Welcome to The 3-4, a website dedicated to NFL analysis, predictions and recent events. We wrote 32 extensive team previews and will be writing about all things football throughout the year. We will be scouting players off game tape, evaluating them, predicting NFL and NCAA games, and much more! If you would like us to write about something in particular, let us know!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Meet Toben Opurum

Toben Opurum, #35, DE, Junior, 6'2 240 lbs

Meet Toben Opurum; former running back/fullback, now defensive end, future NFL draft prospect, and junior from Kansas University. Opurum has taken a unique path to where he is and here is his story.

Going back to his high school playing days, Toben Opurum was known as a humorous, lighthearted, and enjoyable character. A stark contrast to his temperance, Opurum runs with a "punch you in the mouth mentality". Opurum plays with a mixture of both power and speed (220+ lbs frame and 4.5 40 yard dash), and has excellent vision to go along with that talent.

A Texas native like myself, Toben Opurum graduated from Plano East where he amassed 882 yards on just 107 carries, totaling 8 touchdowns. With slightly over 200 carries during his junior and senior seasons, Opurum compiled nearly 1500 rushing yards along with averaging over 7 yards per carry. As a junior, Opurum caught 27 passes for 574 yards (over 20 yards per reception!) and 6 touchdowns; used primarily as a runner however in his senior season, Opurum's receiving numbers dipped to 228 yards and 0 touchdowns despite increasing his receptions by 4 passes (31 catches).

Rivals gave Opurum a 4 star recruit rating, and labeled Toben as the 3rd best fullback recruit in the nation. Despite receiving offers from prestigious schools such as Florida, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Texas Tech to play fullback, Opurum insisted on being recruited as a tailback. Enter  then-Kansas Jayhawk coach Mark Mangino. Mangino understood Opurum's desire to be a starting tailback and believed Toben could develop into a more than capable starter. So on December 23, 2008, Toben Opurum committed to Kansas University to play running back.

Toben Opurum running in his freshman season
As a freshman, Toben Opurum thrived in a running back by committee approach, spelling the shifty upperclassman Jake Sharp. Opurum's size/speed combination, power and ball carrier vision were evident in the 2009 season; rushing 113 times for 554 yards and 9 touchdowns, Opurum became the first freshman to lead the team in rushing in 7 years (Clark Green, 2002).

Heading into last season, Opurum had to have high hopes of becoming the featured tailback for many reasons; 1) the only other player that rivaled Opurum's effectiveness running was Jake Sharp who had just graduated, 2) he led the team in rushing and remained in high esteem of the coaching staff, and 3) the man who would be next in line happened to be an incoming true freshman (J. Sims). James Sims was himself, a top notch Texas running back recruit who drew high praise from scouting services across the country.

So with somewhat of a competition for the starting running back position between the two favoring Opurum during preseason spring ball, something suddenly and quickly happened that would change the complexion of Toben Opurum's football career entirely.

New HC, Turner Gill
Coach Mangino and the current regime began to be replaced; Buffalo Head Coach Turner Gill was hired and along came an entirely new regime. Placing a premium on speed and athleticism on both defense and offense, Gill decided to hand the reigns of the running back position to untested freshman James Sims. As a result, Opurum was not only demoted from the starting running back role, but relegated to playing linebacker on defense.

The afore mentioned personality traits of "humorous, lighthearted, and enjoyable", were now all but gone from Toben Opurum. Frustrated and confused at what had occurred, Opurum simply was now playing to keep a scholarship. Accepting his new role was more difficult than ever now, as he knew he could have been at a much more renowned powerhouse had he chosen to play fullback. Instead, Opurum was lured to the idea of becoming a starting running back and came to play for Coach Mangino. But now that Mangino was gone, Opurum had to play wherever he was told.

The cause for Opurum's move to linebacker was in fact three-fold; 1) Turner Gill believed James Sims to be the future at RB, 2) His linebacking corps was decimated with injury, and 3) Opurum was a better athlete than all of his backup linebackers (all 3 backups were walk-on players). Opurum had exactly what Turner Gill wanted from his defensive players, speed and strength.

T. Opurum (left #35), lines up versus in-state rival K-State
Despite the seemingly perfect fit for Gill's scheme, through the team's first six games in 2010, Toben Opurum had still not started in a single game. At this point in the season, the Jayhawks were 2-4 with three major blowout losses to in-state rival Kansas State, Baylor, and SMU, also including a week 1 letdown loss versus North Dakota State. The Jayhawks had a non-existent pass rush that was without a quarterback sack through six games.

