The overwhelming consensus believes that where inside linebackers are concerned in the 2017 NFL Draft, Alabama’s Reuben Foster will be the first youngster to come off the board on April 27. However, at least one NFC personnel director told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com we might just be in for a draft-day surprise.
“It won’t surprise me if (Haason) Reddick comes off the board before Foster,” the executive said. “I like Foster a lot and I think he’s the better player of the two, but Reddick is bigger than Foster and is a legit rusher on the edge, too. Any time you have someone who can rush the quarterback, they get pushed up the board.”
Zierlein didn’t go quite that far, but he believes the 6’1″, 237-pounder can be a difference maker in the NFL, comparing him to Ryan Shazier of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Reddick’s speed and athleticism might give him a greater shot at impacting the game as a 3-4 inside linebacker or a 4-3 WILL rather than trying to bulk up and play the edge,” Zierlein said. “An ascending prospect with a high-end potential if he can continue to hone his craft.”
Reddick’s stats (65 tackles and 10.5 sacks) in 2016 don’t tell the whole story, as he played defensive end for the Owls before switching to linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Reddick starred in Mobile, and then carried that performance over to the combine, where his 4.52-second 40-yard dash finished first among all linebackers not named Jabrill Peppers.
Reddick told Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated that he feels he demonstrated the versatility to do whatever is asked from him at the professional level. “The versatility shows how athletic I am,” Reddick said. “It shows I can do multiple things. It doesn’t matter who they put in front of me, or what they ask me to do. I’m just going to try to do it as best as I can. That’s the approach I took at Senior Bowl.”
As Reddick told Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com, making the switch from the defensive line to linebacker is only the latest obstacle he will have to overcome. After an injury-marred high school career, Reddick walked on to Temple as a 185-pound defensive back. “I came so far: Literally from the bottom,” Reddick said. “Two injuries in high school to walk-on and being overlooked and finally getting my chance to play football again. Now being able to go play in the NFL is just amazing.”
He might not have been noticed four years ago, but plenty of teams are paying attention now after Reddick piled up an eye-popping 22.5 tackles for loss in 2016. He told Dunleavy he’s doing his best to just dial out the hype and keep grinding.
“It’s like my hard work has been recognized,” Reddick said. “It’s great to see those opinions. It’s great to see that people think so highly of me. I believe that my talent matches what they say. But I just try to remain humble and keep working hard. Nothing has changed. I’m still the guy who is going to work as hard as he can to make sure that he’s the best.”
Reddick’s talent, quickness and nose for the ball-carrier are indisputable — 22.5 TFL is pretty compelling evidence. But there’s also no getting around the elephant in the room. Reddick will be learning a completely new position in the NFL, and as Burke wrote that raises some significant concerns.
“Reddick will have to adjust to the physical demands of his new position, as much as anything,” Burke said. “He does play with some strength (24 bench-press reps at the combine), but he had a difficult time fending off blockers when he did not win with his initial quickness. Can he stay clean on the second level? Also, can he wrap up on a consistent basis? Missing a tackle from an ILB spot in a 3–4 is more problematic than failing to wrap up as a DE. NFL.com had him with 16 missed tackles over the 2015–16 seasons combined. This is going to be a fascinating study. Reddick has all the athletic ability an NFL team could want in a linebacker, but how long will it take him to settle in to his new role?”
It’s the Jabrill Peppers situation amplified that much more. At least Peppers played some safety at Michigan. Reddick is in completely uncharted waters as a linebacker.
This isn’t to say that Reddick can’t and/or won’t thrive as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 or a weak side linebacker in the 4-3. In fact, it’s entirely possible given his impressive physical gifts that an NFL team will take Reddick among the first 32 players in the 2017 draft.
But the team that makes that selection will do so knowing that Reddick is going to be a project — a caveat dynasty IDP owners need to bear in mind as well, because you can add pass coverage to the list of things he needs to learn. And until he does, and every-down role isn’t likely.
Unless Reddick is a ridiculously quick study, neither is consistent fantasy production in 2017.