A draft-day fall precipitated by his injury history could make Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley one of the best values of the 2014 class.
When healthy and on the field, the former Crimson Tide captain and two-time national champion has all the traits of a Pro Bowl inside linebacker. Instinctive and tough, with blitzing ability and obvious comfort in pass coverage, Mosley is a plug-and-play option at a position from which great defenses are built.
Yet availability can be just as important as talent, and NFL teams are rightfully weary of Mosley's litany of past health issues.
He dislocated his elbow as a sophomore, which forced him out of two games and rendered him ineffective in a third. He remained healthy all through the 2012 regular season but then dislocated his hip in the BCS National Championship Game win over LSU. The next offseason, he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Mosley claimed that recent tests revealed there are no lasting worries, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
"Everything went well. Before the combine even happened, in January, I got MRIs on everything I hurt in the past all the way to my freshman year. Everything was good then. (There) weren't no red flags thrown up or anything they had questions on, I got an MRI or X-Ray on, so it turned out well."
Still, no team wants damaged goods, especially in the first round. A potential top-10 talent, Mosley could suffer through a tumble down the first round based on the worries that he's entering the NFL as an already beat-up product.
Whichever team takes the risk on the medical side will be getting a really good football player between the white lines.
Mosley can do all of the things performed by the game's best interior linebackers. Stack and shed blocks? Check. Attack downhill against the run? Check. Time up blitzes and cause inside disruption? Check. Handle coverage duties in space? Check.
Mosley will enter the NFL ready to make an impact right away from the middle of a defense. If he falls out of the top 15 because of injury issues, he'll become one of the draft's biggest steals.
Stack and Shed
Every interior linebacker at the professional level is asked to stack and shed blockers at the point of attack. It's the process in which a defender takes on a blocker and then disengages to free himself up to make a tackle. Watch any NFL game, and you'll see this sequence happen countless times among the mass of bodies at or near the line of scrimmage.
Few in this class are better at stack-and-shedding than Mosley.
Watch below as Mosley takes on a fullback in the hole, sheds the block attempt and brings down the ball-carrier against LSU last season:
A power-run play that could have resulted in a big gain is stopped for just four or five yards thanks almost single-handedly to Mosley. He read the play correctly, filled his gap and then positioned his body to gain enough leverage on the fullback. He then disengaged the block and wrapped up the runner with an impressive solo tackle.
The LSU game featured numerous occasions in which Mosley either avoided or shed a second-level blocker. It's a skill that will serve him well at the next level, especially if he finds himself in a 3-4 front. Engaging and disarming bigger players is part of the job description in a three-man front.
Yet there are also times when taking on blockers can be detrimental. Rarely does Mosley ever engage a blocker unnecessarily. It's all a part of knowing gaps and when to fill them. In fact, here is an example of him staying patient at the second level, avoiding the mess of bodies and then taking down the runner:
Mosley could have come flying downhill and found himself taken out of the play. Instead, he stays back, reads what is happening in front of him and then violently converges on the ball-carrier once he has a free sight line.
Stack-and-shedding is an important tool if a linebacker is to approach the 100-tackle range in the NFL. But to truly have a game-changing impact, making stops at or behind the line of scrimmage is a must.
Mosley proved time and again in college to have this skill. And it stems from his ability to read and react and finish the play. Let's go through a few notable examples.
Our first comes against Arkansas last season. Watch as Mosley puts his entire skill set on display to bring down the runner behind the line:
The offense's play is a counter, designed to flow to the right and provide a cutback lane to the left. A pulling tight end is to be the lead blocker. Mosley watches the play develop in front of him and then attacks. He athletically sidesteps the block of the left tackle, knifes into the gap and wraps up the ball-carrier. It was a textbook example of identifying and attacking the run.
Our second example comes against LSU. Mosley pulls off nearly the same trick:
His patience and athletic ability make the play. He reads the disguised cutback run, but some nifty footwork is needed to elude the charging guard. Once free, Mosley sticks the runner in the hole, and the play goes for a minimal gain.
Maybe the most impressive example of Mosley's attacking ability came later on against LSU:
There's a lot to like here. For starters, Mosley reads the snap and gets a great jump on the ball. His quickness into the backfield allows him to elude the pulling blocker, and the fullback isn't athletic enough to handle Mosley's impressive lateral agility. He then gives the running back a true form tackle two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
These are the kind of plays Pro Bowl linebackers make at the next level. Mosley appears to have all of the tools necessary for his disruptive abilities to translate to the NFL.
Middle linebackers don't necessarily need to be big-time blitzers in the NFL. It's an important skill in a Dom Capers or Dick LeBeau defense, but it's not a deal-breaker in all schemes.
Luckily for Mosley, he'll bring to the NFL experience rushing the quarterback from the inside.
He had a career-high four sacks as a junior, including this one against Missouri:
Mosley attacks the A-gap like any strong interior blitzer should. The center on the play has no chance, as Mosley's strength and speed overwhelm the blocker at the point of attack. He rubs off the center's right shoulder and sacks the quarterback before he can escape the pocket.
Mosley may not become a top blitzer at the next level. He did struggle occasionally at timing his blitzes and working off blocks as a senior. The LSU game featured several Mosley blitzes, but he rarely came close to quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Maybe teams game-planned for him better, or the blitzes weren't as well-designed. Either way, his production in this area fell off some during his final year.
Still, there's enough evidence from his sophomore and junior seasons to provide a sense of comfort for defensive coordinators. He can be productive in the right blitzing situations, especially for a 3-4 front that specializes in exotic and confusing looks.
Mosley will enter the NFL at an ideal time. Experienced and comfortable in coverage and space, he is an ideal linebacker to play all three downs in the pass-happy pro game.
Early in his career, Alabama played Mosley as primarily a nickel linebacker. He broke up 10 passes as a true freshman, and he picked off five passes through his first three years. Alabama rarely had to take him off the field, regardless of the situation.
Mosley has shown a variety of coverage abilities. He smothers running backs out of the backfield. He can drop into a zone and remain aware of the various route combinations working in front and behind him. He has no problems running with a tight end down the seam, and there were even times (although rare) when Alabama had him one-on-one in the slot against a receiver.
Here is one example of Mosley dropping into the middle of the field and taking away a seam route to the tight end:
Mosley keeps himself in position to take away any breaking route early on. But once he identifies the tight end running the seam, he flips his hips and trails the play—staying right in the tight end's back pocket. He then turns as the ball arrives, deflecting the pass into the air. It ends in an Alabama interception.
Against LSU last season, Mosley put himself into position for two and maybe even three interceptions. One sure pick turned into a big completion. He finished his senior season with zero interceptions, but with better hands, he probably could have secured five or six over Alabama's 13-game schedule.
Getting into the right position is rarely a problem for Mosley; catching the interception once he's there is. Few linebackers in this class have worse hands. But ask NFL teams if they'd rather have a linebacker always in position or the one with receiver-quality hands, and most will want the player who knows where to be.
Teams in the first round will have an important decision to make on Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. His tape suggests a top-10 talent capable of anchoring the middle of a great defense and going to multiple Pro Bowls. But his medical sheet provides a chilling retort, putting into question his potential availability at the next level.
It's a difficult balancing act for clubs. Teams in love with his game may still knock Mosley down the board based on his medical history.
But given the unpredictability of injuries and the clean bill of health he was given pre-combine, it's certainly possible some team in the late teens or early 20s of the first round is going to get a top-10 player at a great value.
Health withstanding, we could be looking back at Mosley—a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in the right situation—as one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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