A decade ago, SAM LBs were supposed to be 6’4, 250.  They needed to be rugged at the point of attack (POA).  They had to set the edge on run plays.  They needed to be able to cover TEs, based on a size matchup.  Guys like Marcus Washington and Carlos Emmons were exactly what teams wanted.

Football has become more and more of a passing league.  The emphasis on size has gone away.  Teams need a SAM to be someone that can hold his ground on run plays that come at him, but that can be done by a 6’1, 240 LB.  The key now is for him to be able to hang with TEs, based more on athleticism that just size.  Teams are now moving TEs around so if that happens with the SAM on the field, he must be able to play more in space.

Some blitzing or 3-4 teams will still have interest in converting DEs to SAMs.  You see this with Mathias Kiwanuka in NY or Brian Orakpo in WAS.  Kiwi can be a liability in coverage, but is good vs run and still a good pass rusher.  Orakpo is okay in coverage, but still a good pass rusher. Teams that run the Tampa 2 or Wide-9 are going to prefer pure LBs at SAM.

So let’s talk about some SAM prospects:

Zach Brown – UNC – 6’1, 236

I’ve written quite a bit about Zach in the last 6 months.  He is a special athlete.  He covers ground like a DB.  He can cover TEs or RBs and even some WRs.  Zach is going to be lacking as a run defender.  He’s not at his best as a POA guy.  You can’t coach speed.  Zach has that.  He flies all over the field.  You can coach tackling and run defense.  In time, Zach could become better at taking on blockers.  There’ s no guarantee he will, but the potential is there.  He’s acknowledged in interviews that he must get better at tackling and run defense.  That’s a key…admitting you need to improve.  Not all teams will want Zach as a SAM, but he fits there for plenty of teams. Great cover guy.  Can even make coverage plays (7 career picks).  Good blitzer (5.5 sacks this year).  Big enough.  Has potential as a run defender.  Let’s face it, in today’s NFL you’re more worried about stopping Eli Manning than Brandon Jacobs.  Brown can do that.  Will go in the 20-40 range.  With sensational Combine, maybe goes before 20.

Travis Lewis – Oklahoma – 6’2, 228 (est.)

Trying to find a spot for Lewis is tricky.  He’s listed as an ILB on the Combine invite list.  Has the body of a WLB.  Is tough enough vs the run and covers well enough to play SAM.  I think teams will have differing opinions on how best to use Lewis.  Will strike blockers and fight through trash to get to the ball. Has pretty good cover skills.  Has a bit of a nasty streak.  Gets in his shots when he can.  Lewis can be a sloppy tackler (too high at times), but it isn’t due to lack of physicality.  Posted ridiculous numbers: 446 tackles, 9 INTs, 31 TFLs, 12 PBUs, and 4 FFs. Has different type of personality and that can help or hurt him.  Spirited, emotional leader.  And cocky…or is that arrogant?  Need to see him at the Combine to find out exact size and just how athletic he is.  OU has had some guys turn out to be surprisingly unathletic over the years.

Keenan Robinson – Texas – 6’3, 240

This is the closest thing to a complete SAM.  Has the size you want.  Slender build so he will add on bulk and get up in the 250 range.  Pretty good cover skills.  Able to hang with TEs and get depth on zone drops.  Only a limited playmaker in coverage (2 INTs).  Showed at the Senior Bowl that he can play up on the LOS and battle blockers.  Wasn’t great, but showed promise.  Mostly off the ball at Texas.  In his best game (vs OU in 2010), Robinson looked like a stud LB.  Played tough, physical football.  Shoved blockers around.  Fought to get to the ball on every play.  Finished with 19 tackles and 1.5 TFLs.  Had 5.5 sacks in career, but showed good pass rush skills at Senior Bowl in the practices.  With the right coach pushing the right buttons, could become a really good NFL SAM.  Could go 2nd or 3rd.  Interesting to see how he does at the Combine.

Bobby Wagner – Utah State – 6’0, 241

Played SAM at the Senior Bowl.  Played all over in college.  Literally lined up at OLB, ILB, and as upright DE.  Love the versatility, but downside is that he didn’t develop fully at one spot.  Lacks ideal size for SAM.  Even today you’d prefer a guy to be 6’2 to handle TEs.  Wagner is a good athlete.  Showed that in Mobile as he made a leaping INT and later a leaping PBU while covering a TE.  Physical enough to handle run plays that come at him.  Probably best suited for WLB so he can chase plays, but I’m sure a team or two will like him at SAM due to versatility and athleticsim.  Was the MVP of the Senior Bowl.  Finished career with 445 total tackles, 4 INTs, 4.5 sacks, and 28.5 TFLs.

