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 continue 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 were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#27: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
We continue this year's series with Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who undoubtedly scares NFL teams with his off-field record just as much as his on-field exploits will have those same teams sure of his first-round talent. Ogletree was suspended from his first-ever game with the Bulldogs after he was caught stealing a scooter helmet, was suspended the first four games of the 2012 season after a failed drug test, and was arrested for a DUI just a few days before the scouting combine. Not at all smart.
At the combine, Ogletree tried to explain his past.
"I’m a good person at heart," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes. I feel real bad about the situation. I’m learning from it and I’m moving forward. I don’t really know what it’s going to do. But, like I said, I feel bad about it and I’m very sorry about it. I just have to move forward and take whatever I get."
Ogletree was one of a few players trying to re-do his image at the combine -- LSU's Tyrann Mathieu and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o were two more -- but Ogletree did himself no favors when he ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at the Indianapolis event. Ogletree, who looks much more like a 4.5 athlete on tape, didn't do much better at his pro day, though he was better in the agility drills.
NFL teams will still take a good look at him in the first round, though, because he's precisely the kind of half-field defender required at the next level. With so many teams playing much more nickel and dime coverage, range linebackers are the new prototype, while the old-school thumpers are on their way out to a degree. And though he switched from the safety position after the 2010 season (giving him just two years experience at linebacker) and missed those first four games in 2012, Ogletree still amassed 63 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, and an interception in his final collegiate season.
There's no question that the 6-foot-3, 243-pound Ogletree has everything it takes from a pure football perspective to join Seattle's Bobby Wagner, Tampa Bay's Lavonte David, and Carolina's Luke Kuechly as a star-level optimal range defender. But his off-field question marks may take him out of the first round entirely -- especially when there are more players like him in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Pros: Former safety who plays with that kind of range -- can run quickly to just about any area on the defense from linebacker depth. Reads keys and diagnoses backfield action well -- will patiently wait from his position and then unleash his speed to make plays. Has the height and jumping ability to cover tight ends in the seam. Outstanding half-field defender who seems made to play in nickel -- will close quickly to either sideline. Surprisingly good wrap tackler for his size. Doesn't bounce off a lot of plays and doesn't get dragged too often by power backs. Zeroes in on the ballcarrier with accuracy and doesn't misdirect, which is impressive for all his velocity.
Understands angles and will cut around blockers almost as a receiver would cut away from a defensive back. Possesses the pure burn off the edge to produce as a blitzing linebacker, and will occasionally zoom into the pocket from coverage depth to pressure quarterbacks. Has the backpedal, hip turn, and short-area speed to cover well in man or zone. Dynamic special teams player.
Cons: Thin player who will struggle against blocks -- can be easily walled off. Bounces off blocks at times, but doesn't use his hands to functionally disengage. Needs a bigger line with fairly dominant players to open up gaps for him; he's not a power player at all. Missed tackles are precisely the issue you would expect from a less powerful player who's flying around all the time. Long list of off-field issues will debit him with teams, and he wasn't specifically impressive when explaining his past during media session at the scouting combine.
Conclusion: Though Ogletree is without question the best pure speed linebacker in this draft class and he's able to do more things at a position that is increasing in value all the time, I would severely hesitate before selecting him with a first-round pick -- or any pick at all, for that matter. If I had the choice to take Ogletree or Kansas State's Arthur Brown, Rutgers' Khaseem Greene, or Missouri's Zaviar Gooden, I would probably go with a player who possessed slightly less athleticism, but who wouldn't land me in GM Jail a few years down the road because he can't stay out of trouble.
Generally speaking, those people who can't keep their lives straight in college don't tend to mature in the right ways when you give them far more money, fame, and freedom. NFL teams will have to weigh the potential nightmare scenarios presented by Mr. Ogletree against his freakish and impressive talent. And the guy who takes his number had best hope he's got the right kind of support system in place.