A Swarm Of Linebackers
By Matt LaPan
Georgia Tech has seen a great deal of talent leave its Atlanta campus for the NFL in recent seasons. From Demaryius Thomas to Michael Johnson, Jonathan Dwyer to Calvin Johnson, the Yellow Jackets have established themselves as a good place for NFL prospects to play.
However, the Jackets have not had much success, outside of Philip Wheeler, sending linebackers to the NFL. Aside from Wheeler, only Daryl Smith represents the Jackets' linebacking corps in the NFL.
This year could be very different for Paul Johnson's crew. After Johnson fired Al Groh in the middle of the 2012 season, the defense took a turn for the better. Come the 2013 season, the Jackets look to improve again, now under the direction of former Georgia Tech captain and linebacker Ted Roof. Combine Roof's experience as a linebacker with his 4-3 philosophy that he will bring to Tech, and this could be the year that the Yellow Jackets send multiple linebackers to the NFL through the draft.
At the start of the 2013 season, the Yellow Jackets are slated to feature three draft-eligible starters in strong side linebacker Brandon Watts (RS Sr.), middle linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days (RS So.) and weak side linebacker Quayshawn Nealy (RS Jr.). This should be the lineup with the move to a 4-3 system, allowing Jeremiah Attaochu to move to defensive end, a more natural position for him.
The trio of Watts, Hunt-Days and Nealy averages about 6-foot-2 and about 240 pounds (with Hunt-Days being the largest at 6-3, 252). Each of these men possesses the ideal size for his respective position and the skills to go with it.
Watts, a former safety, is one of the more athletic linebackers in the entire country. Although he has added around 10 pounds since entering Georgia Tech, he has not lost his speed or agility. Watts uses his speed to consistently find the hole in run support and is a strong tackler when he makes it to the back. Where Watts excels, however, is in pass coverage. Watts has the size and strength to cover tight ends and the speed to cover slot receivers and backs. Last year, Watts often would play a coverage position in sub packages, showing his unique ability as a coverage linebacker.
Moving inside, Hunt-Days is what most people call a physical freak. Hunt-Days is a big linebacker who showed that he is a major force in run support. In 2012, Hunt-Days proved that he is also a leader whom his teammates can count on in big games. Although he only registered two games with double-digit tackles, they were against some of the best competition in the nation: Clemson and USC.
Finally, there is Nealy, who likely will be making the move to the weak side after playing inside in the Yellow Jackets' 3-4 defense. This change should make a huge difference in Neay's draft stock. He is an extremely sure tackler who also displays good coverage skills but was stifled in the 3-4 system.