Linebackers in a 3-4 Defense are asked to do a myriad of things. The guys on the Outside have to be both pass rushing beasts, as well as be able to drop into coverage and cover a Tight End or a Running Back. The Inside guys have to be big enough to stuff the inside run, as well as cover Wide Receivers who are running routes over the middle of the field. They're also usually tasked with getting the Defense in the right play based on the formation they see from the Offense. Not a complex position at all, huh?
Personally, I think this is the toughest position to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, as not many guys can smoothly switch from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB. The fact that Robert Mathis was able to do it shows just how talented the guy is. Now did he struggle at times last year? Sure, but that was to be expected from a guy who had never dropped into coverage before. The transition didn't go nearly as smooth for Dwight Freeney, who we already know won't be returning to the Colts next season. I think we all knew it was going to happen when the Colts moved to the 3-4, but they let him see if he could be the monster he was as a 4-3 DE, but it just didn't happen.
Really the only other guy on the Colts roster that I'd feel good about playing OLB is Jerry Hughes, who is finally playing the position he should have been drafted for. He's going to get a lot more reps now, as he's nominally a starter at this moment. I truly hope we see the first round talent he was drafted to be.
The draft class is extremely deep at the top, as there are 6-8 guys that could go in the first round, and several more that could go in Round 2. This is the position that makes me wish the Colts had a 2nd round pick, as there's going to be a really good OLB still on the board at that point. Several guys on this list, like the DE class, should be the Best Player Available if they make it to pick 24.
Players to watch at the Combine:
|Ansah, Ziggy||Brigham Young||DL01||1|
|Mingo, Barkevious||Louisiana St||DL33||1|
|Montgomery, Sam||Louisiana St||DL34||1-2|
|Carradine, Tank||Florida St||DL07||2-3|
|Jenkins, Brandon||Florida St||DL20||2-4|
|Collins, Jamie||Southern Mississippi||LB06||2-4|
|Maponga, Stansly||Texas Christian||DL31||4-5|
|Smith, Quanterus||Western Kentucky||DL42||5-7|
|Simon, John||Ohio St||DL40||6-7|
|Bass, David||Missouri Western St||DL03||6-7|
|Williams, Nate||Ohio St||DL50||6-7|
This is probably a slightly lower priority for the Colts, as they have several guys that played pretty well last year. Jerrell Freeman was probably the biggest surprise on the entire roster last year, and he's earned a starting spot for 2013. Pat Angerer was hurt and missed the first five games of the season, and I think he's just not a fit for the 3-4 Defense unfortunately, entering the final year of his rookie deal. Kavell Conner has shown he can be really, really good at defending the run, but hasn't improved much in the passing game, or else he easily would have been the other starter opposite Freeman last year. Conner is also in the final year of his contract. Moise Fokou is a Free Agent, and it's unclear what the Colts will do with him, but he played well enough to return in 2013.
The ILB class is deep on the back end, but there aren't many high-end guys, which benefits the Colts, who I don't really see taking an ILB in the first round, but could draft some depth later on.
Players to watch at the Combine:
|Minter, Kevin||Louisiana St||LB21||1-2|
|Te'o, Manti||Notre Dame||LB32||1-2|
|Reddick, Kevin||North Carolina||LB27||2-3|
|Klein, A J||Iowa St||LB15||4-5|
|Taylor, Bruce||Virginia Tech||LB30||4-6|
|Mauti, Michael||Penn St||LB19||5-7|
|Brown, Arthur||Kansas St||LB05||2-3|
|Hodges, Gerald||Penn St||LB10||6-7|
|Porter, Sean||Texas A&M||LB25||3-5|
Any others we should be keeping an eye on?