With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to start this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players listed were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
47. Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State
We continue this year's series with Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, one of the best of the new wave of speed linebackers in this draft class. In the NFL, we've seen a definite move to linebackers who are more "right/left" than "inside/outside" -- those players with the skill sets to become half-field defenders in nickel and dime packages as those schemes become far more prevalent at the professional level. From the 2012 NFL draft class, we saw several of those players -- most notably Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David, and Bobby Wagner -- make major impacts on their defenses as rookies. Only one inside linebacker in that class (Dont'a Hightower of the New England Patriots) weighed in at over 250 pounds, and only Hightower was the traditional in-line "thumper."
Brown has all the abilities to take advantage of this new NFL trend. At 6-foot-0 and 241 pounds, and generally timing out in the 4.6 speed range, Brown tore it up in two seasons for the Wildcats after sitting out the 2010 season following his transfer from Miami. The 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year put up 65 solo tackles last season, improving his total of 57 in 2011. Even more impressive for a player of his size is Brown's total of 17.5 tackles for loss in those two seasons. His range paid off with three total interceptions (one for a touchdown in 2012), nine passes defensed, and 3.0 sacks. In 2011, he was the first defender to pick off a pass from Robert Griffin III, and in 2012, he was the first to pick off a Geno Smith attempt.
“No secret," Brown said at the scouting combine of his playing style. "Be at the right place at the right time ... My goal is to be where I need to be. Pursuing to the ball is a key element to my game and any defensive game. That is something I strive to always consistently do, aggressively downhill, always making plays in open space.”
Check and check. The question with Arthur Brown is not whether he has what it takes to make it in the NFL. Clearly, he fits the suit. The question is, how highly does he grade in those tangible assets, and where is improvement still needed?
Pros: Reads the action very well from linebacker depth; Brown is patient off the ball and has the pure speed to scream downhill when he makes his decision. Great short-area speed and agility when sifting though trash at different depths. Closes with excellent speed and tackles well for his size. Impressive awareness when asked to run from sideline to sideline to crash down on run plays -- has frenetic movement skills, but doesn't get overtaken by his own speed. Smooth and controlled runner in space. Looks natural when dropping into coverage -- has a good backpedal and doesn't trip over his own feet when he needs to change direction. Could be a regular curl/flat pass defender in intermediate spaces; outstanding recovery speed will allow him to make plays even if he's burned. Natural zone defender against the run or pass. Can cover tight ends and shot receivers with relative ease.
Stays with the quarterback when in coverage, and his diagnostic skills would make him a natural for defenses in desperate need to counter read-option quarterbacks. Has the lateral movement skills to be placed as the only player at his depth and close to either side. Could be a major factor as a blitz participant in the right scheme and with the right kinds of players around him; sack numbers could trend up with an aggressive defensive coordinator. Tough player and team leader who will play productively through injury. Will lay the wood on crossing receivers when given the opportunity. Knows how to redirect receivers in coverage.
Cons: As you might expect of most lighter linebackers, Brown doesn't have the upper-body strength to beat blocks. Has learned to bounce off them and still make plays, but that may be more difficult against more technically proficient blockers at the NFL level. Gets washed out against slide protection unless he can read the gaps and get through. Doesn't have the functional strength to stand up against blocks in space -- once he's hit, he tends to go down quickly unless he braces for the block and eludes it.
Good tackler overall, but lacks the consistent "killer" move that will force fumbles and stop short-yardage plays. More an opportunist than an instigator in that regard. Will occasionally oversell a tackle because he's so bent on getting there in a hurry. Dive- and ankle-tackles may be tougher to work against more practiced playmakers. In coverage, can occasionally be taken out of plays by bigger, more physical tight ends. Missed most of the combine drills due to a shoulder injury.
Conclusion: I have no question that Arthur Brown could be an impact rookie linebacker in the NFL; it just depends on how he's used. In a system where the defensive line is responsible for taking up blockers and Brown is able to blast through with his pesky style, he'll be a real asset. He is a full-field defender with a lot going for him. When I watched Bobby Wagner's Utah State tape, I saw this same kind of player -- the kind with a true 360-degree range. Not only an every-down player, but an every-down player who can do most everything he's asked to do in the right kind of defense.
If you want a 'backer who can overpower blockers and backs, this is not your man, but the NFL is moving away from that type of defender for the most part anyway. Modern pass defense requires linebackers to act like box safeties with very bad attitudes, and outside of Georgia's Alec Ogletree (whose personal baggage will have a lot of teams hesitating to pull the trigger on him), Brown is the best in that style. And like Wagner, he might take a second-round selection all the way to near Rookie of the Year status.
NFL Comparison: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks