Why Shayne Skov Is the Premier Run-Stopping Linebacker in the 2014 Draft Class

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Why Shayne Skov Is the Premier Run-Stopping Linebacker in the 2014 Draft Class
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Shayne Skov had a long, illustrious career at Stanford, a career loaded with triumph and sprinkled with adversity, especially on the injury front. 

He played in 51 games as a Cardinal, and his squad went 41-10 in those contests, including three BCS bowl wins in four BCS bowl appearances. 

A blown knee at the early stages of the 2011 season could have derailed his NFL future, and it did have a negative effect on his play the following year, but in 2013, the redshirt senior proved to be a viable and impactful middle linebacker.  

As a freshman, the former 4-star high school recruit made 62 total tackles with three tackles for loss. As a sophomore, he emerged as one of his conference's legitimate defensive stars after a campaign with 84 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, five passes defended and two forced fumbles. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With an abundance of buzz surrounding his junior year, Skov tore his ACL, MCL and fractured his tibia in the third week of the season against Arizona. Though the injuries required three surgeries, the timing of them granted him a medical redshirt. 

In 2012, Skov triumphantly returned to the field and, unsurprisingly, led the Cardinal in tackles with 81—but he wasn't the same. His initial explosion, change-of-direction ability and pure speed were diminished. 

Because his NFL stock took a rather significant hit, Skov decided to stay at Stanford and play out his final year of NCAA eligibility. 

This past season, the fast, ferocious and sometimes borderline insane linebacker was back. 

He set a career high with 109 total tackles, registered 13 tackles for loss, accumulated 5.5 sacks, defended four passes and forced three fumbles. 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

In the Rose Bowl loss to the Michigan State Spartans, Skov was a stat sheet-stuffing maniac. He made nine tackles, three of which came for a loss, had a sack and forced fumble. 

Although he'll turn 24 in July, the longtime fixture on Stanford's defense recuperated his draft stock with his best collegiate season in 2013. 

 

Skov's NFL Fit

In today's NFL, there's a growing need for coverage linebackers. Offenses are progressively becoming more spread out with more receivers on the field more often. 

While running backs have been devalued over the past, say, five years and teams are exceedingly more pass-happy than ever, the ground game hasn't totally vanished. 

In fact, 13 clubs totaled at least 450 carries this past season, the same number of clubs that totaled at least 450 carries in 2004.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Without question, three-down linebackers who can drop into coverage fluidly and run with tight ends down the seam are vital, but stopping the run won't ever go out of style.

Skov is the premier run-plugging middle linebacker in the 2014 class. In a 4-3 alignment, he would ideally man the middle linebacker spot. In a 3-4, he'd fit as the strong-side inside linebacker, the larger, more authoritative of the two middle 'backers. 

Though one of his main responsibilities would be to take on lead blockers to free the weak-side linebacker to make tackles near the line of scrimmage, Skov's athleticism makes him the type of downhill thumper who could make many whopping tackles near the line himself.

He's a linear athlete more so than a lateral one, meaning he's much more effective when he can decipher a play, stick a foot in the ground and fly forward toward the football. 

This hit on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is the best example of Skov at his finest: 

Playing what looks like the spy role on the nimble Bruins signal-caller, Skov noticed a crease, planted his back foot and exploded toward the football, making a thudding tackle after a minimal gain. 

Due to his naturally aggressive style of play and propensity to lay the lumber any time he made contact with an offensive player, Stanford used Skov as an inside blitzer often. 

Because he blitzed frequently, Skov's timing got to be very good in 2013.

Here's a perfectly executed A-gap blitz that blew up a play later in the game against UCLA:

In the fourth quarter of that Stanford win, Skov again demonstrated his blitzing acumen, point-of-attack power and high motor on a play in which he forced Hundley to drift to his left, then spun past the offensive lineman blocking him to ultimately force an incompletion: 

That epitomizes Skov's game.

It really does. 

Like all linebackers, he gets washed out of some plays by pulling guards and pesky—frankly dangerous—chop blocks. Check how he stayed with his run against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, after the Spartans fullback dove at his knees, and helped make the tackle: 

That's the type of effort you want to see from your run-stopping specialist, and it was the type of play Skov made a handful of times during his senior season. 

Later in the Rose Bowl, with Michigan State orchestrating an uptempo drive, Skov exhibited his unwillingness to quit on a run even after he was blocked.

The Spartan left tackle blocked down on the Cardinal defensive end then met Skov at the second level, which opened a wide running lane for back Jeremy Langford. 

Skov appeared to be totally out of the play, with an offensive lineman on him, pushing his momentum away from the runner. 

But he executed his patented spin move and forced a huge fumble, which a Stanford teammate recovered:

In the fourth quarter of that game, Skov actually displayed the ability to plant his foot in the ground and move laterally to make a tackle after only a two-yard gain. 

He was initially fooled by the run play's misdirection, and when Langford received the handoff, Skov was moving in the wrong direction. 

However, Skov located the football, quickly flipped his momentum back toward it and brought the Michigan State runner to the turf: 

That was a type of play he wasn't able to make in 2012 and one he'll have to make in the NFL. 

Skov measured in at a rock-solid 6'2'' and 245 pounds at the combine, although he decided to wait until his pro day to run the 40-yard dash and participate in other on-field drills. 

The Stanford linebacker isn't a tremendously gifted, quick-twitch athlete. But he's certainly not a plodder, and his vast experience against top competition has made him an incredibly smart player. 

Shayne Skov is a downhill striker with desired strength, an always-running motor and a fierce on-field style. While rangy coverage linebackers are rightfully popular in today's NFL, the run-stopping, blitzing enforcer will always have a place in the league. 

 

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