Wanting to stir the pot a bit and get more from his team, Gill made a very unexpected move and switched Toben Opurum's position again, but this time to defensive end. While many were surprised even at the move from running back to linebacker, more so shocking was the move to defensive end.

Although the Jayhawks went on to lose five of the final six games of their 2010 season, there was much promise from Opurum's play at defensive end. Opurum managed to have 21 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 3 tipped passes, and 1 forced fumble which resulted in a defensive return for a touchdown by a Jayhawk teammate. Toben Opurum at 6'2 and a stacked 240 lbs, is a tremendous physical specimen with an excellent blend of athleticism, speed, and power. Moreover, Opurum has really embraced the role as the team's pass rushing specialist. Opurum played impressively in the team's spring game, and will be counted upon to be a leader of the Jayhawks defense.

Toben Opurum deflecting a pass
Defensive coordinator Buddy Wyatt had much to say about the strides Toben Opurum has begun to make as a defensive player. "I'm pleased with his progress," Wyatt said. "He came to us on defense and is still learning how to play the position. Last year he really started to pick up defensive end and came on at the end of the year. I was real pleased with his effort in the offseason. He had a great spring season. I think he's going to be productive and will help the guys around him."

I expect a breakout season for Opurum, who will have participated in both spring and fall camps for the first time as a defensive end. Toben has the athletic ability to play in either a standup rushing position as a 3-4 OLB, or continue to lineup with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in a 4-3. Although raw from a technique perspective, Opurum is willing to put in the work necessary to complete his game as a defensive player. He has the the skillset and size to play 3-4 OLB at the next level and this 2011 season could put him on the fast track to playing on Sundays.

Toben Opurum's Player Bio
Toben Opurum's Rivals Recruiting Page
Quote from Buddy Wyatt on Toben Opurum

Friday, July 1, 2011

Taking an early look at the 2012 Draft Class: Linebackers

Two beach vacations to Destin, Florida and Galveston, Texas, as well as a 2011 Mavericks NBA Finals championship have passed for me this summer since the 2011 NFL Draft occurred last April. As is the case with most associated with the NFL Draft in some capacity, May and June serve as hiatus for the weary. Albeit the best scouts never stop evaluating year round, last season in fact was my first year truly on the job. I enjoyed talking and working with football enthusiasts from across the U.S. and even Europe, made many contacts, and hope to continue learning from those who have much more experience than I do.

Over the past month however, work presented itself to me, as I was hired as Head Central scout by Eric Galko who operates and manages Optimum Scouting. Optimum Scouting provides 3rd party scouting work for professional teams and agents, as well as players looking for self evaluation. My short lived trip down to San Antonio, Texas for the "Texas vs. the Nation" game (which was ended after 2 days due to my being very sick), provided much needed notoriety for The3-4. It was at this time I had the opportunity to get to know Bill Carroll, who works with Consensus Draft Services and runs his own NFL Draft prospect radio show. He along with Eric Galko, began contacting me on my notes and evaluations from the practices I attended. From there on, I stayed in contact with the two, appearing frequently on Bill's show and now working with Eric.

So without further adieu, I'm going to briefly talk about some linebacker prospects I had the chance to look at this summer; given these are not simply the top linebackers, just guys that I have taken a good hard look at.

Tank Carder, Senior, OLB, TCU, 6'2 237 lbs
Turning in one of the most spectacular games during the 2011 BCS bowl series (6 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack), Carder provided the game sealing swat at the line of scrimmage to keep Wisconsin from converting a 2 point conversion and allow the Horned Frogs to win the prestigious Rose Bowl.

As a prospect, Carder plays with an enormous amount of intensity and really flies to the football. Although he is a fluid and explosive athlete, Carder chooses to avoid or run underneath blocks. This often results in bad run fits, open running lanes, and big plays for the opposing offense. He needs to play with more gap integrity and attack blocks head on.

Tank has great range, able to gain depth on hook-to-curl zones with ease and run sideline to sideline for tackles. His instincts and quick twitch athleticism are excellent, and his best attribute could very well be his pass rush ability. Tank explodes through sacks with great hitting power, has good change of direction skills, acceleration, and a great first step to avoid blockers.

