Don't let his size fool you
A week ago, as we sat in meetings discussing players in preparing for the NFL draft, Jon Gruden said that Lavonte David reminds him of a player Gruden was lucky enough to coach. I think people can get carried away with the comparison game, but I'll give Gruden this one. I also can see a little bit of Derrick Brooks in David.
Now, don't go overboard comparing game tape, but there's a legit comparison to be made when you look at where Brooks stood in the NFL draft and where David sits now.
Brooks started out as a safety at Florida State, but he was such a talent at diagnosing plays and making tackles that Seminoles coaches wanted him closer to the line of scrimmage. He became a linebacker, even though size was a question. He thrived. Despite great tape, he faced a lot of questions about his size during the draft process and barely landed in Round 1 (No. 28). He played his NFL career at 235 pounds, on the light side for his position. Apparently, we were too worried about size. He started 221 of 224 games in 13 NFL seasons.
David is also really gifted at hunting down the ball. He plays sideline to sideline and weaves through traffic instinctively, dodging blocks and getting his shoulder to the ball carrier as consistently as any player in the draft. He's also "too small" by some estimations. He played at less than 220 pounds for much of his Nebraska career and came to the combine bulked up but still light for a LB at 233 pounds.
David may not be a future Hall of Famer like Brooks, but he shouldn't be dismissed because of his size. Big 12 college players aren't much smaller than you'll see on Sunday, and even at a lighter weight, David was a relentlessly efficient tackling machine the past two seasons. The kid is all instincts and production.
Size may have him falling to the second round just as Brooks almost did, but David belongs higher on the draft board.
Mel Kiper has been the premier name in NFL draft prospect evaluations for more than three decades. He started putting out his annual draft guides in 1978, and started contributing to ESPN as an analyst in 1984. For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications or his ESPN home page. He can also be found on Twitter here.
Watch this pass-rusher develop
As I watched Boise State tapes early in the 2011 season, OLB Shea McClellin was overshadowed at times by DE Tyrone Crawford and DT Billy Winn. That changed as the season progressed, though, and McClellin's toughness, aggressiveness and versatility began to stand out. He was all over the place as the season wound down.
McClellin can be seen playing defensive end and inside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, rushing the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker and two-gapping as a 5-technique (3-4 DE) -- all in the same game. With more snaps, he became more natural at each spot, and that bodes well for his stock.
A player who transitions from one spot to another in the NFL doesn't always have a lot of film at his new position, but scouts have had plenty of looks at McClellin playing all over the front seven.
He will be primarily an outside linebacker in the NFL, and the team he lands with will focus on what he does best, which is get after the quarterback. McClellin had 16.5 sacks in his final two seasons, and he still can get better as a pass-rusher.
He has good size (6-foot 3 ⅜, 260 pounds), long arms (32 ¾ inches) and big (10 ⅛), violent hands. Throw in his quick first step, overall explosiveness and wide array of moves, and McClellin will be an asset at a time when pass-rushers are at a premium.
He's not all the way there yet, but when studying McClellin, I see bits and pieces of Brooks Reed, Clay Matthews, Tamba Hali and Chris Long in his game, which is good company to keep. The arrow is pointing up big time.
McClellin grades out on the fringe of the first round, and teams such as New England, Green Bay and San Francisco could show interest late in the first.
Plenty of others -- Indianapolis (34th overall), Buffalo (41st), Kansas City (44th), Dallas (45th), New York Jets (47th) -- would love to get McClellin early in the second, and I don't see him getting out of the top 40. In fact, if he falls past No. 35, it won't surprise me to see a team trade up to get McClellin at that point.
Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Follow McShay on Twitter: @McShay13