I am beginning to think that every linebacker in the 2011 NFL Draft is projected as a third to fifth-round player. Nate Irving of North Carolina State is our latest mid-round linebacker prospect. Irving finished playing as an inside linebacker, but he has experience on the outside. He is 6'1" and 242 pounds. He decided not to work out at the NFL Combine, but did do all drills at N.C. State's Pro Day.
Depending on which report you read he ran the 40 between 4.65 and 4.79 seconds, posted a 32.5" vert, an 8'11" broad jump, and he put up 27 reps on the bench. Irving had a productive career, and he had a nice bounce back season in 2010. Irving missed the 2009 season, and you really have to question his toughness. He let a nagging collapsed lung, cracked ribs, separated shoulder and a compound fracture in his left leg keep him out of action for an entire season. Back in the old day players would've rubbed a little Tussin on that and never missed a game.
Those injuries were a result of a car accident, and it wasn't certain he'd ever be able to play again. Irving battled back and was downright dominant. He had 20.5 tackles for loss in 2010. Let's see what the scouts are saying....
"He has the tools to compete for a starting job at the next level. He is a bit undersized, but runs well to make plays outside of the tackle box. He has very good instincts and is rarely out of position, but he can get overwhelmed by bigger blockers in a phone booth situation. In the passing game, he plays with good discipline and flashes the burst to jump underneath routes and put pressure on the quarterback when blitzing. Irving will likely be a third or fourth round choice."
Irving actually packed on 10 pounds for his Pro Day, and I am guessing this was written prior to that. 241 pounds is decent size for weakside backer. Still, he doesn't have the best size/speed ratio, and while he has impressive upper body strength it doesn't show up in games as he has a hard time shedding blockers.
...physical, wrap-up tackler who possesses impressive lower body strength with the ability to drive his legs through contact. Exhibits a good first step but displays only average straight-line speed in pursuit. However, he reads and reacts quickly to the play and is consistently getting good jumps on the football.
Showcases decent footwork in his drop but lacks range and is really stiff hipped when trying to get out of his breaks. Also lacks great awareness and has a tendency to lose track of receivers behind him.
Impression: A physical linebacker who knows how to win at the point of attack and consistently finds the football. Have the makings of making a roster and fighting for playing time as a two down backer down the line.
The NFP paints a picture that is fairly common with Irving. He is better in the run game then in coverage. There are inconsistent comments on his straight-line speed, but that doesn't dip below decent.
Above-average instincts. Locates the ball quickly and can beat blockers to the point of attack. Disciplined and reads keys. Quickly recognizes play action and misdirection. Flashes the ability to read quarterback in underneath zone coverage but shows better instincts defending the run than does dropping into coverage. Route recognition is average to below average.
Good initial burst and can make plays in the backfield. Sideline-to-sideline run defender with above average straight-line speed and a non-stop motor.
Looks to rip the ball out in gang tackle situations. Flashes the ability to deliver the big hit but an inconsistent tackler.
And that final line may be the most disconcerting of all. The Raiders do not need an inconsistent tackler. However, it sounds as if he has the skills to improve in that area. Video time:
We see a lot of Irving in this video. Not much in coverage, but you definitely get a feel for his boom or bust style. He is an aggressive linebacker, and he really keys on the backs. At least in this game. I will also say Georgia Tech does a poor job of trying to get a blocker on him. So form those opinions and put them in your pocket.