This is the first article in a series that I am calling "Who Would You Rather?"
No, I don't mean the juvenile (yet entertaining) game played by virtually every teenage boy in America. Instead, this will be my attempt at objectively scouting players and giving Detroit Lions fans an outlet for expressing which prospects they like better.
In this edition, we'll be looking at prospects that the Lions could take at linebacker in round two or three of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Disclaimer: I'm not going to include Akeem Ayers in this because I'm fairly certain he won't be there in round two and may be better suited in a 3-4 defense rushing the passer anyway, nor will I include Martez Wilson, who would have to play MLB which would move Levy to the outside. While the Lions brass has said they don't mind doing that, I'm not sold on the idea.
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina
Strengths- Bruce Carter is freakishly athletic for linebacker. Watch at the 30 second mark as he is able to track down Tyrod Taylor, arguably the most athletic QB in college football last year (though Cam Newton might have something to say about that). Or at around the one minute mark, where he stops running and then turns on the jets and is actually gaining ground on the WR he's chasing.
There is no telling how high his ceiling is; he is physically gifted enough to be one of the best LB's in the league. Athletic enough to cover backs out of the backfield and big enough to be able to handle a lot of TE's. Could be a terror when blitzing the QB.
Weaknesses- Not the best tackler, as he chooses to make the big hit instead of wrapping up, and he often whiffs because of it. Doesn't like to take on blocks, usually choosing to try and get around them, which can occasionally work but can also leave teammates behind him hanging out to dry. Has a tendency to over pursue and has questionable instincts. Potential health risk coming off a torn ACL.
Overall, Carter is scary athletic and has virtually no ceiling in terms of his potential. He definitely needs to be coached up and polish his game a bit to limit mental mistakes and improve his tackling, but if his ACL injury checks out, there will be a lot of 4-3 teams trying to get a chance at drafting this kid. There is, however, the potential that Carter could be the next highly athletic talent that busts in the NFL.
Mason Foster, OLB, Washington
Strengths- Foster is an absolute tackling machine. Last season, he led the Pac-10 and was second in the nation in tackles, averaging just over 12.5 per game. He is a sure tackler who chooses to wrap up the ball carriers legs as opposed to hitting high or whiffing. He shows the ability to consistently take on blockers, shed them and get to the ball carrier. He has terrific instincts. Watch the play at 2:45 and how, despite all of the action from the offense is flowing right, he stays home and is able to effect the play where a TE has leaked out the back side.
"Who Would You Rather" have the Lions take in round two or three of the 2011 NFL Draft?
Weaknesses- Foster is adequately athletic, but he's certainly no Bruce Carter. Because of this lack of athleticism, it's possible that he is likely close to maxed out in terms of potential. Not a liability in coverage, but would do better in a defense that uses a lot of zone schemes where he could use his instincts to cover an area instead of trying to cover a TE or RB on his own. By no means a big hitter and may not be a "playmaker". Is he a three down linebacker or a two down guy?
Overall, Foster is one of the safer linebacker prospects in this draft. You know exactly what you're getting from him: a smart, tough, sure tackling linebacker with a (excuse the cliche) "nose for the football".
My only questions on him are whether or not he has a high enough ceiling to be taken early in the second round where the Lions are picking (because he likely won't make it to their spot in the third) and if he is good enough in coverage to be a three down linebacker at the next level.
These two prospects couldn't be more different, and it poses an interesting question in terms of what we as fans value in prospects. So, Detroit Lions fans, "Who Would You Rather?"