With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers. After redshirting in 2007, the former high school superstar tore it up in his sophomore campaign, putting up 55 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Of his six created turnovers, he returned three for touchdowns. In 2009 and 2010, Ayers built more consistency around his playing style and became a true athletic standout at the college level. In just three full seasons, Ayers put up 183 tackles (125 solo), 27 solo tackles for loss, 10 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles, and six interceptions.
Pros: Absolutely explodes off the snap, especially when he's setting up at the line as a pure edge rusher. Gets into the backfield in a hurry and uses his impressive recovery speed to zero in on tackles without overpursuing. As an edge-rusher, gets low in his turn around the tackle and can drive through the block quickly to recover and pursue. Surprisingly physical for his build when playing strong-side 4-3 ‘backer or inside in a 4-4 (eight in the box with a safety); he won't blow straight-line blockers away, but he has the upper-body strength to get past cut blocks and most blocking tight ends. Is able to slide off inline blocks and wrap up the ballcarrier with consistency. Can sift through trash at the line and fill the gap against the run very quickly.
Cons: Ayers is decent in coverage, but he relies more on pure speed and agility than a comprehensive ability to break down routes and be in the right place at the right time. His most notorious teaching point is a tendency to bite on play action; and he'll go from quarterbacks playing checkers to chess with various fakes at the NFL level. Exhibits good tackling technique at times, but his lack of weight (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) shows up when he gets bumped out of heavy traffic, especially against more physical players inside. May want to add a bit of muscle if it doesn't affect his overall burst and speed.
Conclusion: The book on Ayers is that his amazing athletic potential must be balanced in the evaluation process by his tendency to bite on play-fakes and get dragged around the field by more football-savvy offensive players. And while that's evident at times (especially against the pass), Ayers clearly has the raw ability to be a star at the NFL level.
The difference between Ayers and other recent pure linebackers who have been unable to turn their athletic gifts into consistent production is that he has an outstanding ability to blast through to the backfield from the edge. This should make him very appealing to any team that shifts its strong-side ‘backer to end in hybrid fronts based on the situation.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State