The first-draft of this post looked radically different than what you're seeing now. I originally wasn't even going to look at Ronnell Lewis or Bruce Irvin but the more mocks I saw, the more often those two players were available in the third round. I'm sure you all have formed your opinions on these guys already but I wanted to take a closer look at them myself, and hopefully generate some discussion.
If you're curious about the charts, refer to this introduction where I established an athletic bench-mark. If you're wondering why I'm doing this in the first place, let me remind you of the outside linebackers currently on the squad:
And that last guy? He's so big now he might actually be a defensive end but I have no idea because I'm pretty sure he's just a camp body. The point is, we have an opening at the position. To be honest, we probably have three openings considering any sane 3-4 team would want to keep around 5 OLB's on the roster (unless you're counting Stewart Bradley there, which I am not).
Cam Johnson, Virginia
Projected Round: 2-4
Cam is a big guy, about as big as you are going to see being talked about as an outside linebacker. You might be afraid that his size slows him down but his tests indicate he's just as quick and more agile than any of the players being talked about in the first two rounds (Melvin Ingram being the lone exception). Concerns about durability and instincts could predict an underachiever, reinforced by his 10 sacks over his Junior and Senior seasons, but I see a prospect with a lot to like.
Cam Johnson vs. Miami
Uses speed and power to initiate contact rather than letting it come to him. His strong base and good size allow him to anchor against the run. Johnson does a good job fighting off blocks with his hands to get to the ballcarrier, winning physical match-ups with power and leverage. I see adequate quickness and lateral agility for a 3-4 prospect but he needs to develop pass-rush technique.
Not everyone believes Johnson is an ideal 3-4 conversion candidate but there's nothing in that reel that dissuades me from believing he could be a successful 3-4 OLB. I believe he will have to improve his upper-body strength to be an effective player at the line of scrimmage in either scheme and while he may be an ideal 4-3 defensive end, I think his movement skills are adequate for him to adapt to the 3-4 where he would be able to effectively seal the edge and work down the line of scrimmage. However, with better value in a 4-3 I see Johnson getting scooped up (2nd-3rd) before the Cardinals should really start looking at him (3rd-4th). No matter where he lands I expect him to contribute in a rotation right away while he develops into a full-time starter. If he does slip into the Cardinals' range, Johnson and Acho could make imposing book-ends. I think he will be a good rotational player on defense right away, becoming an able starter by year two.
Like the frame but Johnson is about as heavy as you want your OLB's to be. While he needs to add upper-body strength, he needs to do it without adding significant weight. Great anchor strength and explosiveness evident with a 35" vertical leap. As we can't judge his movement skills in space on film, we are forced to go by his timed speeds which aren't particularly good, but should be adequate for a more stout, hold-the-line defender like Johnson.
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
Projected Round: 2-4
Lewis played DE in a 4 down front as well as OLB and DE in the 3-4 for Oklahoma. It's good to see a player who has questions about his intelligence (academically ineligible at the end of 2011, prompting his coaches to push him towards the Draft) being moved around some. However, I'm not happy seeing he finished 2011 with 5.5 sacks especially when, no matter where he lined up, he was primarily asked to rush the passer.
Lewis is #56, moves around some
The video begins with a Lewis tackle on a kickoff so you know I'm already interested (there's another in the Nebraska game). Weight room strength shows up when he's engaged with a lineman, pushing him back into the pocket, but you want to see him do a better job getting off blocks rather than just 'winning' them. Fends off blockers well when he sees the run coming, quickly flowing into gaps. Someone will need to send flowers to the running backs that have to block him. I didn't see him dogging it even once (great motor).
With average burst and closing speed, I worry seeing a sluggish first step at times. I don't see him doing much with his hands, coinciding with a lackluster pass-rush repertoire. Needs to improve in that area. More of a right-place at the right-time guy than a flashy impact player -- that said, the "right place" for Lewis appears to be the opponent's backfield because he's there an awful lot.
I have heard this description of him before and I think it fits: Lewis will be a good NFL player but he won't get you double-digit sacks. I would not be surprised if he's nothing more than a roster spot for the first half of the season. The things he's uncomfortable doing on the field paired with being a guy who may take longer to pick things up will limit his impact on defense at first. Patience will be key. Special teams ability (he is both experienced and the kind of athlete you want sprinting downfield hitting some bodies) will see that he's active every week and I think he will be a solid starter in his second or third year.
Lewis is at his best when he's moving forward, where he can put his strength and straight-line speed to good use, rather than back or side-to-side.
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Projected Round: 2-4
I can think of three players in this class who are 25 years-old or over. I can also think of three pass-rushers who beat the elite athletic curve established in this introductory post. You can see where I'm going with this: Irvin manages to be both.
Irvin actually plays 3-3-5 DE (both ends)
My first thought is that I do NOT want this guy trying to stop a single rush in the NFL. Needs to improve his strength all around -- upper body clearly lacking when he gets locked up by offensive linemen, anchor clearly lacking any time the OL wants to push. Just cannot compete with size or strength.
Closing speed in spades -- pay close attention to where he comes from to make the stop at 2:03. Pop Quiz! If Bruce Irvin leaves the 5 yard line with 1:08 on the game clock and Tajh Boyd leaves the 10 yard line at the same time going the same direction, how long does it take holy crap this man is fast! Now he's on a roll -- fakes an outside rush, disappears momentarily and re-appears in a pile on top of the QB. Nightcrawler would be jealous. Tries to do the same thing again, gets tossed about ten yards upfield. Absolutely cannot be left unblocked on a run play -- too fast, too nimble to be left free; it will be the offense's responsibility to run directly at him and the defense's job to move him around enough that the offense can't zero in on him.
That last point is a good spot to close. There are a lot of question marks around Irvin but none of them involve his athleticism. Whoever takes him will get him on the field as a pass rushing specialist right away and that facet of his game could be elite. However, Irvin has a lot of work to do if he's ever going to see more playing time than that.
Pretty good for an old man, eh? Elite measurables. Will have to add strength, which should be possible with his height and length, to ever get consideration as a 3-down player.
All figures median values as per ProFootballWeekly.com and NFLDraftScout.com
The "Elite Average" stat-line was established in the Intro post. If you're confused, I encourage you to check it out first.
You can see Johnson's measurables aren't desirable but I don't think they are prohibitively bad, either. Being one of the larger prospects in this group it makes sense for him to move a little slower. You can see the discrepancy in his upper- and lower-body strength; worst bench press of the three but the best vertical jump (impressive at 268lbs!) Lewis is probably a bit stiff -- he's just a hair above the average all the way across, but it's not bad. However, Irvin is about as good as you are ever going to see, and makes the other two look worse than they actually are.