There are many different defenses in the NFL, and they require many different things of outside linebackers. Base 3-4 fronts have "endbackers" who act as smaller defensive ends, and their entire priority is going after the quarterback, with coverage as a very secondary issue. Defenses lining up in a 4-3 ask their 'backers to roam in space more often, and then there are the hybrid teams like Miami, San Francisco, Arizona and New England that demand even more versatility.
The top two projected outside linebackers in the 2010 NFL draft class played different schemes in college, and both may have new things expedited of them in the NFL. Will Brandon Graham and Sergio Kindle measure up?
Brandon Graham, Michigan
Sergio Kindle, Texas
Pros: Great initial push and drive off the snap, and he combines this with effective hand moves to present blockers with a lot to handle. Very quick to shift off blocks and explode past a blocker into the backfield. Shoots through gaps with outstanding speed. Has the strength to push back blockers in side-to-side action. Shows good penetration at the five-technique, using his quickness against stouter players. Sets the edge in outside pass-rushing situations with the speed that prevents tackles from setting their base and blocking him out. Greatly impressed at the Senior Bowl with his repertoire of inside and outside pass-rush moves. Good enough agility in space and courage. The lack of height some people ding him for is actually an advantage, because he can drive under pads and push forward more easily.
Pros: Explodes off the snap and plays with consistent drive and power with every step in pass rush. Bangs through trash with a quickness. Has a devastating hand-strike that can rock a blocker back. Upper-body strength allows him to "play bigger" than he actually is. Good ability to diagnose running plays (to the point of sticking his eyes to a back through a knock-back block) and will crash inside to stop them. Will outdo outside pass-blockers with his outstanding turn speed on the edge. Able to use hand moves to leverage his way to the quarterback. Will chase down elusive backs in short spaces with raw quickness and body turn. Killer speed on outside runs; he's great at fighting pulls and sweeps, extending the horizontal line and slipping off to tackle. Has a very effective loop move inside which could be further developed in the pros. Can handle coverage in short areas.
Cons: Can get blocked and bulled out of plays on inside push as a 4-3 end. Delay in re-setting off initial blocks makes him a liability against the run outside. Despite his initial hand-punch against blockers, can be somewhat easily walled off where the blocker wants him to go. Lines up in a wide nine-tech look out of a 4-3, but can be defeated in this rush by a straight-on block because he's better using his inside and outside moves from head-on. Is so involved in pursuit that he will blow right by running backs and look silly trying to re-direct and tackle.
Cons: Puts a lot of movement into making turns in the backfield; plays with too much abandon at times and would be even better with additional economy of motion. Not effective when taking tackles head-on, needs to hit a gap or use his elusiveness or bull a blocker before losing the speed advantage. Character concerns center around a drunk driving charge on 2007 and crashing his car into a building (the publicized "texting while driving" incident) in 2009.
Conclusion: Graham played all over the place in Michigan's hybrid sets – as right and left end in three- and four-man fronts. At the Senior Bowl, all he had to do was to line up in one place (as a 4-3 end) and go for it; perhaps that's why he was so dominant through the week of practices and in the game. Given the opportunity to rush straight on without moving around so much, he has 15-sack NFL potential. Most of Graham's deficits can be cured by a switch to a position where he's allowed to spend 80-90 percent of his time going after the quarterback, which is the logic behind his projection as a 3-4 "endbacker."
Conclusion: While Kindle would be a quick fit as a pure rush linebacker in a 3-4 front, he could really shine as a hybrid end with an extra 10 pounds of muscle and additional tools to take on blockers. The Osi Umenyiora(notes) comparison is based more on individual skills than schematic accomplishments, but Kindle does have the potential to do much more. If the Patriots take him in their 3-to-4 front switches (that's where many mocks have him going), he'll probably have to make some adjustments. He was put in more end situations after Brian Orakpo(notes) was drafted by the Redskins before the 2009 season, which was a step in the right direction.
Pro comparison: Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants
Doug Farrar is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports' Shutdown Corner