From touted to doubted

Charles Robinson
Yahoo! Sports

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It was the second day of Senior Bowl week and Oklahoma linebacker Clint Ingram was trying to rip the head off of Ohio State center Nick Mangold. Haymakers flew, jerseys were yanked, players screamed – and finally Chad Greenway stepped into the middle of the chaos.

"Whoa!" Greenway yelled, jamming himself between Mangold and Ingram, who were each still swinging wildly. "Get back!"

The fracas came to an abrupt halt and the players shuffled in opposite directions thanks to Greenway, who had stayed in the middle of it all. The situation has become all too familiar for the Iowa linebacker, who has been stuck in his own fight ever since.

Once projected to be a top-10 pick by NFL scouting departments, Greenway has been trapped in the middle of dueling perceptions about his ability over the last few months. On one side, he's viewed as an elite player whose attributes simply didn't test well. On the other, he's billed as a player whose measurables and skill had been highly overrated heading into the predraft process.

Sound familiar? It should. A similar debate centered around former USC and current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu last season.

Like Tatupu, Greenway did nothing but produce in college, garnering All-American status last season while notching 13 tackles per game. Four months ago, when NFL scouts talked about "special" linebacker prospects, the conversation usually went in this order: 1A. Ohio State's A.J. Hawk; 1B. Chad Greenway.

But early draft evaluations are often built on sand. And when the scouting combine arrived for Greenway, the tide had come with it.

Only a few weeks after an impressive Senior Bowl showing, Greenway hit a workout wall at the combine in Indianapolis. After predicting a 40-yard dash time in the range of 4.5 to 4.6 seconds, Greenway ran as slow as 4.8, according to some teams. And that was only the second alarming number. He also managed only 16 repetitions in the bench press – a result considered weak for a 242-pound player.

"I could have done more but they got me for rocking," said Greenway, explaining why some of his lifts were disqualified for improper form. "… It's obviously not the showing I wanted to have."

It's just the latest knock in what has been a career full of lumps for Greenway. Growing up on a farm in tiny Mount Vernon, S.D. (population hovering around 480), Greenway's graduating class boasted a grand total of 29 people. His high school football games weren't even fit for regular 11-on-11 play. Instead, Greenway learned the game playing 9-on-9.

"It wasn't really that different," Greenway said. "It was just football as we knew it in South Dakota. If growing up playing 11-man football, [if] you thought that was normal, well, to you guys it was normal. To us, it was normal playing nine-man football."

Unfortunately for Greenway, the combination of living in South Dakota and playing a pared down version of the game didn't exactly endear him to college football recruiters. He appeared destined for a Division II career until Iowa offered him a scholarship at the last minute. Even then, it would take two full years – one redshirt campaign and a freshman season limited by a torn ACL – before Greenway flashed the star power that eventually landed him on NFL radar screens.

By the end of his sophomore year, Greenway had established himself as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, finishing with 132 tackles and earning second-team all-conference honors. Two seasons later, he had polished himself into one of college football's premier defensive players and was thought to be fighting with Hawk for the honor of being the draft's first defensive player off the board.

But the celebration was merely a prelude to another round of doubts. Billed as a player with all the tools and instincts, Greenway was already undergoing some nitpicking before his below-average combine performance. Scouts complained that he ran around blockers rather than shedding them and getting to the ball, and when it came to his pass-rushing skills, he was a work in progress at best.

By the time he'd gotten done with the combine, pundits were already moving him down the draft board in a deep linebacker class. The player once seen as a top-10 pick was suddenly wading into the deep end of Round 1 – somewhere between picks 20 and 32.

But as the draft draws closer, flaws typically tend to get blown out of proportion for linebackers. A year ago, Tatupu was too small and slow, Texas' Derrick Johnson couldn't shed blocks and Georgia's Odell Thurman was a character train wreck. All three watched their draft stock suffer in some respect, and all three rebounded to be top-flight rookies.


Here are five more difference-making linebackers:

A.J. Hawk, OLB, Ohio State – Considered the best and most polished defensive player available, Hawk – some believe – could turn out to be the best player in this draft. He would have been rated one of the top defensive players last year, and another year in college only added seasoning. Depending where he lands, he could be the early favorite for defensive rookie of the year.

Ernie Sims, OLB, Florida State – Compared favorably to former FSU linebacker Derrick Brooks, Sims plays with the wild abandon that linebacker coaches love. That said, he can get too reckless at times, over-pursuing plays and running the risk of long-term concussion issues. He'll have to get slightly bigger in the NFL, but his combination of speed and aggression should make him an instant highlight.

DeMeco Ryans, OLB, Alabama – Like Greenway, Ryans has seen his draft stock take a hit despite stellar college production. Scouts want him to get a little bigger and improve his strength when shedding blockers. He also doesn't have great ball skills when playing pass defense.

Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State – He's not the super athlete like A.J. Hawk or Ernie Sims. But he moves well for being in the mold of a big, old-school linebacker who relies on instincts and taking the right angles. He can over-pursue at times, but he's considered a good, balanced all-around linebacker.

D'Qwell Jackson, ILB, Maryland – Jackson had a nice showing at the Senior Bowl. Many teams want an inside linebacker bigger than the 229 pounds he played at last season. He has good speed and instincts, but he shouldn't be expected to be a sideline-to-sideline guy. His upper body strength (19 reps on the bench press) was just average.

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