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2015 NFL DRAFT
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Robert Ayers

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 272 | College: Tennessee
 
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Overview

Regarded as one of the nation's premier defensive players coming out of Marlboro County High School, Ayers struggled to earn his place with the Volunteers until his senior season.

Renewed dedication helped him emerge as one of the few bright spots during a troublesome season for the Vols. He would go on to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors and shared the Andy Spiva Award, given to the team's most improved defensive player.

For all of Ayers' physical ability, the coaches admit that he just recently emerged following a few inconsistent seasons.

"When Robert got here, he thought he was God's gift to football," former head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He wouldn't listen to the upperclassmen -- not in a bad way, but he just didn't take to coaching very well. (As a senior) he's starving for coaching, and he's giving great effort. He's turned into a big-time SEC defensive end."

Ayers wanted to be a linebacker but agreed to slide to defensive tackle, where the Vols had serious depth concerns. It would have been easy for Ayers to fight even a situational role in his last chance to show NFL scouts his ability at end. However, he was more concerned with his last chance to win an SEC championship.

"Obviously, I feel like I'm better off the edge," he said. "But I'll do whatever the coaches ask me to do," Ayers stated prior to his banner senior season.

At Marlboro County High School, Ayers earned All-State honors as a linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. He added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 choice recorded 112 tackles and five interceptions, as he also returned kickoffs as a senior. His best performance was a 28-tackle effort vs. Clover High. He also recorded 94 tackles, including eight sacks, to go with three interceptions as junior. In addition to football he lettered in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.

Ayers redshirted as a 230-pound outside linebacker for Tennessee in 2004. Having bulked up to 250 pounds prior to the 2005 campaign, he shifted to left defensive end. He backed up All-SEC choice Parys Haralson, as he delivered five tackles (three solo) and a six-yard sack in nine games.

The redshirt sophomore shifted to right end the following season, playing behind Antonio Reynolds, but was hampered early in the 2006 season by a left hand fracture suffered in August camp. He would produce 25 tackles (17 solo) with one sack in 13 games, earning two late-season starting assignments.

In 2007, Ayers was a reserve behind Antonio Reynolds. Even though he was used off the bench, he led the team with four sacks and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also collected 34 tackles (25 solo) with two pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

As a senior, Ayers caught fire at midseason to deliver 49 tackles (34 solo) with three sacks, leading the team and league with 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also had six pressures and his first career interception.

Analysis

Positives: Powerfully built athlete. Good lower-body strength to hold up at the point of attack. Flashes the ability to anchor and split double-team blocks on the edge. Good initial hand punch to stun the offensive tackle. Flashes some upfield burst to challenge wide and has good lateral quickness to redirect inside. Good use of hands to slap away the tackle's hands. Varies his speed off the edge and can surprise a lackadaisical blocker with suddenness. Can close with authority, flashing explosiveness. Versatile defender with experience at tackle and end. Developed into a team leader as a senior. Could be an ascending player who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his vast potential.

Negatives: Lacks an elite first step or the straight-line speed to be true edge rusher. Relies more on varying his speed off the snap and his strength at the point of attack rather than pure athleticism. Moved around a lot in Tennessee's defense and was allowed to exploit mismatches. Likes to tackle high and stronger ballcarriers can escape his grasp. Stepped up his play significantly as a senior and could be a one-year wonder motivated by big NFL paycheck.

Compares To: MARK ANDERSON, Chicago -- Ayers might be the rising star at this position, or 2008 could have just been an aberration. He had three so-so years and even in 2008, it was not until the second half of the season that he started living up to his high school headlines. He might not have the suddenness to play the edge in NFL, but might be a decent fit as an under tackle.

Scouting Report

GENERAL REPORT: GRADE: 5.88

Body Structure: Ayers has a decent-sized frame that could use additional bulk. He has slender legs, straight calves, some bubble and thin thighs. He added 20 pounds to his frame over the last year and while he still needs more weight, he has good overall muscle definition.

