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Rumblings Scouting Report: Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis

Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis (Plain Dealer)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, the editorial staff at Buffalo Rumblings has been profiling draft prospects that may end up being potential targets of the Buffalo Bills. The Bills don't necessarily need a safety, but they do need a playmaker defensively - and they'll take on wherever they can get one. Profiled here is Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis.

When discussing linebackers available at the top of the 2009 NFL Draft, most conversations end at Wake Forest's Aaron Curry and the trio of top-flight prospects from USC. There's another school with two early-round linebacking prospects, folks - Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman will both be gone by the close of round three as well.

Laurinaitis has been one of college football's biggest names at the position for two seasons. Considering the Bills' need to find a third starter for their linebacking corps, Laurinaitis has naturally piqued the interest of several Bills fans throughout the pre-draft process. In order to get a better view of Laurinaitis as a player, our very own jri111 exchanged some emails with the folks at Buckeye Commentary, an Ohio State sports blog. Here's everything you need to know about James Laurinaitis.

James Laurinaitis - Linebacker, Ohio State
6'2", 244 pounds, 4.80-second 40 yard dash

Strengths: Great instincts, awareness and football IQ... Reads and reacts well and has the ability to make stops sideline-to-sideline... Underrated in coverage with nine career interceptions at Ohio State... Has a knack for sifting through traffic at the line of scrimmage... Tons of experience... Durable... Very high-character player... Super aggressive and competitive.

Weaknesses: Timed speed is lacking... Not very physical... Isn't great at taking on and subsequently shedding blockers... Not overly powerful when hitting and tackling... Had good sack totals in college, but is very average as a blitzer... Not a defender that will routinely turn in impact plays... Less upside than other prospects, particularly the folks from USC.

NFL comparison: Paul Posluszny, Buffalo Bills
- To this humble blogger, the similarities between our very own "Poz" and Laurinaitis are barely discernible. They are essentially the same size/speed combination. Poz is not as instinctual in coverage as Laurinaitis is, but Laurinaitis doesn't have the pop in the run game that Poz does. Both were wildly popular and productive collegians with longevity at the top of their craft at that level. Expect Laurinaitis' career to resemble Posluszny's closely - they are not going to be flashy professionals, but they will work their tails off, make a ton of tackles and provide great locker room presence and leadership for their teams.

What did Buckeye Commentary have to say about their former defensive star? Hop on in past the jump to find out!

Rumblings: What are his strengths?
Buckeye Commentary: In a phrase, he is a natural football player. Instinctually, he is far ahead of physical gifts, which while great are not as jaw-dropping as Rey Maualuga (or any recent USC linebacker for that matter), but his outrageous consistency is what makes him so valuable.

As far as specific strengths, he is an excellent open-field tackler. As someone that watched him for three straight seasons (he was all special teams in 2005), it was very rare for him to miss a ball carrier when given a realistic chance. I want to say that he is great in zone coverage but I had that impression more he was younger. Still, I think his fundamentals allow him to read the quarterback well.

Finally, I don’t have any stats to back this up, but I bet he is great to have in and out of the huddle. He was very durable for the Buckeyes, never missing a game (in fact, I can never even remember the suggestion of an injury), and he has great character. His fundamental soundness suggests that he put in more than his fair share of film study and time with coaches discussing the finer points so there is no reason to believe he will not be able to learn complex NFL schemes.

Rumblings: What are his weaknesses?
Buckeye Commentary: With a prospect as good as Laurinaitis, I am nitpicking. If I have to pick one thing, it would be his overall physical skills. As demonstrated by his performance at the NFL Combine, he is not the most gifted defensive player in the draft. He is probably not even the most talented draft-eligible player from Ohio State.

While he plays with a great fundamental streak, he never seemed to play an overly strong game and he certainly is not going to scare anyone in the NFL. I rarely saw him overpower a blocker for a tackle or deliver a bone-rattling blow. Conversely, he rarely missed tackles so perhaps his poise was responsible for his more controlled delivery. There were times when he seemed to get lost in a crowd and was not making the big plays that you expected because of his hype.

A couple of other potential weaknesses include being an average blitzing LB and the perception that he is surrounded by NFL talent, which could possibly have inflated his accomplishments. I am not sure you would categorize this as a weakness, but I do not think he is cut out to play MLB in the NFL. I think he will translate more fluidly to weak-side LB in a traditional 4-3 defense.

Rumblings: Who would he compare to best in the NFL?
Buckeye Commentary: Let’s keep it simple on the comparison front and stick with other Big Ten linebackers. Most notably, A.J. Hawk comes to mind along with Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny, and even Bobby Carpenter. Another couple of guys that come to mind are Keith Brooking and Tedy Bruschi.

Rumblings: Buffalo plays a Tampa 2 style defense where the middle linebacker is responsible for covering the deep middle of the field. Does Laurinaitis have the skill set to excel in such a defense?
Buckeye Commentary: As mentioned, I don’t think he is the prototypical MLB in the league. He just does not seem to be that aggressive all the time. When I think of MLBs, I think of the most powerful players on defense - and I just don’t think he can be that guy on an NFL team. That does not make him a bad player, it just means I don’t think he has that elite strength and power. I realize I could be overvaluing explosive hits and highlight reel material.

Rumblings: Anything different/special about him that we should know?
Buckeye Commentary: I doubt it. He has been in the spotlight for four years now, so every story about his father has been told ad nauseam. It probably cannot be reinforced enough, however, that he seems like a good guy. He was surely confronted with tons of opportunities to screw up every other famous college athlete, and I have never even heard it suggested that he is anything less than a good person.

Does Laurinaitis "Fit the Bill"? If you were asking me this prior to the 2007 draft, I would have answered heartily in the affirmative. Laurinaitis will need the right situation as a pro, but he has the work ethic, drive and intangibles to become a long-term starter for any team employing a 4-3. In Buffalo, he would be brought in as the SAM linebacker - which in a traditional zone-based defense is the weak-side linebacker - as a replacement for Keith Ellison. Everything I'm hearing about Laurinaitis speaks to his ability to play that position, but everything he's lacking (physicality, ability to shed, athleticism) is exactly what the Bills sorely need at the linebacker position. He has traits that would make him a solid starter for the Bills - but if it were up to me, I'd be drafting a guy with a bit more flair for the big play and a bit more upside. That's not a knock on Laurinaitis - he's just not a good fit considering the type of players the Bills already have at the position.

Thanks again to Buckeye Commentary for the insight, and to jri111 for doing the leg work on the research!