231 Rams: SS Travin Howard
SUMMARY: A two-star recruit out of high school, Travin Howard was an Honorable Mention all-state safety at Longview with eight interceptions and four defensive touchdowns as a senior. He received only two FBS-level offers, committing to TCU over UTSA and spent the 2014 season as a back-up. Howard moved to linebacker as a sophomore (at only 190 pounds) and flourished, accounting for 100+ tackles in each of the last three seasons (the first in TCU history to do so.) Just like the numbers would suggest, he is a reliable form tackler, taking the quickest angle to the football and finishing with serious closing burst. He needs to improve his block recognition as he lacks the take-on strength to stack/shed the point of attack. Overall, Howard has an impressive resume that shouldn’t go overlooked, but the main question with Howard and his NFL transition is fit as he lacks the size to stay at linebacker and his questionable speed and coverage skills lead to concerns as a safety.
232 Packers: DT James Looney
Looney is a legitimate athlete, showing good initial quickness and agility to create big plays at the line of scrimmage, as well as when trailing in pursuit. He fires off the snap, exhibiting the body control to twist and get skinny through gaps to create immediate problems as an interior disruptor or when looping as an outside (and even stand-up) rusher. Looney also shows good hand technique to wrench himself free, including effective pull-push and rip moves. Despite a somewhat top-heavy frame, Looney shows good balance to hold up as a run defender, keeping his pads low due to good knee bend, as well as the upper body strength and length to lock out and the core flexibility to anchor or set the edge. Befitting his last name, Looney has a fun-loving personality (and work ethic) that makes him popular with teammates and coaches, being voted a team captain each of the past two years. -- Rob Rang 2/3/2018
A bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type who already shows refined technique and therefore may lack the upside to excite scouts... Possesses a bit of a 'tweener, top-heavy frame with relatively long, slim legs for an NFL defensive lineman which leave him vulnerable to cut blocks. Further, his "blocky" upper body gets caught often by roaming offensive linemen, leaving Looney almost always fighting someone to get to the ball-carrier. Looney shows good short-area quickness but tops out quickly, as well, lacking the sustained speed or flexibility to be a traditional edge rusher and lacks the bulk of an every-down run-stuffer. - Rob Rang 2/3/2018
Frostee Rucker, Cardinals - As if you needed more than the fact that "Frostee and Looney" sounds something you'd find on The Cartoon Network, the 6-3, 280 pound Rucker (a former Southern Cal standout) has carved out of 12-year NFL career despite elite size due to his versatility and technique.
IN OUR VIEW
Agile, strong and experienced now in multiple schemes and positions, Looney may prove one of the more under-appreciated defensive linemen of the 2018 class - with a chance to match his brother Joe's status as a 4th round pick back in 2012.
233 Eagles: DT Jordan Mailata
234 Panthers: ILB Andre Smith
STRENGTHS: Thick, stocky body type…fills with a head of steam…physical take-on skills to scrape downhill and compete in the trenches…play strength to stack/shed blocks…strong base to maintain his balance at contact…patient run defender and settles his feet on the move to break down…low strike zone and hits with a stone shoulder…enough mirror range to make stops near the sideline…usually one of the dirtiest jerseys on the field and effort isn’t a question…leadership was missed during his injury absence in 2017…collected 101 return yards on his two career interceptions…productive starting experience and averaged 9.6 tackles per game the past two seasons.
WEAKNESSES: Tight hips and midsection…straight linish in pursuit, struggling to adjust angles at top-speed…shifty ballcarriers ding his finishing skills…needs to widen his vision and better anticipate road blocks…needs to better protect his legs…struggles with eye candy in the backfield, getting a late start on the play…lack of fluid athleticism limits his coverage ability…below average awareness as a zone dropper…incomplete collegiate resume with only one full season of starting experience…medicals are a concern after missing most of his junior season due to a left knee injury (Sept. 2017).
SUMMARY: A one-year starter at North Carolina, Smith took over the MIKE linebacker responsibilities as a sophomore and emerged as one of the ACC’s up-and-coming defenders. He led the team in tackles the first two games of 2017 before a knee injury sidelined him, essentially ending his North Carolina career. Smith has the thumping mindset to fight through traffic, play low and lay the wood on his target. He doesn’t have the twitch in his hips or core to easily redirect, hurting his success rate in space vs. both the pass and the run. Overall, Smith will need time to adapt to NFL cover responsibilities, performing his best with the play in front of him, but he is a hammer in search of a nail vs. the run, projecting as an early down linebacker.
235 Colts: OLB Zaire Franklin
SUMMARY: A three-star linebacker recruit out of high school, Zaire Franklin earned all-state honors as a senior at La Salle College and was considered a top-10 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania. He committed to Syracuse over Pittsburgh and Connecticut and saw immediate snaps as a true freshman. Franklin became the starting MIKE linebacker as a sophomore and accounted for 311 tackles over 39 straight starts, earning the rare distinction of being voted a three-year team captain. He attacks the line of scrimmage like a battering ram, competing with ferocious conviction and temperament. However, he is short-armed and plays so fast that he will overrun his target at times and needs to better come to balance and finish. He does a nice job as a zone dropper, but lacks the movement skills to stick with tight ends in man coverage. Overall, Franklin is a fast-flowing tone-setter with NFL make-up, but he will need to overcome his physical limitations to stick on a NFL roster.