March 13, 2011
With the 2010 NFL season in the books (and a lockout battle now in the courts) it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. We've already done scouting reports of the top 40 players on our board, and you can read all the details on the first Shutdown 40 here. For the second Shutdown 40, players 41-80, we have the advantage of combine performances and that much more evaluation material.
Over the next few weeks, we'll also be adding Pro Day data when relevant. But we're always going mostly on game tape; the proper evaluation formula seems to be about 80 percent tape, 20 percent Senior Bowl/combine/Pro Day. If you see what you expect in drills, you go back to the tape to confirm. If what you see in drills surprises you in a positive or negative sense, you go back to the tape to catch where the anomalies may be.
We continue the second Shutdown 40 with Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson. At the combine, Wilson showed impressive straight-line speed with a 4.42 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. More importantly, he displayed the ability to be a force in any direction with the Fighting Illini in his four-year career (though he missed all but the opening game of the 2009 season after having surgery for a herniated disc in his neck). He played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2007, ramped up his game in 2008, and made an estimable comeback from surgery in 2010, amassing 105 tackles (63 solo), four sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and four quarterback hurries in his junior season alone. In his collegiate career, Wilson put up 226 tackles (119 solo), nine sacks, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles, and 11 quarterback hurries.
At the next level, Wilson's versatility may be his greatest asset — like Miami's Karlos Dansby(notes), to whom he is often compared, he can do a bit of everything. "You know, it varies," he said at the combine, when asked where NFL teams may see him playing. "Some people say inside, some say outside. Some ask me what position I'd like to play, and basically, you know, I explain to them if I could play kind of similar to how I was playing at Illinois both inside, outside at times, even blitzing off the edge at times, if I was able to do all that, that would be best. Wherever a coach would want me to play, put me in the best position to make play for the team, I'll do it."
Pros: Good read ability and range in pass coverage in frequent two-linebacker sets — his range set the tone for what his defense was able to do from a formation perspective. Uses his size and backpedal to scout short passes and bring receivers down in a hurry. When crashing through on inside blitzes, Wilson possesses the quickness and hand-fighting chops to slice through guards and sack quarterbacks or stop running plays.
Has enough burst and lateral agility to be a real problem for opposing offensive linemen when working in blitzes that allow him to loop around different protections. Covers slot receivers well to nickel depth. Very strong for a tall player — he bounces off blocks and doesn't appear to be impacted by the attempts of fullbacks to erase him from plays. Uses his hands well to get through blockers from side to side. Good stopper in goal-line situations. Wilson is a student of the game who upped his devotion to the game after his injury.
Cons: Herniated disc may still be a concern — he's required to wear a neck protector when he plays. Wilson is quick to get up to speed, but he's a step slow in run diagnosis at times, and this impacts his ability to get to with running backs who hit outside quickly and peel off coverage to effectively tackle. Really doesn't seem to have that extra gear to catch up to plays, which is the one thing that may keep him out of the first round; even when he sifts though trash in short areas, quicker ballcarriers can slip by him.
Conclusion: The good news about Wilson is that he is that Swiss Army Knife-type player; the bad news is that without elite middle-distance speed on the field, he's going to struggle in certain situations. At times, this was exacerbated by Illinois' desire to use him as a range linebacker; he seems better-suited to a situation where he's starting in a smaller box and then gets out to make plays.
As a pure inside linebacker in a 3-4 or 3-3-5 scheme — or moving around in a defense with a hybrid set of fronts — Wilson will be a real asset with his overall skill set. He could also be used as an edge rusher; in the right kind of defense, that might be his best position. With that extra gear, he might be Jerod Mayo(notes) … but there's certainly nothing wrong with the potential to match Dansby's importance and production.
NFL Comparison: Karlos Dansby, Miami Dolphins
More Second Shutdown 40
#41 — Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia | #42 — Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple | #43 — Aaron Williams, DB, Texas | #44 — Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech | #45 — Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
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