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Thursday, March 24, 2011
Draft profile: UCLA OLB Akeem Ayers

By Rich Cimini

Leading up to the April 28-30 NFL draft, ESPNNewYork.com will provide profiles of players being considered by the Jets with the 30th overall pick. Previously, UCLA S Rahim Moore and Baylor NT Phil Taylor were featured.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: AKEEM AYERS, UCLA

Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine need a Terrell Suggs-type player, an athletic outside linebacker that also can line up on third down and threaten the edge with speed. It's all about speed, speed, speed. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are solid, but they don't attract two blockers. Ayers has that kind of potential.

• Ayers (6-3, 254) disappointed scouts at last month's combine, clocking 4.80 and 4.83 in the 40. He plays faster than the stopwatch, which makes him kind of an anti-Vernon Gholston. Ryan, of all people, knows the stopwatch doesn't tell all. In 2003, Suggs, who put up ridiculous sack totals at Arizona State, ran in the 4.8 range at his Pro Day. He took a mulligan, conducting another workout -- and ran slightly better. Nevertheless, he slipped a bit, fortunately for the Ravens, who grabbed him with the 10th overall pick. (Former Jets DT Dewayne Robertson was picked fourth -- ouch!) Maybe the Jets will get lucky, the way Ryan's former team did in '03.

• The UCLA Pro Day is March 29. That will be Ayers' chance to redeem himself. If he shows the combine 40 was a fluke, he could rise into the middle of Round 1.

• Ayers was a beast in 2009 as a sophomore, recording 14.5 tackles-for-loss, six sacks and four interceptions (two for TDs). His numbers dropped last season -- 10 TFL, four sacks and two INTs. That's always a concern.

• Despite his relatively slow 40 times, Ayers has an explosive burst. He's a natural pass rusher, fluid with his moves. He lined up as a strong-side 'back in UCLA's defense, often standing up at the line of scrimmage. He does have experience in a three-point stance. He can chase down ballcarriers, shed blocks and make acrobatic interceptions.

• The negatives: Ayers has a lean lower body, making scouts question his ability to hold up against the run. He needs more sand in his pants, as they like to say in the biz. Ryan likes big, 260-pound 'backers that can set the edge. As a rookie, Ayers probably would be limited to a pass-rushing role, limiting his exposure against the run. There's also some concern about his ability to learn complicated defensive schemes -- and the Jets' system isn't easy to learn.

• Ayers, speaking at the combine to reporters: "As far as my pass-rushing ability, I'm nowhere near reaching my potential. I've done a pretty good job rushing the passer these last two seasons and I'm only going to get better."

• ESPN's Todd McShay rates Ayers the 26th prospect in the draft, NFL.com's Mike Mayock has him at 24.

ANALYSIS: Ayers is definitely in play for the Jets. He's got what they need -- a burst off the edge, 40 time notwithstanding. You just wish he was more productive last season.