Athletic Ability: Ayers is a classic Indianapolis Colts-style of defensive lineman -- a bit undersized, but can be utilized in a variety of roles up front. He is not a great athlete; lacks suddenness off the edge, but could be utilized as an under-tackle for several snaps. Uses his hands well to defeat blocks. He has decent quickness and good balance, but is a bit stiff and struggles to bend his knees and play with good leverage. He shows adequate leverage strength, but lacks bulk. He is quick on the move, showing enough quick-twitch and natural movement, along with a strong hand punch to jolt the offensive lineman. He knows how to vary his speed along the edge to close on the quarterback. He also uses his long arms effectively to reach and separate. GRADE: 6.2

Football Sense: Ayers does a decent job mentally to see and react to the ball. He struggles at times to play with proper leverage and doesn't always play with a steady motor. He is an adequate learner who needs time to digest. He showed better field awareness in 2008 than in the past, but still lacks the ability to rely on his instincts rather than think through the play before reacting. In a complicated system, he could struggle. GRADE: 5.8

Character: Ayers has kept himself out of trouble since his 2005 arrest for involvement in a fraternity fight. He had problems with the coaching staff earlier in his career and even his head coach publicly stated that he had issues dealing with authority and others, not heeding advice from the squad's veteran players. But over his four years, he matured to the point where he served as one of the team's captains in 2008. GRADE: 5.4

Competitiveness: Ayers has toughness and will play with pain. He is still learning the game and needs to be pushed some in order for him to live up to his athletic ability. He shows urgency running down plays from the back side. In 2008, he showed more "fire in the belly" than he did in the past and it showed in his stellar play down the stretch. He still does not play hard on every down, but is improving. GRADE: 6.3

Work Habits: While Ayers has good explosion and burst, from the looks of his weight room figures, you can see why some teams think he will get pushed around a bit. He has a history of shoulder woes dating to his high school days, but they did not come back to haunt him at Tennessee. Despite showing a strong hand punch in the trenches, his bench press totals indicate the shoulder issues might persist. He really bought into the program prior to his senior year, but after three less-than spectacular seasons, it leads teams to wonder if he was a one-year riser or one that is reaching his potential. GRADE: 5.7

ATHLETIC REPORT

GRADE: 6.14

Explosion/Pursuit: Ayers does not display an explosive first step off the snap, nor does he have blazing closing quickness, two critical factors in finding a quality edge rusher. He has the agility to redirect in-line and varies his speed to slip past and avoid blockers. When he is isolated or coming off the edge, he shows the hand usage and hip dip to get off the ball and gain penetration. He shows very good hand usage (rip and swim moves) in order to defeat the initial block, showing a nice arm cross over move to break free. GRADE: 6.0

Strength at Point: Ayers is "field strong" but not so in the weight room, as he delivers very good jolt behind his hand punch. He lacks ideal bulk and size, but can hold ground at the point of attack when he plays with leverage (easily pushed back when he stands too tall). Even with adequate strength, he can disengage when he keeps his hands active. Still, he needs to be effective vs. the run, as he does not have the leg drive to consistently split or play the double team. He has better leverage than strength to anchor and hold his ground? GRADE: 6.1

Use of Hands: Ayers has very good hand usage in one-on-one battles and can separate and get off the line when he keeps his hands in front to control the blocker. There are times that he struggles to shed, but will try to work across the block to the ball. When he is freed up, he shows good pursuit and effort to make plays. He relies more on leverage to play off blocks due to his adequate overall strength. In 2008, he showed marked improvement in using his hands to guard his legs vs. the chop block, but is still susceptible to them when he gets too tall in his stride. GRADE: 6.5

Lateral Pursuit/Effort: His lack of a sudden closing burst working in-line is evident, but when he plays off the edge, he can be disruptive in the pass rush, but gets more QB pressures than sacks. He lacks sharp change-of-direction agility, but when he can slip off blocks, he will show good effort in his pursuit. GRADE: 5.8

