During the four day combine extravaganza, NFL Network interviewed a series of individuals to share their thoughts on the workouts taking place. One of them was former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who is now out of work. He shed light on how he evaluated draft prospects and was very quotable during his stay on the air. One of the noteworthy messages from Tannenbaum was this: if one takes good players from good schools and asks them to do exactly what they did in college, they’ll be successful the majority of the time.
When considering the prospects in this draft, there’s perhaps no player that could suit Tannenbaum’s draft philosophy more than LSU’s Kevin Minter.
Minter, a middle linebacker in LSU’s 4-3 defense, is likely to be a late first-round selection come April. He’s just under six feet tall, but he packs a punch at 246 pounds and has had no issues taking on blockers in his college career. He’s arguably the best run defending linebacker in the class because he’s fundamentally sound, is quick to read-and-react, and he’s very aggressive while attacking interior gaps. That combination could be an added advantage for him in comparison to his competition, many of whom seem to be on the smaller and/or lighter side, and his versatility will also be an asset against the ever-developing running game of the NFL.
Despite his prowess against the run, there’s been some concerns about Mintre in pass coverage. At LSU, he was in zone defense a significant amount of the time, patrolling the underneath middle as crossers were both in front of him and behind. This is not necessarily a knock on Minter, but it’s something that we’ve seen before from linebackers — such as the Oakland Raiders’ Rolando McClain — and they’ve struggled in the pros. Where Minter differs from McClain, for example, is that he’s better fundamentally and technically and is more fluid. Even though Minter is better in those areas, he doesn’t always show great agility and that gets him in trouble in space at times.
If you’re suddenly concerned about his ability in pass coverage, don’t be. Why? Because he’s still a fit for the way NFL defenses cover. Along with short zone coverage underneath, Minter “carried” receivers and tight ends through the middle of the field, covering similarly to a “man under” technique. In layman’s terms, what this means is that he covered inside of the receiver while receiving help over the top and outside from another defender, as seen against Mississippi State this past season.
Minter was lined up in his usual middle linebacker spot across the A-gap — in between the center and right guard — while Mississippi State had 11 personnel (1 tight end, 1 running back) on the field. The lone tight end was lined up on the right, in the short side of the field, while Minter stood on the near hash. More than five yards behind Minter stood a split-field safety as part of the Tigers’ Quarters coverage.
At the snap, Minter shifted to his left and ran underneath the seam route of the tight end. He had help over the top from the strong safety, which allowed him to aggressively reroute the tight end while running vertically.
He did well while carrying the vertical route, simultaneously showing discipline and physicality. If the quarterback wanted to make the throw, he could have put it over Minter’s head because the safety got caught up in the outside route that was ran vertically as well. Nonetheless, Minter handled his responsibility well.
This is the sort of coverage that Minter will likely be asked to do more often in the pros, as the league continues to utilize more concepts that require linebackers to carry routes and/or play man under technique, such as in Cover 2 Man (Man Under).
One team that could look very hard at him at the end of first round is the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, who now have a vacancy in the middle of their defense due to veteran Ray Lewis retiring. The Ravens frequently played their inside linebackers underneath in zone coverage — perhaps to cover up their lack of range and athleticism — and walked them out to briefly mirror receivers and tight ends last season. Along with their love for toughness and instincts, the LSU linebacker appears to be an ideal fit in Baltimore.