Shea McClellin – Boise State – 6’3, 248

This is the guy that really intrigues me.  Boise State listed him at DE, but played all over.  Was DE, OLB, and ILB.  Got used as WLB in Mobile.  Has the perfect build for SAM.  Physical enough to handle the POA on run plays.  DE experience helps in that regard as well.  Good pass rusher.  Can use quickness off the edge or blitz as stand-up LB.  Actually looks okay in coverage.  Saw him in one game tracking the RB down the field on a wheel route.  Does need work, but lots of potential.  Great motor.  Chases the ball all over.  Doesn’t just feast on light competition.  Had 2.5 sacks vs Georgia this year and 2.5 sacks vs Virginia Tech in 2010.  Finished his career with 4 INTs, 20.5 sacks, 33 TFLs, and 5 FFs.  Could be a bit of a project, but major upside.  I see him as 3rd rounder at this point.

Josh Kaddu – Oregon – 6’3, 235

Raw.  Didn’t play much in first couple of years.  Has the frame you want in a SAM.  Good pass rusher, totaling 6.5 sacks this year and 10 for his career.  Good athlete.  Can play in space.  Needs to develop cover skills.  Bit of a project, but has the size and athletic ability that any team would want in a SAM.  Mid to late round guy.

Lavonte David – Nebraska – 6’1, 225

I’m listing him here simply because he played SAM in Mobile and some team may be interested in him at that spot.  Doesn’t have the build or game for SAM right now.  Struggles with taking on blockers, but spent a lot of time working with coaches so he knows that’s an issue and is working on it.  Could bulk up to the 235 range.  At his best playing off and then attacking, but he is a physical player.  Good hitter and tackler.  Has some real pop.  Good cover skills.  At his best vs TEs.  Only played at Nebraska for 2 years after coming over from JC, but was a great college player for them.  Posted huge numbers in 2011.  Had 2 INTs, 5.5 sacks, 3 FFs, 12 TFLs, and 133 total tackles.  Had a better year than Kaddu did a career.  I think David is more of a WLB, but in today’s NFL, never say never.  I think of him as a 3rd round player.

* I have Nigel Bradham slated as WLB and Audie Cole as ILB.  Nigel isn’t meant to play up on the LOS and Audie lacks athletic ability.

* Jake Bequette played SAM in Mobile, but I think he’s a DE to 4-3 teams.  3-4 teams will want him more as a pass rusher than true SAM.

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28 Responses to SAM LBs

  1. Immynimmy says:

    A little off topic Tommy, but do you see Ronnell Lewis as strictly a 3-4 LB?

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      Not off topic at all. Some think Lewis can be LB. I’ve only watched a bit of him. Not a player I have formed an opinion on. I get stuck watching Travis Lewis and Jamell Fleming when I watch OU. Gotta focus on Lewis pretty soon. From the bit I’ve seen, 3-4 LB seems most likely, but more work to be done.

  2. mark t says:

    I agree with you that you want height in a LB in this era. The ability to see the QB, to see into the backfield, the ability to deflect a pass with a long reach whether you’re blitzing, covering the TE or dropping back into zone — these are all becoming more important attributes for LBs in today’s game than they were in the past. The short squat guy who can stuff a blocker is just less important these days.

    • Kirk says:

      That’s completely the opposite of what he just described…maybe I’m dumb and that was a joke. If not though…

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      You’d like a guy 6’3. That’s enough height to be effective. You’d rather have that than a guy who is 6’0.

      The 6’5 guys are the ones getting phased out. Guys that big don’t tend to be elite athletes. If they are, they end up at DE.

  3. Daryl says:

    Tommy, could you see the Eagles getting a vet MIKE in FA and then trading back to get Zach Brown somewhere in the 20-25 range, assuming his stock doesn’t rise? I like the lineup of Rolle/Vet MIKE/Brown

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      Definite possibility…if they like Brown as a SAM. I think they will. Castillo mentioned last year that he saw SAM as a LB/S hybrid. Play the run like a LB, cover like a S. Brown has that potential. Not worth 15, but could be of interest at 25.

  4. yo says:

    Bobby Wagner seems like an Andy Reid guy.

  5. GENETiC-FREAK says:

    Where do you see LB Demario Davis playing and what round do you see him going? He looks like he could be a stud LB

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      I think WLB is probably his best fit, but Demario has an interesting skill set. Maybe the best thing he does is move laterally. That’s great for a MLB. And he did play in the middle down in Mobile. I haven’t seen him cover TEs a whole lot, but he runs well and is a good athlete. He’s big enough to play SAM in some systems.

      I think he’ll probably go in the 5th round. He’s not great at anything, but is a very intriguing player. Could be a top backup for some team. Could play anywhere.

