There is no other position that I love more…that I have more passion for…than Outside Linebacker.
And if I had my way on draft day in 1981 – well, than I never would have known what pleasure could be had by watching a great player in that role.
I began watching the New York Giants play in 1979. As bad as Giant fans may think the 2 years of the Ray Handley “era” were or the last 2 years of Dan Reeves tenure turned out to be – none of it comes close to the ineptitude the Giants displayed in the 1979 and 80 seasons. Perhaps only the tail end of Jim Fassel’s final year as coach – when the team had basically quit and he was stuck starting the Bachelor at Quarterback – was the caliber of play displayed by the G-Men so abysmal.
Yet despite that, in 1980 the Giants had a decent set of linebackers, led by my favorite Brad Van Pelt. I thought Brad Van Pelt was the coolest cat on the planet. The Brian Setzer of the football field minus the pompadour, tattoos, smoking, ability to play guitar, ability to sing and general bad attitude. He wore #10, and his shirt always seemed to hang out and he, along with fellow backer Harry Carson, were the only 2 Giants who had any chance in those years of making the Pro Bowl.
So when the 1981 draft rolled around, the Giants were coming off a 4-12 record and were rewarded for their failure with the 2nd overall pick of the draft. And I had visions of Van Pelt and Carson joining up with a stud linebacker to make the Giants a dominant defensive team. And the name of that linebacker I urged the team to draft?
Green has been the premier college defensive player in the country – or at least so it seemed to me – coming out of Pittsburgh. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Yet instead the Giants drafted Taylor. I was devastated at the time but when, within a year, Taylor had teamed up with Van Pelt, Carson and Brian Kelly to form the “Crunch Bunch” and help lead the Giants into the playoffs for this first time in over a decade it proved yet another reason why NFL teams shouldn’t hire 10 year-old’s to be their general managers.
Green would go 7th to the Bucs and had a very good career as did inside backer E.J. Junior drafted 2 picks ahead of Green by the Cards. A 4th Linebacker was also picked in the Top 10 that year named Mel Owens from Michigan. Mel Owens was like the Alan Arkin character in Glengary Glen Ross. Kinda the 4th guy, not as strong as the others, the difference being in real life Alan Arkin is actually good at what he does. Owen…not so much. We can debate whether or not Green or Junior was Al Pacino (and we know 6th overall pick and quarterback bust Rich Campbell was Jack Lemon) but there’s no doubt that L.T. was Alec Baldwin.
I can hark on L.T. all day – he is the Citizen Kane, the Stairway to Heaven, the Michael Jordan, the Chloe T. Dog of defensive football players. The best of the best and no one will ever be better. And has been mentioned time and again he redefined the game. For one final emphasis on this before we move on, let’s take a look at this clip from NFL Network on great pass rushers in the game’s history.
Lawrence Taylor didn’t make the position of Weakside Linebacker relevant just like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson didn’t save the NBA. There were still very good outside linebackers in the game in 1980 such as Van Pelt just like the NBA still had terrific players like Dr. J. and Kareem in their primes in 1980. But L.T., like Bird and Magic, brought the game to another level and made coaches, fans and most importantly, future players re-imagine what they could become.
Taylor and the Giants really ushered in a change in defensive football in the 80’s with teams switching from the 4-3 defense (think Greene, Greenwood, Holmes and White on the 70’s Steelers or Martin, White, Dutton, Jones on the Cowboys in the same era) to 3-4 defenses en mass.
However, the closet clone to Taylor was Derrick Thomas, drafted 1st by the Chiefs and 4th overall in 1989. Great player, but not quite as versatile as Taylor in terms of his ability to be affective in coverage. In fact Thomas almost never played coverage. He was basically a 4th defensive lineman. He just was standing as opposed to being in a 3-point stance. Taylor often played the same way and so did “hybrid” guys like Chris Doleman.
As Defensive Lineman became quicker, stronger, faster a la Reggie White and Bruce Smith soon teams started going back to the 4-3 in the 90’s and it’s only been in the past few years that some teams are now back to the 3-4.
