Here are my potential 5-tech, OLB, and LEO targets. If you haven't already made the connection, I've changed my name from the late-night-what-should-I-call-myself-? handle, Acute, to the name my mother gave me, Ben Harbaugh. Danny asked me if I'd like to become a regular contributor so I thought I might as well join the 'League of Men with Real Names,' as I saw RagingAlot put it. I also figured that people would see my last name and say "oh golly, he's a Harbaugh and talking football? I should start taking notes and worship him as a football prophet."
Now, off with the narcissism-cap and on with the analysis-cap. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if David Hawthorne's time as our starting MLB might be limited, if not finished. Hawthorne is an unrestricted free agent this off season. He is only 26 (27 on May 14th) and has been mostly solid for us despite battling injuries. However, Pete wants more speed and more pass rush and neither are an asset for Hawthorne.
Don't get me wrong, I like Heater and hope that he's back with us next season. I just don't think we'll commit to him as a long term starter like we did with say, Brandon Mebane. When Pete talks about adding speed at LB it's hard believe he's referring to anything except the MLB position manned by Hawthorne. We're obviously happy with KJ Wright so he's out. Malcolm Smith is faster than Leroy Hill but we aren't adding anyone with him and Hill still mostly looks the part of an athletic-speed-LB. Hawthorne on the other hand looked downright slow to me at times this year. Injuries obviously played a role in that but well, it is what it is.
At the very least I feel the MLB position could be open for competition (bold statement I know). My roundabout point is that people shouldn't discount a potential early MLB pick.
Speed reigns supreme as the attribute of most interest. In a more practical sense I'll be looking for the ability to cover the flats and pursue to the sidelines. Coverage and run support are also important and a little pass rush never hurt too. Discipline is a quality many overlook which Pete is pretty high on. Basically I want the world. I think it's worth framing it in this light because Hawthorne is indeed a capable starter and still relatively young. Bobby Wagner is the one guy off the OLB list who jumps out at me as someone who could move inside.
Luke Kuechly (6-2 237) Junior from Boston College
While many Hawk fans are jumping up and down at RG3 entering the draft, I'm rocking back and forth (can't jump up and down because I just tore my ACL) for Luke Kuechly. Initial reports suggested he intended to return to BC but I guess he changed his mind. There isn't much talent toward the top of this draft and adding one more promising name to the list of options for the Hawks could prove crucial.
Kuechly isn't the outstanding physical specimen you'd hope a top 15 pick would be. He's somewhat undersized and doesn't have great straight-line speed. But what Kuechly does have are some suspiciously ESP like instincts. He has an amazing knack for putting himself directly in the path of the ball carrier, which is how he amassed a whopping 516 tackles over his three year college career.
Kuechly reacts almost instantly to the play and gets to the spot for the tackle in a hurry. Once there he breaks down exceptionally well, sometimes surprising both himself and the ball carrier when he pops the guy after a juke or cut-back. He usually tackles high which can lead to some impressive stops but we might see him get truck-sticked a few times at the next level. He's dangerous in coverage with seven career interceptions and ten passes defensed. Kuechly could take our defense to another level.
Here is a scouting report. Below you can watch him against Florida State this year and here he is against Central Florida, also from this year. Here he is against Clemson last year and here is his 2010 TMBDraft analysis
Audie Cole (6-4 239) RS Senior from North Carolina State
Audie Cole is a very versatile LB. He plays fast and anticipates well. He's comfortable dropping into zone and attacking the LOS alike. Cole is the best pass rusher on this list combining an explosive first step, good length, a high motor, and closing speed to finish the deal. If he can develop a pass rush move or two then I could even see him earning snaps at LEO. Cole could also play SAM due to his coverage skills.
Tackling is his greatest concern. Far too often he takes a bad angle or over-pursues. However, I don't think this is an incurable ailment like it was with Curry. Cole is a heady player and with some firm coaching from Ken Norton Jr, he should be able to temper these tendencies. Cole is definitely one to keep an eye on as the diversity of his skill set might be very attractive to us.
Mychal Kendricks (5-11 240) Senior from California
Mychal Kendricks is one explosive ball of muscle. There's a lot to like about him but also a lot to nit pick. What intrigues me about Kendricks is how fast and deadly he is in pursuit. He really flies to the football and delivers punishing hits when he gets there. He thumps blockers and ball carriers alike between the tackles but has some trouble shedding once engaged. He's more agile than you'd expect for a guy with his build but can struggle to break down and wrap up. He accumulated 8.5 sacks as an OLB in 2010 via mostly speed rush and relentless pursuit. He's a very dangerous blitzer from the inside.
Kendricks gets sufficient depth in his drops and changes direction quickly but often breaks late on the ball. Maybe Pete will let that slide given our bend-don't-break defense. The "kill switch" is flipped as soon as he locates the ball though. In man coverage he's excellent since the "kill switch" is flipped as soon as he diagnosis pass. Who knows if the Pac-12 connection still means anything but I can guarantee Fan Favorite status if we pick him.
Here is a highlight reel and below you can watch him play OLB against Washington last year. Unfortunately I couldn't turn up any tape of him at ILB this year.
Emmanuel Acho (6-2 240) Senior from Texas
Emmanuel Acho has a nice all around make-up for the MIKE LB spot with solid length, speed, aggression, and intelligence. He's a chase-and-tackle player who will patrol the sidelines making plays. He's not overly stout against the run but he can navigate traffic and uses his long arms well to shed. Like his teammate Robinson, Acho wasn't asked to blitz much and maybe has some untapped potential there.
Acho reacts well in coverage and generally appears pretty coordinated for an LB. He should have enough athleticism to hold his own in man coverage too. His downside is a frustrating number of mental mistakes like biting on play-action or following misdirection, which probably stems from his aggressive playing style. Acho could be an excellent mid-round option to compete with Hawthorne right away.
Here is a scouting report and below you can see him against Oklahoma last year.
Big thanks as usual to DraftBreakdown for the excellent scouting videos they put together. If it wasn't for their hard, unheralded and humble work, we'd be forced to watch those godawful horrible highlight videos with terrible soundtracks all day. So, thanks to Aaron Aloysius, JMPasq, JPDraftJedi, TTN2810, MARI0clp and the whole DraftBreakdown crew.