Some will argue that we have so many LBs on the roster already who are competing for depth that it makes little sense to invest in more project players at the position with late round draft selections. However, there may well be a few gems in this draft class who we can get late, and who may be too good to pass up. Earlier, I compared Jason Williams of Western Illinois and Zack Follett of California, who will likely come off the board in the 3rd/4th Round. Now, I invite you to take a close look at Jason Phillips of TCU and Jasper Brinkley of South Carolina. If one of these players should drop to the Colts in the 4th or 5th Rounds, and we can have only one, who would you draft?
Jason Phillips - TCU
6'1", 239 lbs.
4.60 40 Yard Dash, 4.32 20 Yard Shuttle
34 Inch Vertical Jump, 20 Bench Reps
SENIOR SEASON STATS:
83 Tackles, 27 Assists, 13 TFL, 3.5 Sacks
2009 - Suffered a torn meniscus while working out at the Combine, out 6-8 Weeks.
Strengths: Has the size to play inside, probably in a 3-4 scheme, and should continue to gain mass and develop in the upper body. Avoids blocks from guards in trash to reach the ballcarrier, but is also physical enough to punch linemen and maintain his gap. Very tough and won't back down from anyone. Aggressive, instinctual player with the straight-line speed to attack plays behind the line of scrimmage. Adequate drop and good awareness in coverage, reads the eyes of the quarterback and anticipates receivers' routes well. Secure tackler, has the length to wrap up and strength to bring the man down. Was a long snapper in high school.
Unfortunately, there's not a ton available on Jason Phillips. To me, he screams "sleeper" if that is the case. However, any team that has done their homework, I believe, will know that Phillips is a player. He does well in coverage, can drop back, reads the quarterback well and knows where potential receivers are on the field. He is a hard hitter who does an excellent job of keeping his pad level low when he hits the ball carrier; which not only allows him to stop them in their tracks and potentially drive them backward, it also increases the likelihood of creating turnovers by spearing the ball carriers in their chest. He is fast for his size and projects well as a potential Mike in the Colts system. Based on his vision, discipline, good angles, and effectiveness both against the pass and the run I could see him drawing comparisons to Gary Brackett.
Weaknesses: Mostly a grab-and-drag tackler. Better when the play is in front of him, as he lacks great lateral movement and struggles to change direction in space. He often reads the play correctly but is a step slow to break down or react against faster players, leading to lunging and shoestring tackles that won't be made at the next level. Can be effective as a blitzer, but is not explosive and will whiff. His aggressiveness sometimes causes him to leave his gap responsibility, and he does not have the quickness to recover.
Phillips is not a player who will excel as a result of his astounding athletic ability. He is a bit stiff, not agile, and relies on his instincts and football IQ to read and identify plays. Once Phillips has identified a play he'll hustle to break the play up or stop it short. Without some work on his agility he could be susceptible to speedy rushers, the likes of a Darren Sproles or Adrian Peterson. That said, I'm not sure of many LBs who are overly effective against runners like these in the NFL, particularly ones who carry even more size than Phillips does. Still, it is something to be aware of when evaluating Phillips.
ANOTHER SCOUTING REPORT - UniversalDraft.com
Jasper Brinkley - South Carolina
6'2", 252 lbs.
4.67 40 Yard Dash, 4.32 20 Yard Shuttle, 7.03 3-Cone Drill
35.5 Inch Vertical Jump, 26 Bench Reps
SENIOR SEASON STATS:
65 Tackles, 23 Assists, 5 TFL, 2.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 INT
2007 - Missed all but 4 games with a torn ACL. Affected him in 2008.
Strengths: Prototype size and strength for the inside linebacker position. Immediate impact defender for South Carolina after transferring from Georgia Military College, and improved gradually. Shows some burst as pass rusher on the blitz. Good short-area quickness to elude blockers. Reliable open-field tackler and can be a punisher inside. Intimidating presence whose size and power project nicely as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
Tough, run defending inside linebacker who projects as a two down defender. Plays disciplined football, stacks well against the run and wraps up tackling. Stout at the point, holds his ground against blocks and effectively uses his hands to protect himself. Forceful up the field and plays with authority.
Jasper Brinkley is a large LB for Colts standards. He'd compare to an Adam Seward in size. He is strong, can meet blockers head-on and, as long as he keeps his pad level low, can stop them in their tracks or pushes them back. No ball carrier would look forward to meeting Brinkley head-on, they would lose, big-time. He has the straight line speed and burst to close quickly and can shoot gaps to rush the passer if he is asked.
Weaknesses: Relies on his physical attributes and is still developing his instincts and technique. Too often looks to slip blocks instead of using his size advantage. Struggles with his hand placement and is slow to disengage. Can be fooled by misdirection and lacks the explosiveness to recover. Lacks the instincts and foot speed to be a factor in coverage. Missed all but four games of the 2007 season after tearing his ACL. Underwent surgery September 2007 and wasn't the same player in 2008, when his athleticism was nowhere close to what it was pre-injury.
Marginal skills in coverage and does more chasing opponents down the field rather than defending the pass. Lacks the quick change direction and plays with just average speed.
Brinkley was a JC transfer to South Carolina and has not had a great deal of time to be trained to compete against higher levels of competition because he lost almost all of his junior year when he tore his ACL in the 4th game of the season. Brinkley did have the opportunity to play and excelled in 2006, but then had a year gap in his development and came back for his senior season in 2008. What is clear on tape is that his lateral movement was hampered as a senior, his ability to shed blocks was marginal at best, and his lack of agility (could be affected by the knee injury) makes it difficult for him to recover against more agile ball carriers. His value is limited, to a degree, because he's not an excellent pass defender and may need to be pulled out on passing downs or risk being a liability right in the middle of the zone coverage scheme the Colts utilize.
Jason Phillips was an important part of TCU's smothering defense in 2008. He has the ability to rush the passer, the vision to break up plays and stuff runners in their lanes, and the ability to drop into passing lanes and read quarterbacks to make plays on the ball. Phillips is not overly agile and appears stiff but does a good job of using his leverage when he hits ball carriers to stop them in their tracks. Jasper Brinkley is a big man, a very large LB for Colts standards who could have a high upside. There is no doubt that Brinkley is a project player at this point, unless his recovery from the 2007 ACL injury has made him appear slower, less agile, and less explosive than he really is. That said, meeting Brinkley head on is not a good idea for any offensive player, especially if he keeps his pad level low to take advantage of his brute strength. However, until he learns how to adequately use his hands to shed blockers and engage them at the point of attack consistently, he'll struggle to be effective (unless of course the blockers are tied up by the front four).
Is Jason Phillips too much of a question mark because of his injury to select in the draft? Can Jasper Brinkley fully recover from his 2007 ACL tear, and if he does, will he be able to improve his agility and lateral movement to be effective in the NFL?