The following is a scouting report for Akeem Ayers, considered the best pure 4-3 OLB prospect in the draft (some believe Miller can become a 4-3 OLB).
Ayers is a 6-4 255 pound physical specimen with tremendous athleticism for his size. Let’s take a look.
Linebacker Specific Traits
This area is the single biggest reason why I am not a huge Akeem Ayers fan. Ayers is a good wrap-up tackler who can get the ball carrier in the backfield because of his size/speed combination. Ayers can tackle well in the open field, and is excellent at dragging defenders down from behind. He plays under control and relies on technique to bring down the ball carrier. Ayers is also good at getting into position to drive the ball carrier back into defensive traffic. However, Ayers is not a punishing tackler at the point of attack, despite have tremendous size for a linebacker. Ayers is hesitant to react to the run because he almost always takes a step back to get into pass coverage before considering run. Ayers is a willing run stuffer, but it seems like he almost rather let the run come to him than attack the run (don’t think that’s true, it just seems that way because he’s heistant in the run game). The best way to put this, is Ayers is a cautious run supporter. He’d rather be 100 percent positive he’s not going to get burned by a screen pass, or draw before he gets invovled in the run game, which is why he’ll often let the run game come to him (this has to do with instincts more than willingness).
Ayers is a very fluid athlete for a man his size and has tremendous length on his arms which can help him disrupt the pass coverage if he can bump early, and it also allows him to challenge the pass when he’s coming in at the quarterback. The other thing does tremendously well for a linebacker is catch the football when it hits his hands. Ayers doesn’t have great speed (just great speed for his size) and can’t turn and run with Wide receivers or even fast Tight ends in man coverage, but he plays the pass first so he does get into good position. Ayers is excellent for a linebacker in zone coverage because he can read the quarterbacks eyes, he gets good depth and in good position immediately and he has a good feel for the passing game. This is, to me, Ayers strength.
Ayers is not in the same instinct class as a player like Mark Herzlich. Ayers is not a natural linebacker, he’s a great athlete playing the linebacker position. This is not to say that Ayers isn’t a willing learner or that he can’t make plays because he makes plays all over the field in both the run and passing games, this is just to say that he’s not the most instinctual linebacker prospect. He may work hard to overcome this in the N.F.L. or with better coaching may get a greater football I.Q. (I think it can be learned, preperation and knowledge of what to expect increases confidence of what will happen, thus “instincts improve” and a player learns how to play faster).
Jerry Reese of the NY Giants said the biggest factor the Giants have when looking as pass rushers is Arm Length. This explains why they absolutely loved Jason Pierre Paul, and why they have a lot of long armed defensive linemen on their roster. This was an interesting statement and opened up my eyes a little bit, it’s common knowledge that one of teams most important for an OL is arm length, but you rarely see that as a requirement for pass rushers, but maybe it should be as the Giants find pass rushers everywhere. Anyway, the point is that Akeem Ayers has tremendous arm length which may help him as a pass rusher at the N.F.L. level. He’s a very good pass rusher for an OLB because of his arm length and quickness. He also can deflect passes if he gets to the pass rusher. Like most young prospects his pass rush moves are limited and he could work on his hand placement and technique, but that is not uncommon for a college prospect.
This is Ayers biggest draw. Although Ayers seems like an ideal fit for a 4-3 SAM linebacker he could also play as a 3-4 OLB, and as we approach the draft I think that Ayers potential as a 3-4 OLB fit will become more and more publicized. It’s not often teams will be able to find 3-4 OLB with Ayers size who are tremendous in coverage. Ayers also has the pure athletic ability to develop into a very good pass rusher. Ayers can play as the 4-3 SAM or even as a 4-3 Defensive end (though he’s so good in pass coverage I think he wouldn’t be utlizied in the best way for a team if he was relegated to 4-3 DE.
Athleticism Ayers is a sudden athlete who is very fluid for his size. He’s well built to where he could even add more weight to his frame and has good hand eye coordinaton. He’s not going to be able to run down the field with WR, but few Linebacker save for Brian Urlacher can.
Ayers wasn’t overwhelming in any one stat in college, but was productive in all facets of the game. Last year he had 68 tackles, 2 INT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 passes broken up, 2 FF.
In 2009: he had 3 TD. 4 INT (2 for TD), 73 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5 sacks, and 3 passes broken up.
(From CBSdraftscout.com) “Redshirted in 2007. Arrived at UCLA and was known as a prankster, but has matured into a team leader, according to those close to the program. Voted a team captain in 2010. Has played in all 37 games of his career … History major who earned a spot on the Honor Roll in 2007″
Bartolis Final Word
My take is a little different than a lot of others out there who think that Ayers is very solid, but doesn’t have tremendous potential, while I see it differently. I think the sky is the limit for this kid because of his versatility, size to speed combination, long arms and because of how much he has produced already despite limitations because of his instincts.
I think Ayers is a bit soft in run support, which may have pushed him further than the Big Board than he deserves to be, but we’re going to reevluate the big board after the combine.
I think the best way to describe Ayers is a word that I used at the top: he is a cautious player. And maybe that’s not as bad of a thing as I think when I’m watching, sure being cautious keeps him from making some huge run stops that Ray Lewis makes when he knows instantly it’s and a run and where it’s going, but Ayers makes his fair share of plays and isn’t going to cost his team a game. He’ll quietly fill up the stat sheet in all areas, but if he ever becomes truly comftorable in his pre-snap diagnosis this kid could be tremendous.
I’m going to give you guys two player comparisons because he is such a different kind of player.
Mathias Kiwanuka: They are the same height and about the same size and offer the same versatility that Ayers brings. Kiwanuka has played 4-3 Sam and 4-3 DE and there was a lot of talk about trading him to the Browns before the 2009 season to play 3-4 OLB (in exchange for Braylon Edwards). But I think Ayers is a much more natural linebacker and better in coverage than Kiwanuka, while Kiwanuka is a better pass rusher and run stopper.
Manny Lawson-Coming into college Lawson had tremendous speed, which Ayers doesn’t have, but they play exactly alike. They are both do everything well, nothing exceptional linebackers that will succeed on some level in the N.F.L. I don’t think Ayers will ever be a bust because he is so versatile and so willing to play football.
I think is absolute highest potential is Karlos Dansby another player I think he can be compared to…the point is Ayers size and athletic ability is uncommon and if ever truly gets it on the football field he could be pretty special, but he’s going to take some time to develop into the player he will be in the N.F.L.