So the outside linebacker has kind of been a position in a bit of flux – a mid-life crisis if you will – like when BK bought a Porsche, bought a condo in a too crowded part of West Los Angeles and began hanging out with Israeli drug addicts in Hollywood. And he was only like 30 at the time.
I didn’t know what to make of it then and I’m not quite sure what to make of this year’s OLB crop.
Last season saw 5 OLB’s go in the first round although two (Aaron Curry and Clay Mathews, Jr.) fall into the hybrid category while the other 3 (Orakpo, Cushing, English) aren’t necessarily playmakers in the Taylor and Thomas mode. Other recent first round linebackers – Jerod Mayo, Keith Rivers, Patrick Willis, Lawrence Timmons – also don’t bring back memories of LT or even Andre Tippett or even a Cornelius Bennett.
It may not be their fault because they’re largely being asked to fit into a system as opposed to being the centerpiece of a defense. Like Jeff Conway. He wasn’t allowed to step out over John Travolta in Grease and now look at him.
I’d hate to see the same fate await Brandon Graham, who some have rated as the top OLB out of Michigan but I’m afraid it very well might. Not so much the slurring speech, addiction to drugs and potential romances with Stockard Channing and Marilu Henner but more so that despite good hand movement a la what Conway shows when he hits the ground and hand jives from his back in Grease, he’s a big sack of potatoes at 268lbs. At under 6’2″ is he tall enough for end? Despite good speed for his size does he have the versatility to play the outside in a 4-3 set? Could he be another Mel Owen? All I know is that Jeff Conway is one fucked up dude.
I think Texas’ Sergio Kindle’s a solid player but I’m not quite as high on him as BK. BK thinks he’s going to be a player primarily because his name is Sergio Kindle. That is a cool name and BK just bought a Kindle and then he immediately downloaded “Nora Roberts: The Early Years” so hopefully he can tear himself away long enough to realize that Kindle, despite a nice 6’3, 250lbs. package, may not have the level of athleticism needed to be an impact player and his future could be on the inside. Then again no defensive player outside of Nebraska makes much of an impact in the conference that defense forgot – The Big 12 – so maybe there’s more impact there than was always shown on the field. His ex-teammate Brian Orakpo proved me wrong last year by performing well, but I don’t want to spend time writing about who’s proven me wrong or we’ll be here all day.
I love Jerry Hughes from TCU. His 6’1+ height will be just fine and at 250 with top end speed this guy took down 15 QB’s in his junior season. He’s got size and speed and, based on the few TCU games I saw last year, he’s just fine at the point of attack. I rate Hughes higher than his teammate Daryl Washington who at 230 I question if he can put on an extra 10 to 15lbs. while still maintaining that speedy 4.66 40 he flashed at the combines. Those 17 reps have his BK-o-Meter falling quicker than the ratings of whatever show Jenna Elfman will next be on and quite frankly, come on Mr. Washington – why no 60-yard shuttle at the combines. Scared to show us your hip movement? Because let me tell you nothing simulates live NFL action more than those shuttle drills – just as Chad Greenway.
I’m having a hard time getting hot and bothered over Sean Weatherspoon just like I’ve never really gotten hot and bothered over Reese Witherspoon. Her nose is too small, her lips are too wide and even the discussion of “how wet her pussy” gets in Election did little more than remind me of how just how little sex I had in high-school…and college…and post-college…and quite frankly even post-marriage, I mean honestly, thank God for BK’s low success rate with women or I’d have no one to flaunt my handful of sexual conquests at.
Weatherspoon does have it all on paper. He’s 6’1, 239lbs. but looks like a NFL linebacker in pads. A 4.68 in the 40 with an off the BK-o-Meter 34 reps, a 40″ vert and an acceptable 60-yard shuttle he should be just fine. And again, I probably shouldn’t hold against him the fact that he played defense in that ridiculous Big 12. Still I see more Michael Boley out of him than impact player which is fine. But can’t you kinda also get that with someone in the late 2nd as opposed to late 1st?
