NFC North: Aundray Bruce

Debating a linebacker at No. 1

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
5:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry's eye-opening workout at the NFL scouting combine has energized the debate over whether he -- and, more generally, an outside linebacker -- is a legitimate candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Linebacker Aaron Curry was impressive during his workout at the combine.

First, let's consider ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay's analysis of Curry's performance:

Curry finished with the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.56 seconds), the longest broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches) and tied with two other players for the best vertical jump (37 inches) among the linebackers. He also impressed with his work during drills, particularly one that's designed to simulate a linebacker shifting through traffic between the tackles.

In that drill, each prospect steps over a set of pads while sliding laterally in one direction, quickly reverses direction, slaps the pads with his hands as he shuffles back and then explodes through the cones to finish. It's important to be fluid and quick, and just as important to keep your eyes up because teams want to know whether you can locate the ball as you scrape down the line of scrimmage. Most prospects were seen peeking down at the pads, but Curry did an excellent job of keeping his eyes up. It's a small difference but an important one. And weighing in at 254 pounds and measuring 6-foot-1 made Curry's performance that much more impressive.

I realize that Curry's performance in Indianapolis guarantees nothing about his future NFL success. But even before he arrived, most NFL teams considered him a top-5 pick. It's natural that a strong combine would catapult him into the discussion for the No. 1 overall selection.

The lack of an obvious top pick makes Curry fair game in this debate. On one side, you have many people who believe Curry is the best player in the draft. On the pragmatic scale, that makes him a no-brainer for Detroit. Right?

The other side is whether an outside linebacker is an important enough position to merit the top pick, especially for a team that runs a 4-3 defense. In fact, only two linebackers have gone No. 1 overall since the 1970 merger: Tom Cousineau in 1979 and Aundray Bruce in 1988. Let's just say neither is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Why the hesitance? We've all seen how linebackers can impact the game, from Lawrence Taylor to Ray Lewis to Shawne Merriman. Fair or not, here's how Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome put it last week at the combine:

"We put the premium on quarterbacks, corners, left tackles and pass rushers. For the most part, those are the guys that are going to come off the board early."

What do you think? Could Curry be enough of a difference-maker to merit a near-historic decision? Let me know, either in the comments section below or in the mailbag, and we'll revisit the topic later this week.

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