Tennessee has a few well-known offensive players in the 2013 NFL draft, but its defensive prospects don't receive much talk. You've heard the names—Tyler Bray, Da'Rick Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson. But who has heard of Herman Lathers?
Lathers is the most notable of the Volunteers' defensive prospects, and even he is rarely mentioned as a prospect.
That's not to say Lathers is an early-round pick—he's not. However, hardly anyone even talks about him. Should they?
A solid athlete, Lathers can move from side to side, and he's capable of running down plays from behind. Lathers does a solid job of recognizing the run and flowing with the play, always looking to make a tackle. He will, at times, display surprising strength.
As a blitzer, Lathers accelerates through holes and closes on the quarterback with impressive speed.
Lathers' most obvious flaw is his size—he measures in at just 6'0" and 234 pounds, and it shows on the field.
Lathers struggles to get off blocks and make plays in the run game. Though he is a decent athlete, Lathers doesn't play with true sideline-to-sideline speed, and he struggles in coverage. Lathers also isn't a great pass-rusher, and he won't be working past many offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback.
Physically, Lathers is nothing special. He is just 6'0" and 234 pounds and doesn't possess the blazing speed or burst to compensate. Lathers ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at Tennessee's pro day, but he doesn't play at the same speed. Lathers' strength is solid for someone of his size but still merely average or worse on the whole.
A cancer survivor, Lathers clearly has overcome much in life. Lathers was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 10 and wasn't able to play football until his sophomore year of high school.
Despite this, Lathers earned a scholarship to Tennessee, where he continued to impress with his motor and work ethic.
Lathers played weak-side linebacker in Tennessee's 4-3 defense. The Volunteers used a lot of nickel, and Lathers would stay on the field for the majority of these situations. He was used in a variety of ways, often blitzing and dropping back in coverage.
Despite being a solid athlete, Lathers struggles in coverage.
He doesn't display proper technique, as he often struggles to jam a receiver. Lathers' hips are tight, and he isn't smooth when transitioning from his back pedal. His drops in zone are often too shallow.
Lathers does do a good job of reading the quarterback when in coverage, and his speed helps him make plays on the ball. Despite being fast, though, Lathers lacks burst and isn't always responsive enough. Subtle improvements in technique would help Lathers, but his tight hips will likely remain an issue.
Lathers is more of a blitzer than a pass-rusher. He lacks the sheer physical ability to beat an offensive lineman one-on-one. His tight hips, small stature and lack of burst all limit his ability off the edge. As an interior pass-rusher, Lathers' lack of strength and size are his biggest limitations.
However, Lathers is a capable blitzer. He does a great job of reading the open hole and accelerating through it. Many linebackers will hesitate, but Lathers moves forward with reckless abandon, always keeping his eyes on the quarterback. When closing, Lathers seems to hit a second gear, and he comes on the quarterback in a hurry.
Against the Run
Lathers' lack of size and strength again hinder him here. When an offensive lineman engages Lathers, he struggles to separate. He lacks the technique and power to rip away. Linemen rarely struggle to drive Lathers back, and he can easily be taken out of a play by a single lineman or even a fullback.
However, when an offensive lineman doesn't immediately engage with Lathers, the linebacker can make some plays. He is great at reading the play, flowing with it and finding a hole to accelerate through.
Lathers never stops searching for a lane to the running back, and he's quick enough to move through it.
Read and React
This is the strongest part of Lathers' game. He is great at reading a play from the beginning and adapting on the fly. Lathers is often the first defensive player to move to the side of a run or find the hole in the offensive line's protection scheme. His ability in coverage is shaky, but he is constantly reading the quarterback and often impresses with his ability to move before the ball is thrown.
Lathers displays sound technique here. He rarely lunges at the ball-carrier, instead driving forward and wrapping up. Every now and then, Lathers' size hinders him, but he is, on the whole, a sound tackler, even against power backs.
Lathers isn't exceptionally quick, though, and he sometimes struggles to adjust to the movements of a shifty running back.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Lathers isn't strong enough at shredding blocks to play in a 3-4 defense. If he adds strength and improves his technique, that could change, but it doesn't seem likely to happen.
However, an aggressive 3-4 defense would both hide his flaws in coverage and take advantage of his blitzing ability.
With his current skill set, though, an attacking 4-3 scheme is probably Lathers' best fit. As a weak-side linebacker, Lathers could read and react while avoiding blockers.