I tend to view linebackers on a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum you have your "wild" types, guys like Bill Romanowski or Aaron Curry. On the other side you have your "cerebral" types, guys like Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. I generally define a wild linebacker as one who shoots first and asks questions later- a risk taker. I define a cerebral linebacker as a guy that is mentally on top of everything and almost never makes a mistake, but might suffer a lack of big plays as a result. Some of the NFL's best linebackers are in the middle of this spectrum, guys like Patrick Willis, Lofa Tatupu, and Ray Lewis could basically do it all and knew how to strike the perfect balance between headiness and aggressiveness.
I'm finding Manti Te'o to be the furthest LB in this draft class to the cerebral side of the spectrum. In fact, he might be more cerebral than any LB in last year's group too. Te'o possesses terrific presence of mind and diagnoses a play or a read quicker than just about any LB I've ever watched in college. I also really like how he can effortless change directions without losing speed, while preemptively adjusting his pursuit angles about as well as I've seen a LB do. He's a good tackler, but more in a Marcus Trufant way, not in a Kam Chancellor way. He's not a hitter, he wraps up.
Te'o is probably not as fast as Bobby Wagner, but he looks better in zone coverage than Wagner did, and while Wagner is better in man coverage Te'o is no slouch. I could very easily see Te'o as a 150 tackle rookie next season at middle linebacker, but I would be surprised if he had more than a couple sacks or interceptions. Te'o is a damage control linebacker, in the same mold as Wagner or Kuechly, although he will probably run a slower 40 than either. Similar to Wagner, Te'o struggles to avoid blocks sometimes and his recovery time was very disappointing to me given how good the rest of his game is. If Te'o had been in last year's draft I would have graded him between Kuechly and Wagner as a MLB prospect.
I'd be perfectly content with drafting Te'o and moving Wagner to WLB. Wagner's skillset is probably best at WLB and Te'o would be a more complete middle linebacker than Wagner is. A Wright/Te'o/Wagner LB corps wouldn't put up great stats, but it would be one of the best 4-3 LB groups in the league in terms of how they help the defense. If you believe the rumors WRT Kam Chancellor last spring, then it's not a stretch to think Seattle could move a player if a situation arises in the draft that demands it. I'd be very surprised if Te'o reached our pick in the late 1st, but if he did somehow then I think he's certainly a player worth considering.Dee Milliner
One of these days I'll break down a Nick Saban defensive player and not love him. I'll let you know when that day comes. Saban and Carroll might be the two most similar coaches in football. Both have had epic success in college, both emphasize defense, both preach competition like few others can and both do an excellent job coaching up their players.
Milliner might be a top 10 pick, but I should stress that this guy isn't a superstar. He's not even close to being Patrick Peterson and he might have less of a wow factor than Morris Claiborne. He doesn't make a ton of plays that make you shout in disbelief.
What he does do is play outstanding well rounded defense. He's adept in man coverage and is easily the best corner in the draft at tracking the football while maintaining good coverage. He's got good wheels and at times flashes some pretty impressive burst and short area quickness. He's extremely intelligent, diagnosing plays faster than even most NFL corners can and when coupling that mental agility with his considerable quickness, can be a terrific asset against screen plays and outside runs. He's very good at keeping the play in front of him and never once over-pursued or missed a tackle in my sample.
He's a good tackler and could probably play linebacker if he wanted to if he added weight. Milliner is a big corner at 6'1" 199 lbs, and honestly I am a little surprised his listed weight wasn't higher. I'm not saying Milliner ever should or would play linebacker, just saying that his ability against the run is that good.
Milliner tracks the ball well and has soft hands. He certainly has the capability of being a 6+ interception a year kind of player, he just won't be as flashy as some others. His overall game reminds me a little of Antonio Cromartie with even more quickness and intelligence.
There really isn't a weakness in Milliner's game. He'd be a fantastic player to have. I doubt he slides any further than Dre Kirkpatrick did last year (#17 overall) as Milliner is vastly superior. But just in case he somehow reaches our pick, he'd need to be considered. I think Browner could make an excellent contributor at SS, big nickle safety, and even linebacker. Chancellor could make a good linebacker as well. If Seattle is willing to get a little creative and move some people around, Milliner would be a home run pick if available. If the team is/was willing to get creative for Mark Barron or hypothetically Dion Jordan, then getting creative to justify a Milliner pick could make sense as well.
Of course, you'd rather not draft a 1st round CB if you could- given Seattle's results in the later rounds. That said, getting another Richard Sherman in the 5th isn't exactly an easy, annual occurrence. I believe the goal of this year's first round pick should simply be to get a great player that you know will produce for you. Seattle's roster is so good right now that almost any pick could be argued as a luxury selection. If Seattle drafts Milliner, they'll have protection for Sherman's impending suspension and they'd have a long term answer for Brandon Browner's thirty year old 2014 free agency. Corner would be the last position (other than QB) that I'd address in round 1, but if Milliner is there, he's so good that I think he'd need to be on the table as an option.Sylvester Williams
Like many other recent North Carolina prospects, Williams boasts high first round tools but lacks fire in the belly.
On the plus side, Williams has good snap recognition and no other member of his D-line had more first reactions to the snap than Williams did in my sample. He's very large and powerful for a 3 tech, and at times can shed a block very well. He diagnoses screens very quickly generally shows signs of being an intelligent player.
On the minus side, he gets stonewalled by single blocks alarmingly often and is not as dominant as his attributes would suggest.
A move to the 1-tech might be in his future. His upside might be highest there- I could envision him becoming another Vince Wilfork in a best case scenario. He certainly has the power and size for it.
If Williams is drafted as a 3-tech then I'd compare him to Alan Branch, a guy that had top 10 hype but who slid into the early 2nd round. Branch struggled early on for Arizona before figuring things out in recent years and becoming a solid, under-rated player that is essentially a 3-tech / 1-tech hybrid. I could see Williams struggling for a few years before good coaching sinks in and he becomes an above average NFL tackle. I do not think he'd provide an immediate upgrade on the D-line over guys like Branch and Jones. He wouldn't be an awful pick, but there are probably 30 players I'd pick ahead of Williams right now, including two other defensive tackles (Ansah, Sutton).