Tackling Ability: A good tackler at the line, but will struggle more in space. He plays with a lot of effort and can pursue. He has improved his wrap-up tackling technique and makes every effort to arm tackle. When he gets free in the backfield, he does not miss much in getting to and taking down the ballcarrier. He hits with enough force to stop the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage. He is better making plays when he faces up and is in position rather than in the open field. GRADE: 6.2

Run Defense: Ayers showed in 2008 that he is consistent getting leverage to take on blockers. He can usually control the isolated blocker with good hand quickness and foot balance. There are times where he can get high off the ball and, because of his lack of ideal strength at the point, he struggles to neutralize. However, he does a decent job to anchor, staying low in his pads. He had problems vs. offensive tackles and tight ends when they covered him up and he failed to contain. With added experience in 2008, he showed he can stack, shed, extend and slide to make the plays on the corner. He is slippery at the line with his rip and swim moves, making it difficult for the tackles to make a reach block on him. GRADE: 7.7

Pass Rush: Ayers is really not a good pass rusher, more the type that will pressure the pocket than seal the deal and close on the QB. He lacks that explosive first step off the snap, but can vary his speed to get the offensive tackle off kilter. In 2008, he showed better body control and hand usage to avoid blocks and work around them to put pressure on the pocket. He still needs to utilize his array of moves more often in order to be effective. He has developed enough quickness to pressure, but has problems when he has to play off blocks when working inside (strength issues). GRADE: 6.1

Closing on the QB: Ayers can put good pressure on the pocket once he clears his blocker, but does take a wide loop at times. He needs to play with more consistent aggression, as he gets too reliant on his hand punch and can be locked out when that fails. He can deliver a knockout blow on the quarterback when coming off the edge, but just lacks the sudden moves to close and his adequate initial step is not going to have great success beating beats the quicker blockers off the snap at the NFL level. GRADE: 5.4

Instincts/Recognition: Overall, Ayers is a good athlete, who looks to be developing physically, but still needs strength development. He is better locating the ball on the move than when playing in-line, where he can beat double teams, but will get taken down due to poor awareness sidestepping low blocks. His production is decent against the pass, but better against the run. He needs to locate the ball better when working down the line, but when he gets into the backfield, he can zero in on his target. He has improved his ability to sniff out the play, but struggles vs. the double teams in passing situations due to just average overall body strength. GRADE: 5.5

OVERALL GRADE: 6.10

Compares To: MARK ANDERSON, Chicago -- Ayers might be the rising star at this position, or 2008 could have just been an aberration. He had three so-so years and even in 2008, it was not until the second half of the season that he started living up to his high school headlines. He might not have the suddenness to play the edge in NFL, but might be a decent fit as an under tackle.

--Report by Dave-Te' Thomas

Career Notes

Ayers started 14-of-48 games at Tennessee, recording 113 tackles (79 solos) with nine sacks for minus-61 yards, 31.5 stops for losses of 125 yards and 12 QB pressures. Deflected three passes and intercepted another for an 8-yard return. His 22.5 stops of opposing ball carriers (not including sacks) behind the line of scrimmage rank sixth in school history behind Eric Westmoreland (34.0, 1996, 98-2000), Al Wilson (27.0, 1995-98), Leonard Little (25.0, 1995-97), Ben Talley (24.0, 1991-94) and Andy Spiva (23, 1973-76). Ayers' 15.5 tackles for loss (including sacks) in 2008 tied James Wilson (1993) for ninth on the Vols' season-record chart, while his 12.5 stops of opposing ballcarriers (sacks not included) behind the line of scrimmage rank fourth on the annual record list, topped by Leonard Little (14.0 in 1995), Jesse Mahelona (13.5 in 2004) and Greg Jones (13.0 in 1976).

