Fifth Round: 148th Pick
AJ Klein's ability to lead and make big plays is unquestioned. He even tested out well at the combine and pro day, but his film tells the story of a player who might not have the athleticism to start in the NFL. Wisconsin overlooked this native son, and instead Klein went on to be a star for Iowa State. Will a pro team benefit from the tendency to underrate this playmaker?
Klein is an instinctive, versatile, high-energy linebacker who is often in the right place at the right time. He recognizes where the play is going very quickly and gets after the ball with conviction once he spots it. Klein is comfortable dropping and moving in space and reacts well to passes in his zone. He plays high effort and leads by example. Klein also has terrific hands for the interception and knack for the pick-six.
Klein has a lot of trouble with ball-carriers in space. He can be eluded by moves with average quickness and this happens too often and too easily on his film. He lacks sideline-to-sideline range and probably can't hang in man coverage at the next level. Klein is not a stout linebacker, and he lacks ability to consistently take on and defeat blocks.
At 6'1" 250 with 32-7/8" arms and big 10-1/4" hands, Klein is a formidable presence in the middle and well-proportioned for NFL play. His 4.66 40 at the combine is faster than his speed on tape, as are his 4.35 short shuttle and 7.09 three-cone times from his pro day. Klein looks like an average NFL athlete at linebacker at best.
A team captain and hustle player on the field, Klein also made plays all over the field and returned four interceptions for touchdowns during his career. He has a high football IQ, and Klein is clearly a quick-thinker when the bullets are flying.
Klein played all three linebacker positions in Iowa State's 4-3 defense and spent a lot of time dropping into coverage. He also was an outstanding special teams contributor on coverage units early in his career.
With good deep drops into coverage and instinctive movement that usually puts him in the right place, Klein is an asset in a zone pass defense. Klein is aware of players passing through his zone and reacts very quickly to their presence. He drives on the receiver in front of him very well, but he can be eluded with an adequate move.
Klein has excellent hands for the interception and he is able to spot a good lane and take off without hesitation once he secures the pick. Klein is not as good at mirroring offensive players in man coverage, where his speed and change of direction limitations are exposed.
Once again, Klein has the smarts and urgency to put pressure on the quarterback, but he is too easily eluded when he is closing in for the sack. His best efforts as a pass-rusher come when he is able to flush the quarterback from the pocket or force an early throw.
Against the Run
Klein's reads against the run are very good and they can put him a step ahead of the action. He does have sometimes trouble getting through trash or off a block, but Klein is outstanding at flowing to the play and doesn't get off course very often. While he puts himself in position to make the tackle in the open field, Klein can be shaken by a running back with average quickness and creativity.
Read and React
Few linebacker in this class are as good at diagnosing and reacting to a play as Klein. Against both the pass and the run, he has clarity reading his keys and is usually in the area of the play when it goes anywhere near him. He is also good at peels off of his designated responsibility to make a play elsewhere once the offense commits.
When Klein corrals his quarry, he is a good form tackler who wraps up and stops the forward momentum of his opponent by driving through them, but he doesn't hit with a jolt or otherwise knock around the ball-carrier. He can struggle to get his hands on a relatively quick and elusive back in space and this will be a bigger problem at the next level.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Klein can play on passing downs as long as he isn't asked to cover one-on-one, and he can also defend the run well as long as he is given some room to roam. He might fit best at SLB in a 4-3 or ILB in a 3-4. He'll also be a core special teams player from day one.