N.C. State Senior
40: 4.70 (estimated)
A hard-nosed defender that can bring the wood as a hitter when he gets downfield and closes quickly on the ball. Has a good nose for the ball and shows solid instincts when playing the run. Is quick to diagnose, shoot upfield, and meet the back in the hole. Does a good job filling the running lane and can beat the blocker at the point of attack. Does his best work when he can attack the line of scrimmage and get upfield. Shows good ability as a pass rusher, showing strength to blow through guard up the middle and uses his hands fairly well for a linebacker. Has a nice first step when he puts his hand in the dirt and flashes speed off the corner. Plays with a good motor.
Can be overaggressive at times and get caught out of position. Lacks instincts vs. the pass and makes too many mental errors in coverage. Loses assignments and not comfortable playing in space. Doesn't have good hips to match up in coverage. Doesn't get enough depth on his zone drops and gets caught looking in the backfield, giving up the easy completion over the top or underneath. Doesn't do a good job keeping things in front of him because he doesn't always break down or take good angles in space. Lacks ideal speed and range when working in space and pursuit. Is undersized when working at defensive end as a pass rusher and too easily redirected by bigger tackles.
Irving made a valiant comeback this past year after missing all of the 2009 season after getting into a near-fatal car accident. He suffered a collapsed lung, broken rib, separated shoulder and compound leg fracture in that accident. This past year he moved to MLB after two years at WLB before his accident. He put up excellent production as a senior with 97 tackles, 20.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks (all leading the team), 3 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups. As a sophomore, he missed a chunk of the middle of the year with an ankle injury. But in 10 games, he had 80 tackles, 11 for loss, 1 sack, and 4 picks. Irving was very productive when he was on the field, and is a solid pass rusher that has the versatility to play in multiple schemes.
Irving is a good player, but his potential may be limited at the next level because of his inability to make an impact in coverage. When he plays near the line of scrimmage and can attack the ball and line of scrimmage, he's a very good player. You like his toughness and aggressive play, but it can get him in trouble, particularly when you ask him to play in space and go backwards in coverage. He doesn't have ideal size to play outside in the 3-4, but I don't think he would be bad there. James Harrison is about the same size, and while I don't think he's quite the pass rusher that Harrison is, I think he can be a guy that can give you 5-8 sacks eventually in that role. He could also play inside in a 3-4, because of his ability to stuff the run. He also fits in the 4-3, but probably only as a SAM linebacker because he's much better playing near the line of scrimmage and getting upfield. He could play some MLB, but lacks the ideal range and ability to move in space that you want at that position. In the 4-3, he'll be limited because of his inability to shine in coverage. He'll just never be very good there, and the best you can hope for is a player like Stephen Nicholas on the strong side. But he's got better instincts and flashes better pass rush potential than Nicholas, so he can be more of an impact playmaker there. In the 3-4, you can probably mask his issues in coverage more because he can be used more often rushing the quarterback, so his potential might be better there. I think he can be a capable starter at the next level, but won't be a top-notch starter because of his lack of ability to make plays in coverage and be a liability at times there. But I think he's tough, plays hard, future complementary starter, and if he can really develop more as a pass rusher, then teams will forgive him for his deficiencies in coverage.
Irving would be an upgrade over NIcholas if the Falcons remain committed to the blitz because Irving has better potential down the road there. And he's more of a factor vs. the run because of his superior instincts. But overall, he fits in Atlanta in the same way as Nicholas, and won't be a significant upgrade long-term. He could push for a starting job and replace Nicholas as a starter by his second season, but probably after two or so years in the lineup, the Falcons would be looking for a better cover guy down the road. His value for the Falcons long-term is more for depth than as a starter because he can be a nice stopgap starter at all three positions. But again, unless he developed into a more skillful pass rusher, he'll be limited to being a stopgap for a few years on the outside for the Falcons.
For a 4-3 team looking for a decent starting option at the SAM linebacker, he's probably worth a fourth round pick. A 3-4 team that likes his pass rush potential might take a look at him late in the third round.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 3.5
Pass Rush: 3.5
Scouting reports of the linebackers in the 2011 Draft.
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