2008 Season

All-Southeastern Conference second-team selection and co-recipient of the Andy Spiva Award, given to the team's most improved defensive player. Started all 12 games at right defensive end, leading the conference with a career-high 15.5 stops for losses of 63 yards. Ranked sixth on the squad with a career-high 49 tackles (34 solos) that included three sacks for minus 29 yards and six quarterback pressures. Gained eight yards when he returned his first career interception.

2008 Game Analysis

UCLA: Ayers was held to three tackles, but made a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also pounced on the UCLA center after a bad snap caused a 2-yard loss with Ayers lined up over the head of his opponent while seeing some snaps at the under-tackle position. Head to Head Competition-OT#73-Micah Kia (6>06-297).

Auburn: Ayers posted four tackles (2 solos) with a pressure and a stop behind the line of scrimmage. He forced an Auburn punt when he stopped tailback Ben Tate for no gain on a third-&-8 rushing attempt in the third quarter. Head to Head Competition-OT#73-Lee Ziemba (6:08-299).

Georgia: Ayers had perhaps his best game as a Volunteer, as he made 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage to go with nine tackles (seven solos)?He took down tailback Knowshon Moreno for a 3-yard loss and two plays later, with the Bulldogs at the Tennessee 13, he intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass, returning his first pass theft 8 yards, setting up a 2-yaerd touchdown toss from Vols QB Nick Stephens to Gerald Jones. Later in the third frame, he again penetrated the backfield to take down Moreno for a 6-yard loss. Head to Head Competition-OT#72-Vince Vance (6:08-320).

Mississippi State: The right end made just two tackles, but one was a 9-yard sack of QB Tyson Lee in the third quarter?Head to Head Competition-OT#79-Derek Sherrod (6:05-298).

Alabama: Ayers added four tackles with a stop behind the line of scrimmage and forced the Tide to punt in the second quarter after pressuring QB John Parker Wilson on a third-&-10 incomplete pass?Head to Head Competition-OT#71-Andre Smith (6:05-340).

South Carolina: Produced seven tackles (4 solos), as he stopped Mike Davis for a 3-yard loss in the fourth quarter?Head to Head Competition-OT#76-Jarriel King (6:07-304).

Wyoming: Ayers had just two tackles, but one stopped Devin Moore for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter and the other brought down Wynel Seldon for minus 3 yards in the third stanza?Head to Head Competition-OT#71-Ryan Otterson (6:05-289).

Vanderbilt: The Commodores tried everything they could by kidnapping, yet Ayers still wreaked havoc in their backfield, as he registered two sacks, three stops for loss, a forced fumble, one pressure and six tackles (4 solos)?He stripped the ball from QB Chris Nickson at the Vanderbilt 20 in the second quarter and flattened QB Mackenzie Adams for an 11-yard loss in the fourth frame?Head to Head Competition-OT#68-Reilly Lauer (6:06-277).

Kentucky: Ayers closed out his career with another six-tackle (4 solos) performance that included taking down Randall Cobb for a 4-yard loss on a QB option run in the second quarter?Head to Head Competition-OT#79-Garry Williams (6:03-300).

2007 Season

Ayers played in all fourteen games with the second unit at right defensive end, backing up Antonio Reynolds. Even though he came off the bench, he still led the team with four sacks for minus-19 yards and twelve stops for losses totaling 40 yards. Collected 34 tackles (25 solos) and registered four quarterback pressures. Also deflected two passes.

2007 Game Analysis

Set a season-high and led the team with six tackles, including three stops behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks vs. Arkansas State in 2007. Made three hits with 1.5 stops for loss vs. California and registered two more stops behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack vs. Southern Mississippi. Posted three stops with one for a loss in the South Carolina clash. Followed with five tackles vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and was in on four tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage vs. Kentucky. Registered his fourth sack for the year vs. Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.