As much as the OLB position is near and dear to my heart, it’s sometimes an afterthought with BK who’s always more interested in bulky men on the O-Line and lithe, feminine-like wide outs. But he did show a keen interest in Ohio State’s Bobby Carpenter as a possible Giant 1st found pick in 2006 while I favored DeMeco Ryans. Carpenter ended up being drafted about 18th and the Giants traded down and then drafted Mathias Kiwanuka. Carpenter was a guy who even up until a week before the draft looked like an early 2nd rounder and then his stock just kept climbing. BK exclaimed that he thought there might be good synergy with Carpenter and the Giants since his dad, fullback Rob Carpenter, had some success with the G-Men in the early 80’s. The problem with that reasoning is that BK never watched the Giants in the early 80’s as he was more interested back then in seeing if he could acquire 2 Wu Jens and a SpellTheif in exchange for a down on its luck Hexblade. No no, the real reason BK liked Carpenter was the same reason he salivated for Robert Gallery – that blonde, flowing mane of Carpenter captivated him to his core. Whatever, the Giants should have drafted Ryans.
TOP 15 OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
Jerry Hughes, TCU
Interesting where he projects. No combines and “weak” conference kills his BK-o-Meter but his DDI as well as skepticism over others in this group make him worth a chance as my #1 OLB.
Sergio Kindle, Texas
Nothing wrong with him, BK-o-Meter is good but need to see more for his DDI to rise.
Brandon Graham, Michigan
Predicted as a good edge guy on the 3-4 but I see him pretty much as a straight DE. Probably the closest in the draft to a Derrick Thomas.
Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
Lack of something lowers his DDI although BK-o-Meter keeps insisting on Top 15 talent.
Sean Lee, Penn State
Sean Lee comes in with a high DDI as he could be the first playmaking LB from linebacker U to come out in a while.
Eric Norwood, South Carolina
A 4.67 40, a 4.23 20-shuttle, and experience in a tough conference. So why isn’t this guy higher. Because his name is Eric Norwood and I just don’t buy a Norwood can make it in the league at the OLB
Nawa’okoa Misi, Utah
Kinda hotter going into his senior season than coming out but he had a back injury that he never completely recovered from and still took down 8 QBs in the MWC. I think he’s a sleeper and a potential steal if he keeps slipping into the late 2nd.
Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Great name, but he’s got a rap sheet longer than BK’s issues with self-esteem and anger management. 100 Hours of Community Service after breaking probation on assault charges? Perfect fit for Cincinnati or Pittsburgh.
Perry Riley, LSU
I have him rated higher than others but his DDI is high because he’s solid and has enough physicals to be a starter and find a home in this league.
Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
I avoid Ohio State players like the plague. Luckily there hasn’t been a widespread outbreak of the plague in hundreds of years making the threat minimal. He’s the slightly less athletic version of Vernon Gholstein. Well, okay, he won’t be that bad.
Daryl Washington, TCU
17 Reps and a little undersized. The BK-o-Meter actually went to -1. Never seen that before. We’ll see what happens when he bulks up.
Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech defensive players always seem like they’d be good, but after Bruce Smith I’m perpetually disappointed. Kind of like a film by Cassavettes – they sound interesting but by minute 15 I’m begging for something better.
Arthur Moats, Jackson State
With a name like Arthur Moats he will either be an NFL linebacker or a lawyer practicing Intellectual Property Law. With a degree (or at least some classes) from Jackson State, I can guarantee you it won’t be the latter so for his sake I hope it’s the former.
Jermaine Cunningham, Florida
He’s 6’4, 266lbs and probably not fast enough for OLB but could be a solid line rotation guy, maybe a wedge breaker on specials, or maybe, at the very least, a bodyguard at a strip bar outside of Tampa.
BK LUCKY NUMBER 16
Dekoda Watson, Florida State
Classic BK Combine Guy – 4.56 40, 24 Reps, 40 inch vert, electrifying 4.11 in the 20-shuttle with a pretty damn good 11.35 in the 60-shuttle and a mind-numbing 11’02” in the broad jump. 11 fucking 2! If you added all the broad jumps BK did between the years 1986 and 1993 the total comes out to just 10’04” and on some of those ex-Yarn Farmer guitarist Matt Balzerini literally threw him. Only problem – he’s not much of a player and made only moderate impact in 4 years at FSU. But fuck it – that’s never stopped the BK-o-Meter before.