatest quality, to me, is he seems to learn…evolve. I think it’s time to find some talent at that position, and he did go out, with success, last year and draft a rookie in Cunningham, who hopefully will take a large step up this year.

      • TD says:

        In one of the books on BB it seems that he and his old roommate, Ernie Adams brainstorm on such things as larger picture strategy, such as, eliminating distractions (media, NFL, etc), evolving the offense & defense, evolution of asst. coaches. I’m sure the two of them at one time sat and figured how to get Kraft out of the football decisions in order to restore sanity to contracts.

        I think this evolution of an organization is one of the lessons he learned from Parcells. BP had his way of doing things, but he was stubborn allowing his guys control to alter plans in the face of adversity. He was magnificent in turning programs around, but when it was required to refine his dictatorial way to win the big one, he kept exerting his control.

      • Steve says:

        I haven’t read any books on BB. To respond to TD (below this), but I see a max/min guy…type of management…a systems guy. It’s basic management…see a problem and come up with the best solution, but do it long-term, set a policy/procedure and then make it part of the whole.
        The greatest example is how he, and the team, deal with the media. He came to the Pats and dealt with some big distratractions (I’m recalling Terry Glenn???), and he was more candid back then. Big mistake! He learned a valuable lesson, if you give the media ANYTHING they will twist and turn it, throw in your face 7 years later; so, you say NOTHING, give them nothing…and every time.
        Then, you make that a policy of the team, and take it very seriously. See Wes Welker sitting out first series of the Jets game, if that was regular season he would have sat out a quarter or half, if he was lucky. He took that policy and threw it to the side to be an ass, and it became a huge distraction…something every player had to answer to (and coachs!) all week long.

        It’s a problem, a solution, and then a policy…then, focus on football.

      • TD says:

        The thing that BB does best is seperate the emotions from the situations, that way he may make a better decision. I’m sure when it’s Brady’s time to go, it will be thanks for the memories, but we’re moving forward and I’m doing what’s best for the team.
        With the media, he’s learned that by giving them very little over time they stop asking and wasting his valuable time.

  12. Jeff says:

    I would love Quinn as well but just dont see Bill giving up picks to move up to get him. BB just doesnt seem to value OLBs as much as we do…

    • Steve says:

      It’s that he does value them, but he knows it’s a huge step up in position change & challenge in his system; so he values the top picks more. Meaning, he doesn’t want to gamble the pick away…taking a McCourty or Mankins etc…is far more logical.
      But, maybe he rethinks this now…gambles a bit more now with all these picks.

  13. Sciz says:

    I like Quinn and Aldon a lot. Houston seems like a good fit if he measures in at a full 6-3 with good arms, but what happens if he comes in at 6022 with 32 1/4 inch arms or something like that? Until we get official measurements (this Saturday), I’m skeptical about him being legit OLB size.

    • Steve says:

      Then you have to ask yourself if he’s an upgrade over Rob Ninkovich at 6’2″ 250 lbs; and I say he would be.

      • Sciz says:

        He’s be an upgrade as far as a pass rusher, but that’s not enough to make it onto the field for the Pats. Whoever wants to displace Ninkovich as a starting OLB is going to have to show that they can hold their own against the run on early downs, and I think Houston is pretty questionable in that category.

        And I have no idea why Ninkovich is listed as 6’2″ all these places. He was officially 6031 at the combine.

  14. Ian says:

    Please get Quinn…If he had played this past season he most likely would have gone in the top 3 this year. With that said we could have him but we would need to trade into the top eight to get ahead of Dallas and Houston. I think the package of 17, 60 and a fifth would be tempting for teams. We need impact players who are ready now. I think Quinn is a Pro Bowl talent who could average ten plus sacks a year. First three picks of Quinn, Wilkerson and Mikel LaShoure would be my perfect draft.

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