Two linebackers having productive careers at the college level are receiving a great deal of scrutiny this offseason leading up to the draft. University of North Carolina's Zach Brown and Nebraska's Lavonte David are both considered prospects to play at the "Will-backer" or weak-side linebacker position in a 4-3 defense. Though both have been branded with the dreaded "undersized" label, scouts and league personnel agree that they both are likely to be selected on the second day of the draft. Despite such similar projection, it is because of their contradistinctive styles of play that one of them stands the better chance of achieving success in the NFL.
Zach Brown was a three-year starter at North Carolina having accumulated 230 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks and 7 interceptions. His senior season was his best with 105 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defended. There is no doubting his athleticism, for Brown is an elite athlete faster than many wideouts. Such an athletic skill set is appealing to teams using a 4-3 Tampa 2-style base defense (think Derrick Brooks and Lance Briggs). But there are questions about Brown's work ethic, overall football IQ, as well as his maturity (e.g., having been found to have violated team rules, he was suspended from playing anything but special teams in North Carolina's game against Georgia Tech this season). His on-field play is what demands the most criticism as "the tape" shows him playing undisciplined, timid even, a mere pursuit linebacker running plays down from behind. He lacks toughness and tends to avoid contact, often compromising lane integrity by playing matador with charging blockers. He will take bad angles to the ball and might just be the worst tackler in the entire draft. He tends to lunge or "carpet slide" while flailing his arms at the ball-carrier's legs as though trying to sweep them out from under (an indication, perhaps, that he prefers watching fight scenes in Jason Stratham movies more than, say, studying film). While in coverage he tends to look back at the QB, losing track of the man he is suppose to be covering. And when tackling a ball-carrier or delivering a big hit to a defenseless receiver he will often stand over and taunt him -- a dint of habit sure to draw yellow hankies in the NFL.
Albeit one should never contrive an opinion regarding a prospect by watching highlights on youtube, the video here exemplifies all the aforementioned traits Brown exhibits far too often on a football field. His effort in "trying" to run down the ball-carrier at the 1:31 mark of the video is especially something sure to have drawn from the faces of NFL scouts an expression usually reserved for those having been wedgie-ambushed.
Brown's style of play neutralizes his athletic ability and is not conducive to the Big Boy league. On the other hand...
David was a two-year starter for the Cornhuskers after having transferred to Fort Scott Community College where in 2009 he faced off against a Cam Newton-quarterbacked Blinn College for the junior college national championship. David having been assigned the duty of shadowing Newton the entire game, sacked the future number-one overall pick on a fourth down and eight which should have clinched the national title for Fort Scott (for the rest of the story click here).
At Nebraska, David finished fourth all-time in tackles (285) despite playing only two years and set a school record with 152 tackles in 2010. He was named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year in 2011. Having been told his entire life that he is too small to be an effective linebacker, David is a maximum effort advocate on the field. With good work ethic and high football IQ, and armed with first-rate instincts and a tenacious mentality, David always plays bigger than he is. Even with his size disadvantage, he is always around the action and chasing plays down from behind. He is not afraid of contact and is quite apt at kniving between blockers and exploding through the slightest of creases to make a tackle. He is strong in coverage and possesses the quickness to stay with running backs. Once again, a youtube highlight video hardly being a reliable mechanism by which to evaluate a draft prospect, I recommend this video but as a means to see on display the traits I have cited above.
Particularly if given room to roam, say, as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 Cover/Tampa 2 defense -- like the one implemented by the Vikings -- Lavonte David projects well at the next level. In comparison, teaching an old dog new tricks is a difficult assignment to accomplish in the NFL -- one which any team drafting Brown is going to be obligated to pull off. His tackling is pathetic and laughable, and he needs to learn how to be more physical in general. Furthermore, that which Brown lacks in order to succeed in the NFL --
instincts, consistent effort, football intelligence -- David excels
The winner of this match-up is Lavonte David.