2006 Season

An August camp left hand fracture prevented Ayers from winning the vacant right defensive end position, but he did appear in 13 contests, eventually starting two late season games vs. Vanderbilt and Kentucky for an injured Antonio Reynolds. Finished with 25 tackles (17 solos), a 7-yard sack and three stops for minus 15 yards. Deflected one pass and recorded two pressures.

2006 Game Analysis

Took down Jemalle Cornelius for a 7-yard loss at the Gators' 1-yard line vs. Florida and recorded a 7-yard sack in the Marshall clash. Added three tackles vs. South Carolina and four hits in the Louisiana State game. In his first career start, Ayers delivered a pair of tackles and a pass breakup vs. Vanderbilt. Had two tackles in each of the California, Air Force, Kentucky and Penn State clashes.

2005 Season

Played in nine games as a reserve left defensive end. Recorded five tackles (3 solos). Had a 6-yard sack vs. Mississippi and a season-high four tackles vs. Memphis.

2005 SEASON

Redshirted as a freshman, competing on the scout team as an outside linebacker.

2004 Season

Redshirted.

Injury Report

2000: Did not play as a freshman in high school due to a shoulder injury.

2002/03: Played his last two high school seasons with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

2006: Suffered a left hand fracture in August camp (8/08).

Agility Tests

Campus: 4.77 in the 40-yard dash … 1.66 10-yard dash … 2.78 20-yard dash … 4.51 20-yard shuttle (4.46 on campus) … 7.58 three-cone drill (7.07 on campus) … 29 1/2-inch vertical jump … 8'6" broad jump … Bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times … 32 1/2-inch arm length … 9 7/8-inch hands.

Off-Field Issues

2005-Along with linebacker Rico McCoy, Ayers was charged with aggravated assault in March for hitting a student during a campus party that erupted into a fight between members of a fraternity and the Volunteer football players. Mayo and Ayers turned themselves in to authorities and were released on their own recognizance from the Knox County Detention Facility in March. In August, Ayers pleaded to a reduced charge. At the time of the incident, police responded early on the morning of March 5 to the University Center and found four fights outside and one fight inside. Holes were punched in the walls of a ballroom and a picture frame had been smashed. Ayers was been suspended from the team. Head coach Phil Fulmer wouldn't suspend Mayo. He believed the charges against Mayo are a case of mistaken identity. "We've got some very immature young men on this football team, and certainly, if not immature, socially unadjusted at this time. I'm extremely embarrassed and disappointed in the actions of a number of our players over the last several months," coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I apologize to the university community, (University president John) Peterson, (athletic director) Mike Hamilton and all the fans that follow our program. We have a large majority of our guys doing the right thing and a few that have embarrassed us in a very big way."

High School

Attended Marlboro County (Clio, S.C.) High School, playing football for head coach Dean Boyd. Earned All-State honors as a linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 choice recorded 112 tackles and five interceptions, as he also returned kickoffs as a senior. His best performance was a 28-tackle effort vs. Clover High. Also recorded 94 tackles, including eight sacks, to go with three interceptions as junior. In addition to football he lettered in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.

Personal

African Studies major. Born Robert Earnest Ayers, Jr., on 9/06/85. Resides in Clio, South Carolina.

 
Latest News
04/28/2009 - A closer look at the Broncos' picks: Round 1/18 -- Robert Ayers, LB/DE, 6-3, 273, Tennessee...Ayers didn't start until his senior year but made the most of it, parlaying a big year into a first-round grade. The Broncos will start Ayers at end, but he could end up at outside linebacker. Denver also thinks Ayers is versatile enough to play at tackle in passing situations. He provides immediate help to the front seven.

04/28/2009 - BEST PICK: Robert Ayers was in the discussion for the Broncos' 12th pick, but Denver had running back Knowshon Moreno higher on its board and was gambling Ayers would still be around with the 18th pick. The move paid off when Ayers fell, allowing Denver to take a player that could fit as a 3-4 end or at outside linebacker.

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