The last time the Baltimore Ravens selected an inside linebacker in the first round, he went on to become the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history and brought two Super Bowl rings to M&T Bank Stadium. If the Ravens opt once again to draft that position in Round 1, it will be Alabama’s C.J. Mosley who has the honor of stepping into Ray Lewis’ shoes—and like Lewis he may turn out to be an absolute steal.
Here, we’ll take a deeper look at Mosley’s film from the 2013 season and—like the previous Ravens-specific scouting reports (on Jimmie Ward and Calvin Pryor)—he will be evaluated in four main categories: physical tools, tackling ability, run support and pass coverage.
Mosley isn’t particularly big, measuring in at 6’2”, 234 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. At no point on film does he look undersized, however.
Furthermore, he brings excellent range and athleticism to the position which makes him a very good fit for today’s NFL. That perspective is shared by Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, according to Jim Corbett of USA TODAY:
I've never seen a linebacker get his hand on the ball so many times. C.J. is so instinctive. A lot of people think C.J. is undersized. That is the one knock against him.
The difference is we had some really big guys, Dont'a Hightower and Rolando McClain, play linebacker at Alabama who went to the NFL. Those guys aren't athletic enough to play on third down. Mosley is perfect for today's NFL.
Mosley isn’t an elite athlete in any one category, but he has a good mix of size, strength and quickness which will serve him well in the NFL.
The Nick Saban product is an excellent tackler in two regards: form and instincts. Starting with his form, he almost always wraps up well and drives through ball-carriers instead of trying to make arm tackles or lunging and trying to make the huge hit.
He doesn’t miss many tackles in the open field because he’s so solid, but he’s definitely a big hitter when the opportunity arises.
What truly separates him as a terrific prospect, however, is his instincts. Some players just have a nose for the football, and Mosley is definitely one of them. He reads and reacts brilliantly, and his sideline-to-sideline range allows him to make plays all over the field.
Mosley is strong enough to take on blockers at the point of attack, but he also uses his hands well to disengage and free himself up to make tackles. He did this for his entire career at Alabama, taking on fullbacks in the running lanes and then making plays on the football.
Furthermore, he is excellent at navigating the chaos between the tackles, avoiding players strewn about on the field and filling the appropriate lanes to foil running plays.
Here’s the ESPN Insider scouting report on his run defense (subscription required):
Upper-echelon range versus run. Changes directions quickly (when necessary) and shows good initial burst. Consistently makes plays outside tackle box. Has a good feel for scraping down the line and sifting through traffic. Outstanding closing speed to ball carrier.
Mosley is widely lauded for his coverage ability, but don’t overlook his very solid run defense.
This is his real moneymaker and why he would be worth the 17th overall pick in the draft. Mosley is a three-down linebacker with the ability to break up plays in coverage.
He is loose in his hips and fluid in his footwork when he drops back into coverage. He played a good mix of zone and man coverage at Alabama and thrived in both of them. He doesn’t have top-end acceleration, so he may not be able to recover from any false steps in the NFL, but his eyes and footwork are so good that it isn’t a serious concern.
His coverage didn’t extend down the field on many occasions, so the verdict is still out on his ability to match up tight ends down the seams, but he is excellent in underneath coverage and at sticking to running backs coming out of the backfield.
The only negative in his coverage game is that he doesn’t have tremendous ball skills to pluck the ball out of the air and make interceptions, but he breaks up plenty of passes and is ready to be a three-down linebacker from day one.
After trading up to draft Arthur Brown in the second round of last year’s draft, it would be mildly surprising to see the Ravens spring a first-round pick (that’s what it would take) to land Mosley.
On the other hand, Baltimore’s reputation for "taking the best player available" means that Mosley is actually a more likely pick than you might think.
He’s a more complete inside linebacker than Brown and could form a dynamic duo alongside Brown in the middle of the Ravens defense.
Furthermore, there have only been glowing reviews of him as a person, per NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport:
I don’t know that this affects his draft stock, but teams loved CJ Mosley on his visits. Not just coaches, but secretaries, trainers, etc.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 6, 2014
He’s as solid as they come for an NFL prospect, as the only concerns are related to his durability and health. When you turn on the tape, however, you see a linebacker who is going to be a very productive player in the league with instincts that rival the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Kuechly.
The Ravens could always use a player of that caliber, so don’t be shocked to hear the Alabama product wind up in Baltimore on May 8.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter: