Linebacker Jordan Tripp might not be at the top of draft boards as NFL teams go through the final stages of the evaluation process.
But after watching the Montana product during Senior Bowl workouts and getting a look at his tape, Tripp has the athletic ability, size and speed to develop into a starter at the pro level.
Today, let's talk about Tripp's skill set at the linebacker position and project why he can contribute in the nickel sub-packages while making an immediate impact as a core special teams player in the NFL.
Transition Speed in a Linebacker Frame
Back at the Senior Bowl in January, Tripp caught my attention during individual drills because he moved like a strong safety at 6’3”, 234 pounds.
I’m talking about his transition speed (plant and drive out of breaks), the flexibility in his hips to open/run and the short-area quickness to move laterally at the second level.
Throughout the week of practice in Mobile, Tripp proved that he could compete with some of the top talent in the nation by tracking the football in the run game and closing on the ball as an underneath defender in one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven work.
*Video courtesy of Draft Breakdown.
Tripp was a “run and hit” defender at Montana (ability to pursue laterally to the ball, make plays in the open field) while also showing the physical toughness to fill the hole against downhill run schemes.
He has a good feel for zone coverage and looks comfortable in his pedal/angle drops when playing as an underneath defender to redirect/create angles on the throw.
I do believe Tripp needs to get stronger to stack/shed versus pro-level competition in order to win one-on-one matchups at the point of attack, but given his natural athletic ability at 234 pounds, the linebacker has upside as a nickel defender early in his development.
That athletic ability was on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in February when Tripp posted a 4.67 official 40 time, a 37.5-inch vertical jump and excellent change-of-direction times in the short shuttle (3.96) and three-cone drill (6.89).
Plus, Tripp looked very fluid during positional drills with a controlled pedal and the lower-body balance to accelerate out of breaks. Movement skills at the linebacker position that showcase his talent to play in space.
Projecting Tripp’s Ideal "Fit" at the NFL Level
In a base front, I see Tripp projecting as the Mike or Will in a 4-3 scheme. The two positions in both the “Over” and “Under” fronts cater to linebackers with athleticism and fluid hips plus the ability to drop into coverage.
Think of Tripp developing into a starter at the Mike ‘backer position in a Tampa 2 defense where he can run the inside vertical seam in Cover 2, pressure out of zone-blitz schemes or scrape over the top to track the run game on the edge.
Here’s an example from the All-22 tape of Jaguars Mike’ backer Paul Posluszny playing the inside seam route in Cover 2 versus Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
With the Broncos running four verticals out of a 2x2 “Doubles” formation in Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB), Posluszny opens his hips to the passing strength (two wide receiver side), reads the quarterback and matches to Wes Welker up the seam. This results in an interception because of the technique, drop and depth Posluszny displays in the two-deep shell.
As a nickel linebacker, Tripp has the ability to carry receivers in the seam (with help over the top), blitz from multiple alignments and use his lateral ability to match running backs out of the backfield versus the flat, option and angle routes.
And given the amount of pre-snap creativity NFL defensive coordinators show on Sundays, Tripp does provide some flexibility in terms of the multiple packages he can contribute to as a linebacker in the nickel, dime or “ruby” (3DL-2LB-6DB) fronts.
Check out this nickel zone pressure (rush five, drop six) from the Bears versus the Cowboys.
With the Bears showing double A-gap pressure, rookie linebacker Jon Bostic matches to No. 3 (middle hook), and the open (weak) side end drops as the seam-flat defender. This allows Chicago to send the open-side linebacker and the nickel corner (with the safeties rolling in the secondary) to produce a sack versus Tony Romo.
This is just one example, but looking at Tripp and his projection to the pro game, the idea of plugging him into the sub-packages will allow coordinators to utilize his skill set.
Special Teams Impact as a Rookie
Like the majority of mid-round picks in the NFL, Tripp will initially earn his money as a contributor on all four core special teams units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return) while he competes for playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
This should be viewed as a positive in the evaluation process with Tripp because of his size and overall talent—the type of prospect special teams coaches in the league love to work with because of the versatility to play multiple roles on coverage units.
Think of Tripp as an R/L 3, 4 or 5 (count outside-in) on kickoff coverage where he can use his speed to get down the field, beat the front-line blockers and find the football. Or, put him as the wing on punt coverage to play with contain responsibilities, break down and make tackles in the open field.
Tripp should make an immediate impact on special teams as a rookie while he develops and learns the pro game at the linebacker position.
The Montana product has some real value as a mid-round prospect who could come off the board early in the third round. And if he lands in the right system that caters to his ability as an athletic linebacker, we could see Tripp progress into a starting role in the NFL.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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