The casual college football fan would likely say that the best middle linebacker from the 2012 season was either Heisman finalist Manti Te'o or Georgia star Alec Ogletree. These are two high-profile players who played in huge games for big-time schools, and they are certainly excellent prospects, at least on the field.
Neither of them are on Arthur Brown's level as a prospect, however.
In fact, removing positional value, Arthur Brown is the best defensive prospect in this year's class.
While he lacks the build of a classic 4-3 middle linebacker, at 6'1" 230 pounds, he has all of the tools to be a star at the NFL level with his blend of athleticism, technique, play recognition and toughness.
Run Defense: Power and Leverage
Just because Brown does not have the build of someone like Manti Te'o, don't assume he can't play the run just as effectively. Brown is terrific at using his lower body and technique to get every ounce of power out of his 230-pound frame, evidenced in this play:
Here, Brown immediately recognizes the play instantly and explodes through the gap.
He's eventually met by a guard, but uses his shoulder to engage him and his lower-body strength to power through the block while keeping an arm free. This is a blend of technique and power you would expect from a Ray Lewis-type of linebacker.
He uses one arm to bring the ball carrier down and blow up the play before it even starts.
This play was a perfect blend of play-recognition, athleticism, explosion, strength, power and technique. A 230-pound linebackers is not supposed to have that mix of power, speed and strength.
Run Defense: Explosion and Recognition
His smaller stature actually helps him, at times, sneak around blockers without being seen, as evidenced in this play at 1:11 of this clip:
What is most impressive about this play is that his play recognition is immediate—the other defenders are still diagnosing the play, and he is already on his way to the backfield. He slips around blockers and his explosion and closing speed finishes the play off before it has a chance to get started.
In today's NFL of spread and hurry-up offenses, you need three-down linebackers who can cover a lot of ground and in a little bit of time without having to be substituted in.
Check out this pay where Brown is lined up as a SAM backer in a 4-3 under scheme. The play is lined up near the left hash mark, and the play is a bubble screen to a receiver on the opposite side of the field.
Brown recognizes the play immediately and has the speed to get to the ball-carrier almost as soon as the ball gets there, stopping the play for a minimal gain.
The ability to cover running backs and tight ends is more important than ever for NFL linebackers, and it is another area in which Brown excels.
Here, Brown is the only linebacker in a dime package, further showing his versatility in personnel packages. His assignment is to be one-on-one with the running back.
The back starts to leave the backfield, and Brown is able to stop and square his shoulders, which prepares him in case the back cuts inside or outside.
The back goes inside and Brown is on top of him. The quarterback does not have a check-down pass, and the Wildcats get the sack on a critical third-and-goal situation.
Most mock drafts will not have Brown as the first defender taken, but that is simply due to the fact that he does not play a "premium position" such as cornerback or defensive end.
However, defenses are going to have to find a way to deal with the evolution of spread and hurry-up offenses with faster linebackers who can play the run well enough to stay on the field for all three downs. Keeping the same personnel on the field for every snap allows a defense to be more complex against no-huddle attacks because they do not have to deal with the logistics of substituting players.
Brown is not just a fast linebacker who plays the run well enough; he excels in both areas.
Players like Manti Te'o get all of the accolades and awards because of name recognition, but Brown possesses rare traits that make him not only the top linebacker prospect in the draft, but the best defensive prospect in the nation as well.
Brown will not be the first defender off the board because of the position he plays, but whoever drafts him will get an excellent football player who is destined for stardom.
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