  6. RDW says:

    Shocked you are so dismissive of Audie Cole. He was a very productive LB in the SEC playing both the middle and outside on the run and against the pass. Some have him going as high as the 2nd round and none I’ve seen lower than the 4th. He has the size and smarts to play Sam and Mike with the one consistent question deep coverage. A sound tackler at 6-4, 248 standing next to Kuechly would provide a significant upgrade on run defense and most likely in the short to medium passing game. I am tired of physical studs like fokou who bite on every play action and consistently over-pursue. I am a fan of Chaney but he clearly regressed in the mental aspects of the game. I am not interested in free agency. Take Kuechly at 15 and Cole at 77 and let then compete with Jamar for SLB/MLB. If we’re lucky it elevates their games as well as Rolle. I think he can be terrific and has a lot more pop than given credit. I’d not be shocked if Reid went smaller with a Zack Brown and Rolle ended up at MLB. While I lust for that 245 pound Ray lewis type I’ve come to believe the high fotball IQ is more critical than the muscle mass. .Ray doesn’t get enough credit for his smarts.

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      I like Cole. I’ve followed him all year. He’s one of the first players I asked about when down in Mobile to get a feel for what others thought of him. Everyone loves his frame, versatility, smarts, and experience. Everyone is concerned with athleticism. I just finished reviewing the Senior Bowl game. You could really see where he’s just a step slow on some plays.

      I think Cole will go in the 5th round. Maybe a bit before. I think he needs to play MLB. SAM body, but I don’t see him having the skills to stay with the top TEs. I like him more in the middle as a run defender.

      Brains are crucial in a MLB. That’s one of the reasons I love Luke Kuechly.

  7. RDW says:

    Demario Davis is one of those under the radar guys the Eagles love and could easily be on their list as a mid to late round value. I would hope they save a MLB targeted at 15 or no later than 46, or a top tied FA and then a 2nd 3rd round pick level talent for SLB/MLB to compete with Chaney. Davis seems to be 4th, 5th round talent worth a value play and/or if your 2nd round/3rd round targets are gone. This year I’d be surprised if they added a 3rd LB in the draft because it’s too early to give up on Matthews, they seem to be happy with Clayton as a 3rd down specialist and jordan is an excellent special team player who can also play all 3 LB positions. I think they have a great opportunity to solve LB this off-season for an extended period in the draft

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      Eagles can do themselves a world of good if they make the right combination of signings and picks. This is a year when the right players are going to be available and the Eagles have the right resources to use.

      • rdw says:

        interesting dynamic this offseason with fans still stewed over the 4-8 and either unable or unwilling to look ahead with an open mind. This is setting up to be every bit as active and as fascinating as last year. They have 10 picks including valuable 51 and 99 was well as Asante as a valuable chip and cap room in a deep free agent class especially at WR and LB they have enormous flexibility. What I find most difficult in anticipating Reid is both the 2010 and 2011 classes got off to such rotten starts making it even more difficult to evaluate if, for example, Chaneys poor start was due to missing the offseason and then spending training camp at Sam or if he’s just not that guy we saw at the end of 2010. They’ll never tell us about Grahams knee. I’m a big fan but if it’s not right they have to look at DE early. I think they can find starting potential in the 1st 4 rounds and I’d love to see him use those later picks as chips to move higher. Go for quality over quantity. Either way this is going to be a great offseason.

  8. BigEFly says:


    I like another Brown as a SAM. Some see him as 3-4 backer but I could see Sammy Brown from UH at SAM. Wicked pass rush skills. Good at stopping the run and dropped on occasion to cover backs and TEs. Decent enough cover skills. Think he will be available where you have Cole. I think Sammy runs faster than Cole.

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      Sammy Brown is a good pass rusher and up the field player. I haven’t studied him enough to comment on his cover skills. The fact he wasn’t at the Senior Bowl, Shrine Game, and didn’t get a Combine invite is a bad sign. He isn’t the first Houston player to get overlooked (Sebastian Vollmer, Phillip Hunt, Jackie Battle).

      I’ll check him out and let you know.

  9. Michael says:

    Do you think Luke Kuechley could play SAM for the Eagles, in addition to them bringing in a guy like Tulloch or Lofton? I think that the Eagles need to not worry about pigeon-holing players into certain skill sets, but rather aim to increase the talent on the LB corps… I just haven’t heard anyone mention this as a possibility, while I feel like it really is viable…

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      I’ve had someone ask about Luke at SAM. I don’t really see it, but I hate to rule anything out with a guy like him. A lot will depend on how he does at the Combine. Is he a pure MLB or will he surprise us with how athletic he is? I think he’ll be okay, but that’s it. And I think he’s more of a pure MLB.

  10. time2rock says:

    Wanted to hear your thoughts on 2 additional players as SAM candidates:

    Brandon Lindsey and Ronnell Lewis (I see someone above already posed a question about Lewis). Do you see either of these guys as SAM prospects? Thanks.

    • Tommy Lawlor says:

      Lewis is a guy I’m still evaluating.

      Lindsey flashed at times, but I never got a good feel for him. DE or OLB? I normally like Pitt players a lot, but he frustrated me.

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