With the NFL season over, the off-season has officially begun. Let the hype machines and guessing games commence. The scouts have been busy all year long, filtering out the mid-round gem from the undrafted practice squad player, and the Giants have been setting sights on favorites/sleepers/passes since their season ended a long month ago.

I’ll begin my 2011 NFL Draft Prospect Profiles with a player whom many mock drafts have the Giants selecting in the first round: Akeem Ayers.

FootballsFuture.com



Akeem Ayers
Junior, OLB
UCLA
6-4, 255

Do you want the Giants to take an outside linebacker in the first round of this year’s Draft? If so, junior outside linebacker Akeem Ayers out of UCLA may be your guy. A lot of current mock drafts have the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Ayers being selected by the Giants 19th overall.

Ayers is a guy who Giants fans should definitely keep an eye on during the Draft process. If he’s still on the board while the Giants are on the clock in Round 1, it’s hard to imagine his name not being discussed in the Giants’ draft room. He is considered one of the top-two or top-three outside linebackers in this year’s class.

What’s To Like: From the reports out on Ayers, there’s a lot to like. The first that jumps out at me is his size and his strength, which he uses very well against the run. He’s very alert and seems to always be around the football; one scout profile described his pursuit skills as ‘like a bloodhound.’ For his big size, he also has good athleticism.

Another big reason that I like Ayers is the fact that he played outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at UCLA. Scouting reports say he could play outside ‘backer in a 3-4 in the NFL, but he would come into the Giants defense not having to learn a different position and different responsibilities. There wouldn’t be a need for the Giants to project his skills into a certain position (i.e., Clint Sintim).

What’s Not To Like There are some questions about Ayers’ instincts in diagnosing action, and his ability to shed blocks. Also, UCLA didn’t call many blitzes for their linebackers – Ayers often dropped backed into coverage – so he’s still raw as a pass rusher.

Now let’s take a deeper look. Here is most of Ayers’ report from Mocking The Draft:

Coverage: Ayers can man up tight ends underneath and has good instincts to break on the ball. He clearly has enough agility to flip his hips and (run) with backs and tight ends. Reads quarterbacks well in zone coverage.

Instincts: UCLA lined Ayers up in several different spots. He’s played on the strong side and weak side. He’s played with a hand in the ground but is mainly used out of a two-point stance.…Reads the play action nicely and knows when to stay at home.

Pass rush: Ayers is still developing as a pass rusher … Because of that, he’s raw and doesn’t have consistent pass rush technique.

Pursuit: Gets up to top speed in a hurry…rarely takes false steps. Has the speed to chase down the ball carrier long. Reportedly has ran the 40-yard dash in as low as 4.64 seconds. Likes to work around traffic instead of through it.

Run defense: Ayers is good against the run when he’s lined up at the line of scrimmage…can speed past blockers…good containing the outside rush. But when he has to handle blockers, Ayers has trouble maintaining the edge and will get walled off.

Tackling: Is a solid fundamental tackler who wraps up and drives through the ball carrier. Isn’t necessarily a devastating hitter. Will sometimes let his technique slip and get too high tackling.

Final Word: … Ayers projects as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or an inside linebacker in a 3-4. His play is reminiscent of former Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

In 12 starts in 2010, Ayers had 68 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He has had 10 sacks over the last two seasons. Was a team captain as a junior.”

UCLA didn’t call a ton of blitzes for their linebackers, opting instead to drop them into coverage in most passing downs. This is a big benefit for Ayers entering the Draft. By not always focusing on working upfield, he is a more all-around linebacker right now than most other members of this linebacker class. He has a quick first step at the line of scrimmage, which shows he could potentially become a pass rusher. He’s a reliable tackler, and is very athletic and fluid for his size.

Ayers is one of the more versatile players in the 2011 draft. Unlike the majority of college linebackers, Ayers produced numbers in every stat column. In his sophomore and junior seasons (2009 and 2010), he racked up a total of: 141 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 6 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. He was the definition of a playmaker at the collegiate level.