The biggest area of correction could come with improved footwork, as Carder hops far too often immediately following the snap. An easy switch to making a simple read step based on the immediate read could alleviate late play recognitions. Hopping gets Carder off balance and out of position, leaving his gap responsibility open as a running lane. A slight concern is Tank's pad level in pass drops, however  that is not as big a worry.

All in all, Carder could see himself in the top tier of the 2012 draft class, and looks to follow Texas native Von Miller as the next great linebacker to enter the NFL Draft.

Dont'a Hightower, Junior, ILB, Alabama, 6'4 255 lbs
A not so distant 3 years ago, Dont'a Hightower burst onto the national scene with a dominant freshman season that seemed to precursor a historic playing career at Alabama. Hightower started all but 2 of Alabama's 14 games, playing in all of them, and totaled 64 tackles, 26 of which were solo. Bama's following season which resulted in a BCS victory over Texas for the national championship was a different story for Hightower, who tore his ACL after making just 4 starts.

Bringing us to last season, in which Hightower slowly but surely evidenced signs of a complete recovery from injury. Much the opposite of Tank Carder, Hightower showed a willingness to attack oncoming blockers downhill; he did a solid job of punching the blocker, locking his arms out, and shedding to make a tackle. The strength of Hightower can be seen by how he gets a good jolt on lineman with heavy hands. Very active along the front seven, Hightower makes a number of calls, adjustments, and audibles at the line of scrimmage, and generally is very active in pre snap movement.

Reminiscent of last years' athletic Martez Wilson, Hightower also has shown effectiveness lining up with his hand in the dirt. An explosive pass rusher with good burst off the line, Dont'a has the size and strength to transition to a 3-4 OLB position if an NFL team wanted to go that direction. That being said, Hightower is most dynamic as a player blitzing from the inside linebacker position.

Dont'a Hightower's motor runs "hot and cold", taking off snaps or giving up on plays altogether. Lateral movement and agility is in question, as he is slow coming out of transitions. Similar to Carder above, Hightower also struggles with false steps and misreads. Dont'a needs to be more consistent in scraping down the line of scrimmage with his shoulders squared, and while scraping, Hightower tends to give up ground, struggling in pursuit as whole.

Overall, Hightower is incredibly gifted with a lot of experience for a junior. I expect another strong season and anticipate his declaring for the 2012 draft, withstanding a terrible or injury plagued season.

Nigel Bradham, Senior, OLB, 6'2 240 lbs
Regarded as the best pure athlete in his recruiting class, Nigel Bradham came to FSU with high expectations. To no surprise, Bradham has been very productive and, to some extent, dominant his 3 year playing time; already tallying more than 90 tackles in 2 seasons, both of which were his previous 2.

Bradham possesses highlight reel playmaking ability, tremendous hitting power, and explosive athleticism. Has great size, build, weight, and strength to play and be dominant even at the NFL level.

The most impressive part of Bradham's skillset is his ability to keep a nice low center of gravity in pass drops, transitioning well for his size, and close quickly on receivers in his zone area; he also does a good job of dislodging the football and breaking passes.

Unfortunately, there were much more constructive criticisms than compliments in my evaluation. Bradham leaves his feet early on a majority of tackle opportunities. Not only that, but Nigel simply seems to struggle in space at times, lacking fluiditiy as an athlete and even lacking top end speed. He doesn't take proper angles in pursuit, and has no understanding on how to properly attack an oncoming blocker with his hands. Worst of all, Bradham lacks great instincts and play recognition, 2 of the most important traits as a linebacker wanting to extend his playing days to the NFL level.

As a whole, inconsistency is what hurts Bradham the most. I love his size, strength, explosion, and high caliber athleticism, but instincts and recognition need vast improvement. At this point I see him as a late 3rd to 4th round player, however with a strong season and what I expect will be monstrous pre draft workout numbers, Bradham could easily climb up into the top 100 prospects in the 2012 draft class.

Travis Lewis, Senior, OLB, Oklahoma, 6'2 230 lbs
Career tackles leader currently active in the Big 12, Travis Lewis has been the pinnacle of production for the Oklahoma Sooners with over 100 tackles in each of his 3 seasons, totaling over 360 career tackles, and including a 144 tackle freshman season. Lewis was a surprise non-draft declare this past spring in what seemed to be a down year for linebackers, and now is an early candidate for being a 1st round draftee in 2012.

