Over the last week and a half I have been highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.
The inside linebacker class was one of the weakest units of the 2011 draft. The player many graded as the top inside linebacker in the draft -- former Illinois junior Martez Wilson -- slipped all the way to the third round to the New Orleans Saints. To put that into perspective, in each of the past 20 NFL drafts, there has been at least one collegiate inside linebacker selected in the first two rounds. While the class, itself, is weak, there are a few middle and late round fits, however, that I anticipate surprising in the NFL.
Here are the links for the other positions:
Greg Jones, New York Giants: Jones is a classic example of an undersized football player who attempted to add weight for his senior season to appear better suited to the NFL -- and struggled mightily because of it. Instinctive, tough and stunningly productive throughout his career, Jones played at 230 pounds at inside and outside linebacker while with the Spartans, but bulked up to nearly 245 pounds as a senior. The added weight slowed him down and scared off teams on draft day. Jones, who entered the year as a rock-solid 2nd round talent, instead fell to the sixth round (No. 185 overall). The Giants, who need help at linebacker, will one day look brilliant for stopping his slide there. Jones will not only prove to be an NFL starter, he'll prove an NFL standout.
Kelvin Sheppard, Buffalo Bills: "Finding the Fits" is all about finding players who fit in a team's scheme. Sheppard, in my opinion, the top 3-4 inside linebacker in this draft, fits in nicely with the Bills -- a club that desperately needed help considering the fact that they finished dead last in 2010 in rushing yards allowed (169.6 yards per game). Sheppard, 6-2 and 250 pounds, is stout enough to take on blockers at the point of attack and showed enough athleticism to contribute as an interior blitzer, as well.
Quan Sturdivant, Arizona Cardinals: Like Jones, a disappointing senior season contributed to Sturdivant slipping on draft day much further than he should. Instinctive, physical and productive, Sturdivant was actually a more consistent player in college than his more hyped teammate Bruce Carter, who went in the second round to the Cowboys despite the fact that Carter is coming off a torn ACL. Sturdivant isn't the athlete that the Cardinals possess already with Darryl Washington, but he could provide a similar "thumper" presence inside as what the team has in Gerald Hayes. That fact, could lead to Cardinals releasing Hayes this off-season.
Casey Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles: Considering his bloodlines, it might be foolish to question any Matthews' ability to transfer his skill set into the NFL, but after scouting Casey closely over his career, I have questions about where he'll fit in best at the pro level. Under Andy Reid, Philadelphia has often gravitated towards undersized, athletic "chase" linebackers and have boasted some stout mashers in the middle, at times, as well. Matthews, 6-1 and 230 pounds, is neither of these things. He is very instinctive, a reliable open-field tackler and a leader. However, he doesn't discard blocks particularly well and offers very little in terms of coverage skills. He also lacks the athleticism coaches generally want on special teams.