This is the second in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.
The decision process probably didn't last all that long. Alabama ILB Rolando McClain had a year of college eligibility remaining, but he had achieved so much in three years that it was time to move on.
"I came to school with the goal of being a first-team All-American, winning the Butkus [as the nation's top linebacker] and winning a national championship," McClain said.
"I've accomplished those goals, and I think I'm going to leave the university pretty satisfied with what I've done here."
The 6'3", 254-pound McClain was a key element in Nick Saban's first Crimson Tide recruiting class and he instantly became a force in Saban's 3-4. He totaled 75 tackles as a freshman and suffered no sophomore slump with 95 stops, including 12.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Then the three-year starter helped 'Bama to a national title while collecting 105 tackles, four sacks and 14.5 stops behind the LOS.
"Playing in such a complicated defense has helped me," he said at his pro day. "It will be somewhat easier being that I did play for [Saban] for three years and he helped me understand so much football — not just what to do in his defense but understanding the game of football from a defensive standpoint and understanding offenses. It gives me a little bit of an advantage."
McClain has battled Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the intestines, by taking four to five pills daily since high school. A dynamic leader who served as Saban's defensive QB, McClain recently said he's still slowed by a hamstring injury he suffered during the year and he thinks his 4.6-second 40-yard time should be a 4.5.
"His leadership had as much impact on our team and our team's success since he's been here in the last three years — even in his freshman year — as anyone that I've ever been associated with," said Saban of the departing quiet leader.
Kindle: Read All About Him
You know Texas OLB Sergio Kindle is a versatile dude, considering he was the first player ever to be named a finalist for both the Butkus and Hendricks (top defensive end) awards. Kindle (6'3", 250) had 2.5 sacks in the 'Horns' tight national championship loss to Alabama and led UT with 36 pressures as a senior. He racked up 10 sacks as a junior, earning All-America and All Big 12 first-team honors in the process.
There isn't much to question regarding Kindle's athletic ability as he's fluid and moves well in space, but some have questioned his strength and judgment. There was a three-game suspension after a drunken-driving charge in 2007, and then he drove his car into an apartment building while texting before the '09 season. But Kindle, an explosive prospect with a quality quicks/speed combo (4.71 in the 40) and ups (36.5" vertical), also served some time on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll and took an active role in the community.
There's a lot to like about Missouri OLB Sean Weatherspoon, even though his production was down as a senior. After amassing 155 tackles (including 18.5 behind the line) and five sacks his junior year, Weatherspoon followed up with 104 stops (14.5 behind the line) and 4.5 sacks. He wowed at the combine, posting a 4.68 in the 40, benching 225 pounds 34 times and leaping to a 40.0" vertical.
"He's the whole package," said Tigers coach Gary Pinkel in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's very intelligent. He's got great size. Great speed, quickness, explosiveness. He's a good person — they don't come any better. He's a great leader, an extraordinarily positive person."
Texas Christian has played some tenacious defense of late under Gary Patterson, leading the NCAA the past two seasons and four times since 2001. Undersized end Jerry Hughes captured both the Lott Trophy (top defender) and Hendricks award after racking up 11.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles behind the line. The 6'2", 255-pound Hughes, who paced the nation in '08 with 15 sacks and six forced fumbles, was effective with his hand in the dirt but figures to make the transition to OLB at the next level.
Joining Hughes on the Horned Frogs "D" was OLB Daryl Washington. In his first year as a starter, the 6'2", 230-pounder led TCU with 109 tackles and added two sacks and three interceptions. He's a burner (some had him in the high 4.5s in the 40 at Indy) who played well on special teams and likely will be asked to put on some more weight.
A Family That's Tough as Spikes
Brandon Spikes might not be a workout wonder, but he's a tremendous football player and that still has to count for something. Playing inside 'backer for the Florida Gators, the 6'3", 249-pounder was an All-SEC first-team selection the past three seasons. Spikes had 68 tackles in '09 and returned two interceptions for touchdowns for a second consecutive campaign.
Possessing good bloodlines, Spikes is the cousin of 49ers LB Takeo Spikes. He's very good against the run and can get after the quarterback in rush situations. Spikes didn't run well at the Gators' workout day and raised some eyebrows last fall with a nasty eye gouge of Georgia RB Washaun Ealey.
Once an afterthought, Washington LB Donald Butler is jumping up all over as a prospect on the rise. His 15.5 tackles behind the line ranked second in the Pac-10 in '09 and his 94 total tackles placed him third in the conference. After performing well in Senior Bowl practices, Butler (6'1", 245) made good of a late invitation to the combine by lifting 225 pounds an impressive 35 times. At UW's pro day, Washington averaged 4.64 seconds in two 40-yard sprints and also came in with a 35.5-inch vertical leap. His good motor was on display when the Huskies upset No. 3 USC last year as Butler was everywhere in a 12-tackle, one-INT, one-FF performance.
Penn State's Sean Lee fits the role of comeback story in this group. After accumulating 138 tackles as a junior, Lee tore his ACL in his right knee in the spring of 2008 and was forced to redshirt. But the team captain returned in fine form in '09, registering 86 tackles (11 behind the line) and seven PDs. If Lee can remain healthy, he's a heady ball player with underrated athleticism.
Ricky Sapp, OLB, Clemson; Koa Misi, ILB, Utah; Dekoda Watson, OLB, Florida State; Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina; Jason Worilds, OLB, Virginia Tech.