Rangy guy with good speed to make plays sideline to sideline. Does his best work in pursuit and does a good job flowing downhill to the ball. Has good closing burst and can make plays on the backside pursuit. Shows pretty good instincts and is able to sniff out screens and does a good job with his reads. Willing to take on blockers and fill at the point of attack. Will break down and wrap up at the point of attack. Is able to shoot gaps and shows decent straight-line burst as a blitzer. Gets good depth on his zone drops and looks comfortable playing in space. Shows decent awareness to read the quarterback. Shows enough upside in coverage with decent hips and can keep things in front of him in the flat against the back.
Undersized and needs to add some strength. Doesn't really deliver a hit and is more of a drag-down tackler. Can be overpowered at the point against physical runners and lose battle with the fullback in the hole. Struggles at times at the point of attack, getting caught in the trash. Has difficulty to avoiding and defeating blocks on the second level. Misses some stops in the open field and space. Can get caught out of position vs. the inside run. Also gets caught out of position in coverage and doesn't show great speed to match up there. Lacks ideal burst out of his breaks and needs to improve his awareness get sucked up by play fakes.
Sheppard has bulked up to 250 pounds, but his play is more in line with what you'd expect from a 235 pound linebacker. But he was productive at LSU and filled well as one of the leaders of their defense the past two years. He has the potential and versatility to play all 3 positions in a 4-3, although he probably fits best as a WILL linebacker at the next level. Combined for 226 tackles, 19.5 for loss, 5 sacks, 2 picks, 4 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 recoveries. He played both middle and weakside linebacker for LSU. He is a native of Stone Mountain, GA.
Sheppard should turn into a productive starter at the next level because of his speed, range and versatility. He probably fits on the weakside because of how limited he is at times at the point of attack. He's better playing in space. He shows the speed, range, and instincts that teams want as a MIKE in the middle, but because he's not great defending against the inside run that's probably not a position he will excel in. If he has good defensive tackles in front of him that can keep blockers off him, then he should be fine there. Sheppard has potential to be a good starting linebacker at the next level that I would compare to Mike Peterson, except I don't think he's as physical. But he should be a solid complementary starter and if he plays beside another solid playmaking linebacker, he should be a solid starter. I think he can also play on the strongside, because he matches up better against tight ends than speed backs and receivers. But he's probably not great there because he isn't great getting off blocks at the point of attack. But again, if a team is in a pinch, he can play there. He could also play in a 3-4 on the inside, but again he's not as good at the point of attack as you want. The main thing with Sheppard is that you maximize the times he can play in space, then he'll maximize his potential.
Sheppard could fit in Atlanta at all three positions, but he'd likely play on the outside. He's faster and rangier than Nicholas, so he should be an upgrade in coverage. Although he's not exactly consistent there to really trust him in nickel situations on a consistent basis. He would improve the Falcons linebacking corps, but he wouldn't be a big-time playmaker but would at least be a good starter that can perform his role well. He can come in right away and be a decent starter if the team didn't keep Nicholas. But if the team does keep Nicholas, he can come in and be a nice backup at all three spots for his first year or two.
Sheppard's starting potential and versatility gives him nice third or fourth round value for a 4-3 team.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 2.5
Pass Rush: 2.0
Scouting reports of the linebackers in the 2011 Draft.
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