Thursday, September 25, 2008

Football’s Future: Maualuga or Laurinaitis?

It wasn’t a secret that September 13th's "collision in the coliseum" featured more NFL prospects and more potential first round selections than any other college game to be played this year. But going in, we didn’t know which players would separate themselves from others, perhaps taking a step forward and a small climb in draft position.

Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis are two of the biggest linebacking names in the country. Each is a certain first round choice, as they would have been if they elected to forgo their senior years and enter the 2008 draft. But if we had to draft today, which would go before the other? Though it may have been a toss up before the collision, and Laurinaitis may have edged Maualuga in ’08 draft position, I believe there is now more separation.

Now 27 pounds lighter than his 2008 Rose Bowl weight, Maualuga stood out among all linebackers in the head-to-head September 13th matchup between USC and Ohio State. The knock against him had been his tendency to sometimes get lost in coverage, but he appeared anything but lost against the Buckeyes. To see a 247 pound linebacker with the closing speed to read a quarterback and jump the route for an interception is impressive. But even more impressive was watching him out-run a wide receiver down the sidelines and into the end zone for a score.

Laurinaitis didn’t get an assist from his defensive line, but he is a linebacking prototype. If you want to teach somehow how the position is to be played, just roll tape on the Buckeyes' senior. Staying disciplined and sniffing out each play, he is a disruptive force of the Ohio State defensive front, and should easily adapt at the next level.

If you’re an NFL GM looking to bring youth and improvement to your defensive unit, specifically looking for a linebacker, which would you choose? You honestly couldn’t go wrong with either, but does one have a clear edge over the other? In my opinion, the edge goes to Maualuga, because the physicality of his play gives him more of a field presence.

Maualuga or Laurinaitis? You make the call.

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