As we approach the NFL draft later this month, we wanted to go on record about a couple of players we really like in this year’s class. This is always a risky business, but these are guys that we think are going to be terrific pros even if talent evaluators are finding some warts in their profiles. Here’s our defensive pick (along with a fallback option); we’ll focus on offense tomorrow.
FYI, you can click on the Draft category here on the blog to read previous draft coverage, which already features analyses of Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow.
It’s obvious that the defensive studs in this class like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Eric Berry will be great additions to their teams. But if you forced me to pick one player from this year’s class who will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, I’d go with OLB Sergio Kindle of Texas.
Kindle played linebacker and defensive end in his Longhorns career, and he was a force at both positions. Kindle has great pass-rushing skills, but he can play from a standing stance and drop into coverage. And his performance in the national championship game against Alabama, which featured 2.5 sacks, shows that he’s a gamer as well. It’s unfair to compare Kindle to former Texas teammate Brian Orakpo, who vaulted his way into the Pro Bowl in his rookie year with the Redskins, but we get the sense that Kindle will be an impact player right away. He can play strong-side linebacker in a 4-3, dropping into a pass-rushing position at times, or he could be a terrific outside linebacker in a Steelers’ style 3-4. That kind of versatility makes Kindle a terrific prospect. We see Kindle as the best linebacker in this class – we’d rather have him than Rolando McClain of Alabama, who’s more of an inside backer, and he’s more versatile than Michigan OLB Brandon Graham, who’s more of a 3-4 player.
We can see Kindle having the kind of rookie impact that Orakpo or Brian Cushing did last year, with him ultimately becoming a Terrell Suggs type of player. And if a team can get that kind of impact from Kindle after pick 15, it will be a huge coup. Tennessee at 16, San Francisco at 17, or even Denver at 11, Miami at 12, and the Giants at 15 would all benefit from adding Kindle. The hunch here is that Kindle could last into the 20s, though, which will be a mistake for the teams that don’t put Kindle in their shopping cart. (That’s an Amazon joke. Fact: My cousin’s 2-year-old daughter once ordered a Kindle online. She didn’t get to keep it.)
And if you like Kindle but miss out, there’s another guy who’s kind of a Kindle in South Carolina’s Eric Norwood. Norwood played both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Gamecocks, and he made a huge impact at both spots. Norwood had 54 tackles for loss and 29 sacks in his career, and he also showed a knack for knocking the ball out on fumbles and for recording interceptions. Norwood isn’t tall enough to be a prime prospect at outside linebacker, but he can be a terrific 3-4 outside linebacker, a la LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers or Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos. Norwood’s rated as a late second-round pick by Pro Football Weekly right now, and a contender that picks Norwood in that spot will be thrilled with what he does for them. He’d be a great fit for the Patriots with one of their three second-round picks.