As more NFL offenses begin to incorporate the read-option into their game plan, defenses need to respond by adding playmakers who can match the offense in speed and athleticism.
This shift in defensive philosophy will benefit prospects such as Texas A&M's Jonathan Stewart who can immediately make an impact chasing down athletic ball carriers in open space at the next level.
Like most SEC linebackers, Jonathan Stewart wins with his speed. Once he diagnoses the play, he closes quickly and consistently wraps up the ball carrier.
He isn't quite on the same level as other prospects such as Alec Ogletree and Arthur Brown in terms of athleticism, but he does possess an intriguing blend of size and speed.
While NFL teams will love Stewart's ability to close quickly against the run, his struggles in pass coverage limit his upside.
Most teams looking to fill a void at weak-side or middle linebacker will be interested in adding a guy who can line up with the game's elite pass-catching tight ends, and Stewart will struggle in those matchups.
At 6'4", Stewart is unusually tall for an inside linebacker. And due to his height, he is a step slower in his lateral movement than some smaller linebackers.
However, Stewart's straight-line speed helps make up for his average agility and he clearly meets all other physical benchmarks for an NFL linebacker.
Stewart was a full-time starter for just two years, but saw significant playing time throughout his career. As a true freshman in 2009, he started seven games for the Aggies at outside linebacker opposite Von Miller.
He remained durable throughout his career and didn't miss any time due to injuries.
Due to his blend of size and speed, Stewart should be a viable option in any scheme. He could play any of the three linebacker positions in the 4-3 scheme, and may be able to play inside and outside in the 3-4 scheme as well.
Given his ability against the run and his limitations in coverage, he will fit best in a scheme where he can be supported by at least one other linebacker who excels in coverage and can take the more difficult assignments.
Stewart's speed allows him to stay with tight ends and running backs down the field. However, he lacks the quick reaction skills to stay with more athletic receivers.
More skilled route runners are able to force Stewart into false steps fairly easily, and he struggles to keep up with receivers who make quick, sudden breaks.
The stats don't do Stewart justice in this category. Despite just two and a half sacks as a senior, Stewart consistently forced his way into the backfield and impacted the play when asked to blitz.
A fairly large percentage of his blitzes were on delays, which hindered his ability to record the sack, but he forced a number of rushed throws and frequently flushed the quarterback from the pocket.
Overall, Stewart showed enough potential as a pass-rusher to be considered a viable option as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or on the outside in a 3-4 scheme.
In terms of run defense, Stewart is at his best when lined up in the middle linebacker position or lined up opposite side of the line from the direction of the play.
He lacks the strength to consistently hold up at the point of attack, but he has the speed to close quickly and is effective when working with more space.
Read and React
Stewart is still growing in his ability to react to the play, but he has shown progress. He takes correct angles, but he tends to over-commit and is susceptible to cutbacks, especially by smaller running backs with superior change-of-direction ability.
Stewart has proven to be a consistent wrap-up tackler. He can also deliver a big hit when presented with the opportunity.
Stewart lacks the elite skills in any one area to be projected as an immediate starter, but his versatility makes him an incredibly valuable late-round prospect.
In a reserve role, Stewart can provide depth at multiple spots in any defensive scheme and has enough raw talent to give teams the hope of developing him into a future starter.
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