2012 NFL Mock Draft: Analyzing Travis Lewis and the Underrated Linebackers
After early-rounders such as Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Luke Kuechly, the linebacker position will go rather unnoticed.
For one, it's not nearly as deep of a position in the draft when compared to cornerbacks and receivers, so the mid and late-round gems will be tough to find.
Well, here are some that are going under-the-radar this April.
Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
An expected fifth-round selection, Oklahoma's Travis Lewis, if anything, has a knack for finding the football.
It was certain also that Lewis was bound for a shot in the NFL, especially after his freshman campaign in 2008.
There, Lewis recorded 144 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions and forced one fumble. Talk about a great start to a college career; Lewis kept rolling and eventually finished with 446 career tackles, nine picks and four forced fumbles.
And with his size at 6'1", 245 pounds, Lewis can fly to the rock while also providing solid awareness in underneath coverage. Not to mention his reliability as a pass-rusher, Lewis has the alertness to get a quick jump at the snap.
He does, however, need to display better top speed, strength and dependability when making plays. There's a bit of inconsistency when it comes to tackling, and with better hands, Lewis will make a lot more interceptions.
Emmanuel Acho, Texas
Certainly not as dominant as Travis Lewis throughout his career, but nonetheless, a solid performer and potential to be a legit outside 'backer in the NFL.
Texas' Emmanuel Acho recorded 110 tackles, three sacks and defended six passes for the Longhorns in 2011. Considering he didn't have much help around him to slow any offense down, Acho was the main defender in their front seven.
Acho has great play-recognition skills. He simply has a nose for finding the rock through traffic and is arguably better coming off the edge to make plays.
His versatility will add to the appeal because Acho is the ideal 4-3 outside linebacker, however, because of strong awareness while in coverage, moving to the middle in passing situations will benefit defenses.
With great agility and proven instincts, Acho quickly dissects plays from the start and will track down the ball when it goes away. Now, when the ball comes playside, Acho is at a disadvantage because he's slightly undersized to consistently line up in the middle.
The biggest issue here is finding a spot for Acho in the front seven that will allow him to utilize his instincts. That said, using him as a 3-4 middle linebacker is arguably the best fit.
This way, Acho won't get isolated at the second level and can fly to the ball from a better-positioned starting point.
Terrell Manning, North Carolina State
Even more undersized than Lewis and Acho, North Carolina State's Terrell Manning comes in at 6'2", 237 pounds and also came out a year early.
Interestingly enough, though, the man is an expected late fourth, early fifth-rounder despite only recording 193 career tackles, but Manning also picked off five passes (three in 2011) and forced eight fumbles (four in 2011).
In short, Manning's ability to cause turnovers and opportunities for his teammates were impressive. Now look at his smaller-than-ideal frame and Manning would make a good safety if he lost about 10-12 pounds.
May not be the most popular decision, however, Manning has proven to be better against the pass than the run, knows how to bring the pain and dislodge the rock from the ball-carrier and reacts quickly once the pass is in flight.
Manning also makes for a presenting pass-rusher as he recorded 10 sacks between 2010 and 2011. Whether he remains at linebacker or tries out safety (provided that he drops some weight), Manning can roll down and blitz or benefit any defense that runs a 3-4.
Tank Carder, TCU
Projected to go late in Round 6 or early in Round 7, TCU's Tank Carder may not have the wanted overall speed, stats or size like most linebackers, but the man knows how to play the position as good as anyone in the college ranks.
Carder can lay the wood any time he makes a tackle, has great instincts in defending the pass and is a playmaker through and through. For his career, Carder recorded 228 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions and defended 23 passes.
Of his four picks, though, Carder took three back for touchdowns and compiled 110 interception-return yards. In the NFL, however, Carder will have to increase his strength and learn to not get himself out of position.
He is proven to be much better against the pass and will likely be first used strictly in long down-and-distance situations. In the event that Carder does build muscle up while maintaining his athleticism and lateral quickness, he can make for a solid 3-4 outside 'backer.
2012 First-Round NFL Mock Draft
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)
17. Cincinnati Bengals (From OAK): Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
2. Washington Redskins: (From STL): Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor)
18. San Diego Chargers: Alshon Jeffery, WR (South Carolina)
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT (USC)
19. Chicago Bears: Dwayne Allen, TE (Clemson)
4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
20. Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG (Georgia)
6. St. Louis Rams (From WAS): Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)
22. Cleveland Browns (From ATL): Courtney Upshaw, LB (Alabama)
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame)
23. Detroit Lions: Quinton Coples, DE (North Carolina)
8. Miami Dolphins: David DeCastro, G (Stanford)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Adams, OT (Ohio State)
9. Carolina Panthers: Nick Perry, DE (USC)
25. Denver Broncos: Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina)
10. Buffalo Bills: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)
26. Houston Texans: Dontari Poe, DT (Memphis)
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Melvin Ingram, LB (South Carolina)
27. New England Patriots (From NO): Whitney Mercilus, DE (Illinois)
12. Seattle Seahawks: Devon Still, DT (Penn State)
28. Green Bay Packers: Zach Brown, LB (North Carolina)
13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford)
29. Baltimore Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, LB (Alabama)
14. Dallas Cowboys: Janoris Jenkins, CB (Northern Alabama)
30. San Francisco 49ers: Mark Barron, S (Alabama)
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB (Boston College)
31. New England Patriots: Jerel Worthy, DT (Michigan State)
16. New York Jets: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)
32. New York Giants: Coby Fleener, TE (Stanford)
John Rozum on Twitter.