Lewis is an instinctive player with a knack for finding the football. A chase tackler who doesnt miss many tackles, Lewis navigates well through traffic and trash; a very good pursuer of the football. Travis Lewis shows the ability to break down in space and make difficult open field/ alley tackles and is an ideal will linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

Trusts his instincts and feel to a fault; needs to more consistently read his keys (tackle, guard, or center through to the tailback) in order to diagnose play more quickly. Plays with his eyes in the backfield far too often, and as a result struggles on play-action, draws, and misdirection. Another issue that will arise, is Lewis' tendency to leave his feet to make tackles; he attempts way too many arm tackles causing a lack of solid hitting power and pop.

Very similar to Tank Carder in taking too many false steps- hopping too much. Very inconsistent and poor at making run fits and taking on blocks. Struggles to stack and shed blocks; will be overpowered at point of attack when it comes to offensive linemen.

I personally do not see a 1st round linebacker in Lewis, however I still feel he will be one of the more consistent players coming out of this draft class. Lower ceiling, lower floor, safer pick by way of production and consistency.

Manti Te'o, Junior, ILB, Notre Dame, 6'2 255 lbs
Speaking of highly touted recruits, Manti Te'o is widely considered the most regarded most decorated incoming recruit in Notre Dame history. 2008 high school athlete of the year award recipient by Sporting News, and defensive player of the year as voted by USA Today, Te'o has loads of talent and ability. As an Irishman, Te'o has racked up close to 200 tackles in just 2 seasons. Finished in the top 20 in the FBS for tackles per game (10.23), total tackles (133), and assisted tackles (67).

In evaluating Te'o as a pro prospect, I found him to be sound with his footwork, excellent in his run fits, and brutally powerful as a hitter. Te'o digs through trash well, shows good play recognition, and just has a nose for the football. He gives a tremendous amount of effort, and isn't afraid to give up his body in order to take out a lead blocker. Manti takes good angles to the ball carrier, and wraps up very well.

What Te'o must work on, is his pass coverage drops and getting his eyes to incoming receivers to his zone. As a zone coverage defender, he tries to read the QB's eyes too often leaving him out of position.

All around excellent linebacker that can outrun blockers, fill running lanes, and make plays; Te'o is strong at the point of attack, an explosive tackler, and instinctual player. One of the consensus "top guns" so to speak on this linebacking corps; Te'o looks to improve on his already gaudy production and solidify his argument as a first round worthy draft pick.

Lavonte David, Senior, OLB, 6'1 220 lbs
My last and final linebacker to discuss, Lavonte David is my personal favorite from this class. David, exploded onto the scene last season with a Nebraska single season tackle record of 152 tackles; this coming on the heels of his transfer from JUCO powerhouse Fort Scott Community College. Despite being considered undersized and not recruited heavily because of it, David made himself known as one of the best tackling linebackers in the nation in 2010.

David has the best pursuit and flow instincts of any linebacker I have seen from the 2012 draft eligible players. Lavonte is a very aggressive player who works hard to wrap up; looks the part of a strong safety but has the mentality of a linebacker. Constantly around the football, David displays high play recognition and is a tackle machine.

His elite lateral agility, incredible stop and go ability, as well as his closing speed to the ball carrier, are some of the things that I believe truly set Lavonte David apart from the rest of the class. David's recovery speed is exceptional, and he sees and fills holes faster than running backs; again, evidencing his superb instincts and strong feel for the game. He hardly ever misses a tackle, wraps up tight, and has much more hitting explosiveness than one would imagine. Maintains good pad leverage, perfect tackling form, and high run gap integrity. Fundamentally sound player with his feet, light and reacting quickly to what he sees. David outruns blockers to the edge on sweep or stretch plays and does very solid job of breaking down on the football. Avoids blocks by either sidestepping, or dipping and ripping through. Lavonte also provides a pass rush threat to complement his skill set; most effective as a middle stunt blitzer, utilizing his rare closing speed and acceleration to disrupt the passing pocket.

The biggest knock on David will be his safety-like stature and build, however in a quarterback driven NFL, teams have begun to place increased emphasis on nickel and pass defense packages. Lavonte David provides flexibility as a linebacker because he can play as an OLB in 4-3, and kick inside to MLB in nickel downs in order to keep a box defender who can defend both run and pass equally.

I will continue writing for The3-4 this season and look forward to more viewer responses