As the debate rages on about who would be the better pick among linebackers Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen in the first round, the reality is neither will probably be there for the Packers to claim with their 30th overall selection.
The prospect of losing out on both of them, however, shouldn’t be viewed in tragic terms given the bounty of inside and/or weak-side linebackers that could be awaiting Packers’ management in the second and third rounds.
Some or all of these options possess many of the characteristics that Mike Pettine covets in his second-level defenders in that they all bring varying levels of versatility to the table.
Throughout his time in the NFL, the longtime defensive coordinator has proven to be committed to putting his best players on the field irrespective of their position.
This is especially true when Pettine employs his 4-3 “Bear” front in which he’ll utilize three traditional linemen — two ends and a nose — to clog up the middle surrounded by fast, athletic bodies that can contain plays on the perimeter, especially against run-pass options (RPOs).
Defending the run with as few box players as possible hasn’t always worked out for the Packers. But with newly-acquired Christian Kirksey already in tow, adding another heady/athletic linebacker to the mix could work wonders for a unit that may be a few tweaks away from being a true powerhouse.
Any one among this fantastic foursome could be on the receiving end of a highly-anticipated phone call from Brian Gutekunst while a plethora of names come off the board Friday night.
Reading through the 23-year-old’s bio, one can instantly make the connection between Wilson’s experience as a defensive back at Natrona County High School and the ease he displayed in dropping into coverage during his days as a starting inside linebacker for the Wyoming Cowboys.
Whether watching him operate against New Mexico State or San Diego State, it’s quite evident that Wilson is more than just a guy with a smooth backpedal. The 240-pound prospect is a master at sniffing out pass plays by reading a quarterback’s eyes.
Those anticipatory traits also came into play with Wilson coming straight at the offense as a downhill defender by often being the first Cowboy to the ball carrier when disrupting delayed or misdirection screen passes. In total, No. 30 recorded 10 interceptions and 14 pass breakups as a result of his efforts in pass coverage in the Mountain West Conference.
In addition, Wilson distinguished himself as a run stuffer by showing the ability to gain leverage on his opponent by getting underneath him before making contact with the oncoming running back. While he’ll never be confused with being the most physical of linebackers, the young technician comes into the NFL as a skilled form tackler who’s more concerned with bringing his man down than blowing him up.
As a student of the game, the First Team All Mountain West enforcer generally plays under control and tends to take good angles when playing the run. But there will be instances when he’s so quick to the ball that he’ll overrun or flat out miss the intended receiver or ball carrier.
The other concern with Wilson is his solid — but hardly extraordinary — 4.6 40 speed and how that translates to the pros given that he played in one of the lesser conferences in the NCAA Division I FBS.
While there’s no doubt about Wilson possessing the tools to be effective in zone coverage, questions persist on how he’ll fare running straight downfield with a tight end in one-on-one coverage?
One look at Gaither’s wiry frame and most people will instantly peg him as a defensive back when, in fact, the 22-year-old only is only interested in lining up as a weakside linebacker.
At about 6’1”, 222 pounds, the former Appalachian State Mountaineer is certified crowd pleaser. His uncontained energy not only allowed him to be a pestering game wrecker for the opposition, but his on-field exuberance also fired up his teammates.
Gaither was particularly effective at attacking the line of scrimmage by employing his great quickness and aggressive nature to slither through traffic and consistently disrupt plays. And once he gets to the ball carrier, he levels him with full force.
There is no hesitancy in his game when it came to executing open-field tackles or showing the instincts to elevate and deflect passes. The small-school phenom does everything at full speed.
When attacking the offense as a blitzer off the edge — as he did versus South Carolina — Gaither shows off a lethal inside move to get around larger offensive tackles, along with terrific get-off at the snap.
And once he gets into the backfield, the fiery defender’s closing speed will often see him get to the quarterback. In 2019, the senior registered 5 sacks.
The rangy defender also comes with the kind of speed to be a sideline-to-sideline force and chase down opponents from behind. Moreover, Gaither was competent at setting the edge from the outside versus the run.
Though the self-described “lion in a cage” is great at running around blockers, his lack of size will frequently see him get stonewalled when he engages head-on with a 250-pound tight end or 300-pound lineman.
The other concern with Gaither is his ability to play man coverage. It’s hard to find instances of him shadowing targets downfield as a collegian and it’s a deficiency that he’ll need to be coached up on at the next level.
The 2019 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year’s passion and physical attributes should make him an impactful player on special teams.
Willie Gay Jr.
The 6’1”, 243-pound SEC product enters the NFL with a host of red flags, including serving an eight-game suspension in 2019 for cheating on a chemistry exam and breaking a teammates orbital bone in a fight.
Gay’s off-the-field trangressions may see him dip into the late rounds, but skillwise he projects as a solid third-round pick considering his physical strength and sideline-to-sideline speed.
The former Bulldog uses his 4.46 speed and massive 10 ½” hands to fight tooth and nail with oncoming blockers. His powerful lower body gives him the ability to stay on his feet and work his way toward the ball carrier.
His 2018 performance versus Alabama provides a hearty sampling of the young man’s skill set, including his attributes as a form tackler in the way he goes low and wraps up his opponents whether he’s tackling a receiver in the flat or sacking the quarterback.
Gay is also an intelligent player who can fake the blitz, drop back and get in position to make plays on the ball, as he did on his interception off Tua Tagovailoa.
Where the highly reactive defender falls short is in the running game, especially when it comes to taking the proper angles as an inside or middle linebacker. His undisciplined nature often leads Gay to make the wrong read.
Based on his film, Gay should only be evaluated as an outside linebacker.
The Houston native has been a steady — and at times spectacular — contributor during his four years at Texas Tech, recording 86, 89, 84 and 108 tackles in each of his four years as a starter in the Big 12.
Flashing 4.54 speed, Brooks is both quick and fluid in ranging laterally in pursuit of ball carriers.
The 240-pound dynamo is a capable form tackler who knows how to take out his adversaries by aiming at their lower body whether it’s sacking the quarterback or neutralizing a receiver in the open field.
However, Brooks projects as a downhill player who must win with quickness, as he often gets lost in the trash when engaging in hand-to-hand combat with bigger blockers.
Furthermore, the former Red Raider isn’t a natural when dropping into coverage and is susceptible to biting on play-action fakes.——————
When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.