Most of us acknowledge that the Jets' biggest need or the biggest issue standing in the way of winning the Lombardi Trophy is the lack of consistent pass rush/pressure on opposing QBs. As we know, that is one of the primary responsibilities of OLBs in a 3-4 alignment and they are the primary means of pressuring QBs in the 3-4 alignment. One problem is that few college programs traditionally have played the 3-4, and even when they have, they may play a different version than most NFL teams. Their players are generally smaller as well, so it's not always easy to project them and other collegiate defenders into the OLB position. Most often, it's collegiate DEs who have to make the transition to the OLB position. Most of them have never dropped into coverage, and since covering TEs and RBs is part of the responsibility of OLBs in the 3-4 alignment, that complicates the issue. After the jump, I'll discuss some of the other problems and an interesting table and article I found at Football's Future with regard to OLBs.
With more teams than perhaps ever playing a 3-4 alignment, being able to draft a good OLB prospect is getting harder than ever. Most likely, the Patriots will look to add an OLB prospect. The Chargers, Broncos, Ravens, Packers and other 3-4 teams probably will be as well, as one can never have enough pass rushers. Another problem is that due to the importance of the pass rush (since the NFL has become more of a passing league), OLB prospects get overdrafted and many of them wind up being busts. According to an article I recently read at this site, sack numbers over the last five years or so are down, thus putting more pressure on 3-4 teams to find that stud pass rusher at the OLB position. In this process, some teams can be too influenced by the measurables and reach for players in desperation. As far as the Jets are concerned, they either haven't been in the right place in the draft to get that elite prospect or had other needs. For example, in 2006, there were several very good OLB prospects: Tamba Hali, Kamerion Wimbley and Manny Lawson, and the Jets were finally in the right spot to be able to take the one they wanted. The problem was that the OL was in shambles. It had been ignored/inadequately addressed for too many years, and so they were forced to take both D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. While that has worked out very well for the Jets, it would have been nice to add Tamba Hali, even though he was drafted by the Chiefs as a DE. Of couse, knowing the Jets, they might have gone with Wimbley or Lawson rather than Hali since at least 2 other teams (Browns and Niners, respectively) had them rated higher than Hali. To their credit, they haven't reached in the draft, but in their desperation to improve the pass rush, the Jets eventually had to overpay to sign Calvin Pace in 2008. He's been pretty solid, but is nowhere near worth what they are paying him. We won't even talk about Bryan Thomas.
Now on to the article I mentioned. A poster on another Jets site posted a link to an interesting article that takes a scientific approach trying to determine what OLB prospects have the lowest risk of busting and which ones have the highest risk of busting. He uses a fairly complex formula based on physical size and measurables from the Combine and Pro Days. He rates every OLB taken since the 2004 draft and includes prospects for the 2011 draft. While it is based on those measurables and Combine stats that lead many teams to reaching, and I'm not sure what his backgound and qualifications are, his conclusions look pretty darned accurate and convincing. At the very least, I found it a very interesting read, and it has opened my eyes a bit. Of course, it doesn't take into consideration, football IQ/instincts of the player, work ethic, ability to learn a complex pro system, character or any of they psychologocial factors, so it is just part of the puzzle, but I think it may be a useful tool in helping at least us fans, if not NFL teams, in making better-informed choices with regard to OLB prospects.
Just as a teaser, it rates Justin Houston and Dontay Moch as the two best OLB prospects in this draft, or at least they have the lowest risk of being busts from a purely physical and measurables standpoint. To see where Reed, Ayers, Acho, Sheard, Chris Carter and Von Miller rate, you'll have to read the article. I will tell you that it mentions one OLB prospect I've never heard of before. The guy who posted the link to this article on that Jets site had seen this kid play before, and said he kept jumping off the screen, although his college production wasn't very good. The prospect's name is Gabe Miller from Oregon St. If I can find some video and info on him, I will write an article.
Following is the link to the article. Happy reading. I'll be very interested to see your responses to this article.