Right after the Colts made Philip Wheeler their 3rd round draft choice, I received this email from David Halprin, head writer over at Blogging the Boys telling me that the Colts had "drafted his guy." David is a huge Philip Wheeler fan, and I got the sense he was hoping Dallas might have a shot at him. And why not? At 6'2, 245 pounds, Wheeler made his name in college football as a devastating blitzing LBer. This kind of backer is perfect for the Cowboys, Browns, or even the Patriots.
So, why did a team like Indy, who NEVER blitzes their LBers, draft Philip Wheeler?
At first, I thought they drafted Wheeler with the intention to play him down on the line, like they are doing with Marcus Howard. However, when Bill Polian did his press conference after the draft, he made it clear that Wheeler is staying at LBer. Translation: Tyjuan Hagler better have a monster camp to keep his job.
Leading up to the draft, I did profiles on LBers I thought would fit the Colts' scheme. These were guys who tackled well, played well in zone coverage, hit hard, and had ball hawking skills. Players like Gary Brackett, Freddie Keiaho, and Hagler fit this mold. With Wheeler, when you look at his Scouting Combine report, it's as if Polian totally broke away from the mold:
Adequate worker in the offseason and needs to be monitored in the weight room...Although he can make plays on passes he has a shot at, he lacks natural ball skills or hands...Poor playmaker in zone coverage...
Wheeler is not the second coming of Keith Brooking. He is an efficient blitzer who does a nice job of keeping plays in front of him, but he is too inconsistent in reading keys and his penetration skills might be better suited for the outside. However, he lacks the range to make plays in long pursuit, is a bit stiff in his hips and can be exposed when he comes out of his backpedal. He has some decent value forcing the run, but he fails to use good punch or hand placement vs. tight ends and is marginal in coverage. If some team can be happy with a two-down player, Wheeler might fit their needs, but he's not an every-down contributor based on his play in 2007.
When you read this, you have to wonder if Polian did not accidentally draft the wrong guy. This does not sound like a Cover 2 LBer at all. Yet, the Colts make no bones about it: Wheeler is playing LBer, and, as a 3rd round pick, Wheeler better be starting a LBer soon. Otherwise, this was a wasted pick; pure and simple.
Now, saying all that, there must have been something in Wheeler the Colts saw that led them to think he can play LBer in Indy's Tampa 2 scheme. Wheeler will certainly be the biggest LBer Indy had, but his issues playing in zone coverage better get corrected. Wheeler is an explosive hitter and a dynamic force as a tackler. Maybe, with certain defensive packages, Indy will use Wheeler as a surprise blitz backer.
We will see. Colts.com has good article up on Wheeler here.